Veneration of Holy Relics in Orthodox Tradition
Orthodox Churches regard the relics of saints with special respect. We keep relics of departed saints in special places, offer prayers before them and hold that these relics have divine powers. The tradition of respecting relics of the saints has its roots in the bible and is based on the teachings of the church fathers.
Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches regard the relics of saints with special respect. We keep relics of departed saints in special places, offer prayers before them and hold that these relics have divine powers. However, the Protestants argue that this is completely idiotic and anti-scripture. This short essay is an attempt to analyze the practice of veneration of holy relics from an orthodox perspective.
The Orthodox tradition of respecting relics of the saints has its roots in the bible and is based on the teachings of the church fathers. Saints are people who in their lifetime pleased the God and the people alike through their faith and good deeds. For the Orthodox Church, the Incarnation of God's Son transfigured our human nature. We have the opportunity to become "another Christ" through His Spirit of holiness in God the Father. Through Christ, we are saved and sanctified "in total"; that is, our minds, bodies and souls, our entire tripartite being. Jesus Christ guarantees this in his teaching on the Holy Communion: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me" (St John: 6:56). Therefore, Christ lives in every church member who has taken the body and blood of Christ and thus sanctified his flesh and soul. The bible describes many events in which the relics of saints perform miracles. It also testifies that even material articles associated with saints have divine powers.
- Before his death, Joseph commanded his descendents that they should take his bones with them when they leave Egypt (Genesis: 50: 25). As per this Moses took them when they left Egypt and the Israelites buried the same in Shechem (Joshua 24: 32).
- When Elisha struck the water of river Jordan with the cloak of Prophet Elijah, the river divided into two parts. (2 Kings 2:14)
- When a man's corpse fell into Elisha's tomb and touched his bones that man resurrected to life (2 Kings: 13:21)
- People used to bring the sick into the streets and lay them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. (Act 5:15)
- Acts 19:11-12 reads: "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them."
All these incidences shows that articles associated with saints have divine powers. These powers are bestowed upon them by God because of their good deeds and their life style of high purity. The orthodox tradition of respecting the relics of saints come from these facts. The Church is not worshiping the relics as idols, but by understanding that these relics have divine presence, the church is paying special respect to them.
Throughout the Bible, we can see that God perform miracles through some material objects related to saints. Instead of telling Moses to raise his staff
and stretch out his hand over the sea to divide the water of red sea, God could have said him just command the sea to divide, without using the staff.
Instead of searching for some bread in the wilderness to feed the crowd, Jesus could have made enough food for them from nothingness. But, God always value the simple givings of his beloved and perform miracles through them only. He mediates salvation through visible symbols, His Body, His Apostles, His Church, and His Saints.
Article by: Jack Eapen, Charummoottil