Dead 100 years – but crowds are flocking to venerate her. The relics of Therese of Lisieux known as the “Little Flower”, a modern Roman Catholic saint, have been brought to the UK for the first time, and are already causing controversy. It’s being debated in the papers and even on TV.
We can see old Protestant prejudices arising in a call to reason in the name of secularism .
What’s the point of relics?
People who want to be modern, rational and with it often have great difficulty with the concept of relics. I still vividly remember the angry shouts of an American visiting the Cave of the Apocalypse on Patmos many years ago. He was absolutely livid, and screamed ‘blue murder’ because the Crown of a Saint had been brought out to be venerated by the faithful! He just could not fathom and understand that he was in a place which had an undending tradition from the time of the Apostles – which also included paying respects to relics.
Even some Orthodox in the West can’t get their heads around it.
One problem, is that unlike in Greece or Russia, say, there aren’t many relics around, so the practice is not something Orthodox in the West, especially converts are familiar with. This lack of familiarity contributes to misunderstanding.
Reasons Orthodox Christians venerate Saints
1. The saints don’t need us; we need them.
In the liturgy we sing “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee.” God uses material means so that we can partake of His Grace, be it the Bread and Wine that become His Body and Blood in the Liturgy, the representations of God on physical icons, or the bones of sanctified people. We are not a soul trapped inside a body. We are a complete person – a psychosomatic reality – that is we are both soul and body. Christ showed the value of the human body by taking on human flesh in His Incarnation.
2. Saints remind us of our calling.
“God became Man that Man might become God, by grace” St. Athanasius.
We are all called to be saints.
3. The body participates in our sanctification
Holy relics are a clear anticipation of the transfigured body after universal ressurection.The very fact that the bodies of the saints are kept in a state of incorruptibility is a foretaste, an anticipation of their future incorruptibility after resurrection and after their full theosis, deification. “But we all,” writes St. Paul to the Corinthians, “with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Cor.3:18).
St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes:
“Though the soul is not present a power resides in the bodies of the saints because of the righteous soul which has for so many years dwelt in it, or used it as its minister.”
Relics and the Bible
Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the main’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet. (2 Kings 13:21, NIV)
Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding to 12 years came up behind him [Jesus] and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment. (Matthew 9:20-22, NIV)
As evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Mark 15:43, NIV)
People brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by… and all of them were healed. (Acts 5:15-16, NIV)
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. (Acts 19:11-12, NIV)
Relics in a Nutshell
“While Orthodox hesychasm appears to be an abstract, unpractical and utopian state, it is in essence very practical, true and realistic, precisely because it speaks of the transformation of man’s body and, of course, of the whole man. Its veracity is seen in the bodies of the saints, which receive the deifying energies of God, and in the relics of the saints, in which the presence of the uncreated deifying energy is manifest. Moreover, the relics manifest the deification of the body as well, and this is proof of the existence of the deifying energy also in the person’s soul. Therefore we can say that a purpose and work of the Church is to make relics.”
Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) – “St. Gregory Palamas”
A Video Reply to Baptists on Saints and Relics
The Place of Relics in the Orthodox Church – Fr. Justin Popovic
Relics – Ortho Wiki
On the Honour Due to Saints and their Remains – St. John Damascene
Relic Controversy in the UK
St. Therese on Tour – Roman Catholic Blog
Let the credulous kiss their relics – Simon Jenkins (Guardian)
Slobbering Zealots – a riposte in the Telegraph