Saturday 21 July 2018

Concerning Holy Relics

By Saint Nicolas Varzhansky

This translation appeared in the September 1996 edition of The Shepherd. All Old Testament verses are from the Septuagint.

The incorrupt bodies of those who have pleased God are called holy relics, as are those parts which remain after the dissolution of the body: their bones and other remains. They are revealed as sanctified because they are memorials of a person dear to Christianity, and because through holy relics the Lord imparts His wonders to people.

Honour was always shown to the remains of the Prophets and Righteous Ones:

The pious King Josias, who destroyed the bones of the dishonourable ones, would not touch the dust of the Prophet Achia:

Josias said, What memorial is this that I see? And the dwellers of the city told him, It is the sepulchre of the man of God, which came from Judah, and proclaimed these things which thou hast done against the altar of Bethel. And he said, Leave him in peace; let no man disturb his bones. So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria (4 Kings 23: 17-18). 

'May their memory be blessed! May their bones flourish from their place, and may their name pass on to the sons of their glorification' (Ecclesiastes 46:11-12).

The Lord notes the adornment of the graves of the righteous (Matthew 23:15, 29-36). The Lord did not condemn the Pharisees because they garnished the sepulchres of the righteous, but because they did not honour them, and because they killed and pursued the prophets, the wise men and the scribes, as had their fathers. In exactly the same way, He did not condemn the Pharisees for compassing land and sea to make one convert, for this itself is a good deed, but rather because having done so they did not wish to support the newly converted in the life of righteousness and thus made him even worse.

Even the clothes and the shadows of the Righteous worked wonders:

Eliseus 'took the mantle of Elias, that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elias – Where is He Himself? And he smote the waters and they parted hither and thither, and Eliseus passed over' (4 Kings 2: 14).

'They brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them' (Acts 5:15).

‘Even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched [St. Paul's] body were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them’ (Acts 19: 12).

The relics of those pleasing to God worked miracles:  

Eliseus died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that they spied this band, and they cast this man that they were burying into the grave of Eliseus; and he, as he fell, touched the bones of Eliseus, and he revived and stood on his feet (4 Kings 13:20-21).

Concerning the Prophet Eliseus we read: 'after his repose his body prophesied; in his life he did wonders, and after death his deeds were marvellous' (Ecclesiastes 48: 14-15).

No one among the Christians dismisses the wonders wrought either by the clothes or the aprons. In the same way we all reverently and piously accept the wonder working power of sacred relics. We should ask the sectarians: How are you Christians when you reject the holy relics of Christ's Apostles and the holy God-pleasers, which through the power of God work miracles to this day? Give us an answer.

A selection of refutations of the dissenters

The dissenters say: The fact that no one knows where Prophet Moses is buried (cf. Deut.34:6) shows that God does not desire relics to be honoured.
The Orthodox reply: But why then did God work such a miracle through the relics of Eliseus? If his relics (bones) had been of no matter, then the dead man would not have been resurrected. The grave of Moses is unknown for a reason which God knows, and not because relics are not necessary.

The dissenters say: 'Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God' (1 Cor. 15:50) which means that relics are not necessary. 

The Orthodox reply: The Orthodox do not believe that relics will appear before the second Resurrection in their present state. No, they will be changed, as are changed the bodies of all peoples (1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:52), and they will be like the glorious Body of Christ (cf. Phil. 3:21).

The dissenters say
: The annihilation of the bones and the destruction of the graves of the Jewish idolators (cf. Jer. 8:1-3) shows that relics should be destroyed.

The Orthodox reply: This passage does not speak of the bones of the righteous, but of the lawless 'evil tribe'. The relics and tombs of the righteous were honoured in the Old Testament (4 Kings 23:1-18; Ecclesiastes 46:13-15).

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