Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What’s in a Relic?

Today the Church commemorates the “Removal of the Relics of Saint Athanasios the Great” which honors the placing of the bones of this great saint of the Church for veneration by the faithful. Saint Athanasios the Great served as Patriarch of Alexandria, but was also present while still a deacon at the First Ecumenical Council. His is credited with authoring the Nicene Creed. He has written thousands of books and treatises on the faith, not the least of which has become a standard even for Protestant seminary students, titled “On the Incarnation” which established the proper manner for all Christians to understand the incarnation of Christ. He also in 367 AD, through his annual Paschal Letter to his faithful established the first official list of which books should be included in the Holy Scriptures both for the New and the Old Testament. He is considered one of the Great Fathers of the Church, and most definitely worthy of honor.

The veneration of relics (through either bones or articles of clothing) dates to the original days of the Church. There is evidence for such honor in the Acts of the Apostles. You can watch a short video here to understand a bit more about the importance of Holy Relics in the history of the Church.

I always find it strange that many faithful Protestants cringe at the honor the Church places on Holy Relics, while at the same time honor clothing and other remembrances of other family members and otherwise famous men and women from history. Some even proudly display and feature such secular relics in their homes. Why the difference? Relics connect us to the past through the physical creation in a real way. Nobody has even denied the reality that famous places feel different just because of what may have taken place there. Thousands piously enter secular shrines every day dedicated to American history, but it doesn’t end with secular museums. Many also enter the Church and experience “it feels different” but they are never quite sure why.

It is because when Jesus Christ came to earth, He sanctified all of creation. His love, His grace, His glory all can be, and have been, experienced through creation. When the Church honors Holy Relics of Saints, we are honoring the presence and grace of God in the life and events of that particular saint. Often times, just as we hear in Acts, God continues to work His grace and miracles through the physical remains of the Saints. What’s in a relic? The grace of God is in a Relic, and so we honor that grace.

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