On the Veneration of Holy Relics

St. Olga the Princess of Russia, in Holy Baptism called Helen

St. Olga the Princess of Russia, in Holy Baptism called Helen

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


[Source: Ukranian Orthodox Church in America]

"Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom you have from God, and you are not your own?" (1 Corinthians 6:19).

In one of his masterpieces, Orthodox Dogmatic theology, Father Dumitru Staniloae, considered by many scholars one of the greatest modern Orthodox Christian theologians, points out that while the Church venerates the holy relics of the Saints, at the same time She honors the Saint with whom her militant members are in communion.

The very fact that the bodies of the Saints are kept in state of incorruptibility is a foretaste, an anticipation of their future incorruptibility after the resurrection and after their full theosis, deification. "But we all," writes Saint 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" (1 Corinthians 3:18).

The bodies of the Saints remain incorruptible because the Divine power that dwelt in them when they were united with the soul still dwells in them. Moreover, stresses Father Staniloae, in the holy relics, the state of accentuated deification (theosis) of their souls that was reached in this life, is prolonged after their falling asleep in Christ. This is so, because the Divine grace that dwelt in the Saint's soul and sanctified it, doesn't forsake the body after death; it remains in the body and sanctifies it through incorruptibility to consummate deification (theosis). Holy relics are a clear anticipation of the transfigured body after universal resurrection.

Here is how Saint Paul theologizes about universal resurrection. "So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness it is raised in power a natural body. It is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body...For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44; 53). Notice that, in his unique way, Saint Paul realizes a contrast between the natural body. (Greek soma physikon), and the spiritual body (Greek soma pneumatikon). Natural body is the present body, and the spiritual body is the deified (theosis) body.

Father Staniloae goes on to say that the bones of the Saints, by remaining incorruptible, show us that their personal souls and the grace of the Holy Spirit remain in a special connection with their bodies. That is why, while giving veneration to the holy relics and praying before them, we do not address the relics, we address the Saint. Our veneration is passed over to the person, something similar to the veneration of the holy icons.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, in his book The Orthodox Church, quotes Saint Maximos the Confessor who said that the Saints "are those who express the Holy Trinity in themselves." He writes that deification, theosis, as an organic and personal union between God and man, is a constant theme in Saint John's Gospel, in Saint Paul's Epistles, and more so in Saint Peter's well known verse from his Second Universal Epistle (Letter) "By which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the corruption" (2 Peter 4). Saint John Damascene, a.k.a. the Theologian of the holy icons, emphasizes that when the Holy Scripture speaks about God, it doesn't speak about Divine nature or essence, because that is unknowable. The word God refers to the uncreated energies, i.e., the grace of God that we can perceive in this world, and is "channeled" particularly through the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) in the life of the Church. To quote Saint Athanasios' very terse and familiar phrase 'we become by grace what God is by nature." Deification (theosis) takes place when God's grace interpenetrates our humanity.

Writes Metropolitan Kallistos Ware: "Deification (Theosis) is something that involves the body. Since man is a unity of body and soul, and since the Incarnate Christ has saved and redeemed the whole man, it follows that man's body is deified (theosis) at the same time as his soul. The bodies of the Saints will be outwardly transfigured by Divine Light, as Christ's body was transfigured on Mount Tabor" (The Orthodox Church, pp. 237-238). It is because of the transformation of the body together with the soul that the Orthodox Christians venerate the holy relics of the Saints. Christ took on a human body to redeem not only our fallen humanity, but the whole creation, to realize a cosmic redemption. "What is of the earth remains earthly, and when fire consumes matter, it returns to the dust from which it came. But the Divine fire neither destroys nor annihilates. The miracle of the burning bush is perpetual eternity. The fire will kindle the whole world. The entire creation will some day be permeated by Divine rays" (The Living God, p. 91).

That Christ took on a human flesh to redeem not only our fallen humanity, but the whole creation, is crystal clear from Saint Paul's words: "Because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs until now" (Romans 8:21-22).

Further on, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware makes six excellent points, these points may help those who have a hard time understanding the notion of deification (theosis) of the body and the cosmic redemption from an Orthodox point of view. 

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George