On sacred relics in Christianity by Marcelle Bartolo-Abela
Many consider sacred relics to be a thing of the past. Others regard them as objects of fear and superstition, remnants of the ‘magical thinking’ that seemed to characterize the faith of the simple folk in older times. Yet others consider them objects of mockery and accusation, no better than the ‘indulgences’ that were sold with such prevalence at the time of Martin Luther. Even more others make money off them by buying them at estate sales, flea markets, and at times church closure sales, then flipping them on Ebay.
Sacred relics are none of the above. Being direct remains of the physical body of the saints and others in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity (first class), or parts of the clothing worn and/or objects used in daily life by the saints while still alive (second class), relics are direct bearers of the Divine Light because their original owners, both raised publicly to the altars and otherwise, now reside in the unveiled glory of God. Sacred relics are worthy of veneration and respect by the faithful and non-believing persons of good will alike not solely because they transmit the energeia of God. Veneration of the relics by the people passes directly to their prototypes — that is, the saints themselves, who pass said veneration along to God together with their own prayers and merits, in keeping with the elucidation of such processes as elaborated at the Second Council of Nicaea (787) and the Council of Trent (1563).
Sacred relics can both heal and restore the faith among the people through the will and power of God, with many documented attestations in this regard occurring across several nations, right up to the present day. They are not ‘just remembrances’ or ‘symbols’ of the saints — Protestant notions at best, at par with iconoclasm. To give a few early examples about the reality of sacred relics as repositories of the Spirit, in the Old Testament era of Scripture, the prophet Elisha picked up the mantle of Elijah after the latter had been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. When Elisha struck the waters of the Jordan with the mantle, the river parted and he could cross (2 Kgs 2:9–14). After Elisha died, some people hurriedly buried in the tomb of the prophet a man who had died. But upon coming in contact with the bones of Elisha, the dead man “came back to life and rose to his feet” (2 Kgs 13:20–21). In the New Testament era, the hemorrhagic woman declared without fear the Spirit-inspired belief that “If I can just touch His robe, I will be healed” (Mt 9:21) in relation to Jesus Christ, while King Abgar of Edessa was healed from his afflictions by a handkerchief sent to him by Christ through the Apostle Jude. The Apostle Peter was so filled with the Divine Light that his very shadow healed all the sick upon which it fell (Acts 5:15–16), whereas “God worked extraordinary miracles at the hands of Paul. When handkerchiefs or cloths which had touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases were cured and evil spirits departed from them” (Acts 19:11–12).
Sacred relics are inestimable treasures of the Church for the people of all times, both those believing and those non-believing. The real value of such relics can only be surpassed by the saints themselves and by God.
Originally published at sacredrelics.org on January 28, 2017.