Quick Facts: Relics

“And when ye see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb: and the hand of the LORD shall be known toward his servants…” Isaiah 66:14

What are relics?

The word relics (greek - λείψανα, latin - reliquiae) literally means -  the remains of a person who has passed away. Relics are not limited to just the body but the term also includes personal possessions  and objects of the deceased such as clothing, footwear and paraphernalia. There is a common misconception that the word relics implies a fully intact body. However, if we take the slavic root of the word (мощи), then it becomes clear that it refers to the bones or the supporting part of the human body. In the past, the remain of any person were called relics, as indicated in the pretext of the funeral service for laypeople in the book of needs. Today when we think of relics we think about the remains of saints, people who were glorified by God through numerous healings and other miracles. These are the very factors that play an integral part in the glorification of saints. The need for the remains to be incorrupt also play an important but lesser part.

There were cases where incorrupt relics of unknown monastics and laypeople have been uncovered along with the relics of saints. They would remain above ground for some time. If no miracles occurred and the Lord did not show His grace by glorifying them, then their bodies were reburied.

In the late 1980s, a special commission was formed by Ukrainian scientists ,conducted a study with relics as their main focus. The study which included seeds of wheat proved that the Holy Relics were the source of an energy that is unbeknownst to science. Furthermore it was concluded that this energy had a very positive impact on the surrounding environment including lowering the levels of radiation and killing bacteria that spreads disease. According to the study, relics lack the substances that contribute to the processes of decay. Also while studying heads of saints that  stream myrrh concluded that they are alive! For those who believe in God, there can be no doubt that the energy the scientists found could no other than the Grace of God. Such research is needed to strengthen the faith of people in God rather than for shear curiosity. (Source: “Modern study of the phenomenon of Holy relics” by Tamil Reshetnikova)

Why did Christians begin to venerate the Holy Relics?

The veneration as we know of it today, begins to take shape after the persecution of Christians comes to an end. The bodies of saints were often burned to ashes or given to wild animals. The remaining ashes or body parts (for example, after a beheading) were gathered and keep as sacred objects by the pious Christians of that time. In venerating the remains, we do not worship the bones and flesh but rather the Grace of God which has enlightened and gloried the bodies of the holy people. It is commonly thought that the saint is present with his remains which is why the Liturgy was often served on the graves or even bodies of the deceased. Overtime, this created a need and necessity of the antimension, which is a rectangular piece of cloth, which has a small particle of a relic sewn into it. In today's practice,the liturgy can not be served without the presence of an antimension.

How to understand the partitioning of relics into small particles?

Every orthodox church has at a small relic of a saint, at the very least, sewn into the antimension or inside the altar table. It is very important to reiterate the fact that the healing and miraculous power of the relics whether it is a partial or entire remains of a saint are venerated because the cause is the Glory and power of God which is indivisible. Therefore, it is present and equal in relics, smaller particles which can also include the clothing of the saint or a part of the grave.

Preview Reliquaries

So how does this partition occur?

The partitioning of relics dates back to the early Christian church. The early saints of the church were often martyred, after their execution the faithful would gather the remains and keep them for veneration. Today, smaller pieces of the relics are placed in special containers called reliquaries, which can be made 
very small so that they can be placed inside an icon board or a special reliquary case.

Interesting facts about relics.

As mentioned above, and parts or remains of a saint are referred to as  relics and they are not always preserved in its entirety in their entirety. Sometimes it is just a single body part such as the skull, large bones or a hand.

However, there have been cases where over the course of centuries, where the bodies have remained fully intact and even retained eyebrows and hair. Many of these relics even continue to maintain human warmth, body temperature and stream myrrh such as the relics of St.Alexander Svirsky.

The vestments, in which the saints are vested often age with time and need to be replaced. Here is an interesting fact. The footwear of St.Spiridon is changed once every year. This is because it is said that the saint “walks”around the island which is why his shoes appear worn out every year. Sometime people even see smalls rocks and sand on the shoes.

Five years ago in San Francisco, the revesting of St.John of Shanghai and San Francisco took place. His new vestments were made by the sewing workshop of St.Elisabeth Convent.  (Source: http://www.pravmir.ru/pereoblachenie-moshhej-izhe-vo-svyatyx-otca-nashego-ioanna-shanxajskogo-i-san-francisskogo-chudotvorca/)