The Role of Relics in the Greek Orthodox Church

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The Incorrupt Relics of St. Euphemia

The Incorrupt Relics of St. Euphemia   Photo Credit Andrew Athanasiou

When people first think of relics they probably think of some article that has survived from an earlier time. This can be true for what we know as relics, but our idea of relics means that the article either is a part of or belonged to a saint. The Greek word for relic is λειψανο, which also is can be used for the word corpse in Greek, so we see a connection between relics and bodies.

For us, relics can be an article of clothing or vestment that a saint wore, a piece of their bones, a piece of their body, or even their entire body. Remarkably, I read that if a body is left outside, maggots can consume 60% of it in 7 days, which shows even more how miraculous it is for the relics of the entire bodies of saints are able to still be with us. In the United States there is one relic of an incorrupt body of a saint and that is St. John Maximovitch, which was discovered as incorrupt in 1993, while he fell asleep in the Lord in 1966. Throughout the world there are several incorrupt relics of the saints: St. Dionysios of Zakynthos (1622 AD), St. Spyridon of Trimythous (348 AD), St. Gerasimos of Kephalonia (1570/79 AD), St. Theophano (897 AD), St. Euphemia (303 AD), Solomone mother of the Holy Maccabees (from before Christ), and more. The first three that I mentioned, St. Dionysios, Spryridon and Gerasimos, are considered “Walking Saints.” Their reliquary will seem locked from the inside at times of the year and their shoes become worn down, and due to the many miraculous sightings of the saints, they are considered to be “walking.” Pieces of their shoes are given as relics to the faithful as well.

Relics play an important role in the Greek Orthodox Church. When a church is consecrated or dedicated as a holy place that will be used for worship, a piece of relic is sealed into the altar table with a combination of holy chrism and a bonding agent. This comes from the ancient practice of having liturgy on the tombs of the martyrs, which comes from the early Church, when they had to do secret liturgies in fear of persecution. Once Christianity became legalized, this tradition continued unto this day.

Like icons, we venerate relics and ask for the intercession of the saints, but we know that the only miracles come from the Lord, through his saints many times, yes, but only from God. There are thousands of miracle working relics and the faithful flock to them with their fervent requests of healing and other requests. These are not magic though, you are not guaranteed a miracle because you approach and venerate the relic. God works His wonders when He wills and for His purposes, not when we demand it or for our own purposes. Christ didn’t heal everyone throughout all of Israel, but He did heal those who came seeking Him. We must continue to seek Christ, but to know that “Thy will be done.”

About Andrew Athanasiou

Andrew is a student of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, located in Brookline, Massachusetts. Andrew is a Masters of Divinity Student who is also a Seminarian. Andrew is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his knowledge comes from five major sources: Greek Orthodox Seminary; Greek Orthodox Summer Camp; both being taught and teaching in Greek Orthodox Sunday School; and finally further readings and interests in other theological areas.

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