Thursday, 29 June 2017 14:52

    In Greece and Russia, the veneration of saintly remains is a huge phenomenon

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    IF YOU consult “The Orthodox Church”, a standard introduction for English-speakers penned by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, you will learn the following:

    Because Orthodox are convinced that the body is sanctified and transfigured together with the soul, they have an immense reverence for the relics of the saints. Like Roman Catholics, they believe that the grace of God present in the saints’ bodies during life remains active in their relics…and God uses these relics as a channel of divine power and an instrument of healing.

    So much for the doctrinal theory. In the realm of social, cultural and even diplomatic reality, the veneration of saintly relics has in recent weeks become an even bigger phenomenon than ever in two Orthodox lands, Greece and Russia.

    Russians are queueing to venerate the relics of Saint Nicholas, a bishop of the fourth century which is remembered in church history as a discreetly generous shepherd of his flock, to whom sailors, travellers and vulnerable women have looked for protection. Russian believers, including the tsars who bore his name, have always a particular fondness for the saint. In western Europe, he became known as Santa Claus. The relics’ arrival on May 21st (from their long-term home in the Italian port of Bari) was greeted with full military honours. Church bells pealed across Moscow as holy fragments were brought to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

    Greeks, meanwhile, have been lining up for hours to pray before the remains of Saint Helen, laid out in a church in a modest quarter of greater Athens. She was the mother of Constantine, the first Christian sovereign of the eastern Roman empire. She is revered as the founder of Christian archaeology: on a trip to the Holy Land she is said to have identified the site where Jesus Christ was crucified and unearthed the Cross.

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