The relics of the saints and their power with Father George Calciu
– The holy relics of the saints are venerated with great devotion by the Romanian faithful. Why is this father? Is it because of some inheritance, or is it perhaps that the people really feel their help?
– I remember back, during the days of the communist regime, before my detention, that the holy relics were sought less by the faithful than they are today. The relics are incorrupt bodies of the saints; and there is a whole theory on the incorrupt bodies. Even after death, God will flow a special grace to those who had a higher spiritual life. However, I will not insist on this. What I want to emphasize is that, there is a close connection between the saint’s soul and his/her holy relics that we venerate, and it is proper to honor them. Undoubtedly this thirst for the veneration of the relics of the saints involves a close relationship between the believer who asks and the saint who intercedes for him. I am convinced that every believer realizes that the relics alone don’t bring healings, consolations, or relevance from temptations, but the saint through the grace given to him/her by God, can work wonders through those relics. If there are people who believe otherwise, that the relics do wonders by themselves, and not by God’ grace, it means that they fell into an error near idolatry.
In: – If the saint works through the grace granted to him/her by God, and not by this relics or his icon – sometimes called “wonders working icons” – wouldn’t just be better to pray directly to the saint without having to venerate the relics and the icons?
Fr. G: – There are people who also do that. The prayer is what matters first, but the contact with the holy relics and the icons is also useful. For man needs some steps to his ascent to the spiritual life. Man’s personal relationship with the saint is best established this way. Father Dumitru Staniloae wondered: “How is it that, a million people are praying to a saint, and the saint answers to all of them?” The explanation is that the saints receive from God the gift of listening to a million prayers at the same time, of distinguishing between the prayers and offer help to all. The presence of the relics is for most of us, that certainty that the miracle is possible.
When one sees the incorrupt body of a saint, it means that the saint can come to your help. I’ve noticed that, whether you’re a believer or an atheist, the need for the miracle is as great. For instance in the West, the witches and fortune tellers are in great demand. It is a delusion for us humans, invented by the devil, to satisfy our thirst for the miracle. Perhaps, even here in Romania, there are people who seek the relics, but also the fortune tellers. And this is a forbidden mixture.
In: – Father, but if the people are so attached to the relics of the saints, why most of them rash to bow before the relics only on feast days? Is the grace of the saint grater on that day?
Fr. G: – No, but we relate to certain dates, anniversaries and commemorations. So people think that the power of the saint increases on those occasions. And I believe they’re right, for people’ faith and hope is greater on those days so the saint responds accordingly. When I was a professor at the Theological Seminary, the students took turns guarding the holy relics in our church, to keep orderly those who came to venerate them. One day, a boy who was on duty, which I considered very sincere and humble, and with great faith, came to me and said: “Father, now I believe.” He witnessed a miracle: a paralyzed woman was cured by St. Demetrius the New.
So the miracle is done not only for the one who has been healed, but also for those who are present. Then, the prayers done in communion with each other, during the feast, is more appealing to God than the prayer done alone, as the feasts create a certain spiritual emulation, which the soul is deeply involved in. And surely we’ll receive according to our faith. So people come together and encourage each other in the spirit, for their faith, and for the veneration of the holy relics without being much aware of it. It is very important that people will not make from this a mean of idolatry. They ought not to forget that beyond the holy relics, is the spirit of the saint and especially God who gives His power to the saint and who makes the wonder happens. It is known that a faith that is based solely on miracles, is a weak faith. But many times through the miracle, conversions happen, some of which being very dramatic.
In: – How do we know that we sand before a holy relic?
Fr. G – The holy relics are consecrated by the Church, and this is the proof. The healings or the conversions to the faith are the result of the fact that the relics are enshrined by the Church.
In: – How about if we have the incorrupt remains that are fragrant and even miracle-working from a man who has not been glorified by the Church? … for instance the incorrupt body of Father Elijah (Ilie) Lacatusu from Giulesti that has all the signs of the holy relics, yet Father is not glorified by the Church? Are they holy relics or not?
Fr. G: – There are holy relics if they fulfilled all the canons of the Church and they work wonders. So the finding of the Church is important and this comes with prudence, after checking all the signs. It is not wrong that it happens this way.
In: – Elder Justin Parvu, the Abbot of Petru-Voda Monastery – Neamt [now with the Lord], warned that our country is full of holy relics unrecognized by the Church. And for this, says the holy elder, the wrath of God is upon us. Father Abbot Justin emphasized that, in the mass graves where the bodies of the political prisoners martyred for their faith in Christ, were deposited, such as the Ravine Servants (Rapa Robilor) from Aiud, there exist holy relics. Moreover, the elder collected some of their earthly remains and deposited them into a reliquary inside the monastery church. How are we to relate to these bodily remains of those faithful martyred for their faith in Christ?
Fr. G: – In the Romanian Orthodox Church, the hierarchs have no courage to declare that the remains of the former political prisoners martyred in the communists prisons for Christ, are holy relics. Moreover, in the Patriarchate, there are several files pending decision for glorification (canonization), such as that of Father Elijah (ilie) Lacatusu, which I strongly believe that he is a saint, or that of Valeriu Gafencu’s. And the synod did not give an answer. The majority of the former political prisoners were legionaries, and the hierarchies fear that an action towards a possible glorification can be taken as being political. We need to relate to all these wisely and attentively. If God wills, through His saints, whether unknown or unrecognized officially by the church, He can offer us help.
In: – I noticed that in Bucharest, there are many churches that bear pieces of relics of the same saint. How is it that several churches can get holy relics of one saint?
Fr. G: – In general, those who are in custody of the saint’ body, when a church requests a piece, they can offer. And it happens that the priests, when they learn that a certain church has acquired the relics of a particular saint, will try to get a piece. Some relics were purchased and deposited in certain churches. But if the whole body remains incorrupt, generally is been stored as such. The body of St. Nektarios was maintained whole and incorrupt for 20 years, after which the flesh was gone and only the skeleton remained. Those who were in the care of the saint’ body, shared parts of his relics. His bodily corruption sparked some deceptions; there were people who thought that God has lifted his holiness. The priests however, have agreed that God has appointed this way, that pieces form Saint Nektarios’ body may be shared with the world, and by divine grace, to perform miracles.
In: – Isn’t there a danger, to “trade” with the holy relics?
Fr. G: – Well, even the saints are at risk of our trifles… (Father George smiles). I personally believe that, maybe the saint prayed to the Lord to be “bought” in small pieces by certain places (churches) where people need him the most.
In: – Someone foreign to the Orthodox faith could consider the sharing of dead bodies, a barbaric ritual, even if they belong to the saints …
Fr. G: – If the body remains in one place, we limit the possibility for a large number of people to experience wonders, help and comfort. Not everyone can travel to pray at the shrine with the holy relics of a certain saint, that can come to their help.
In: – In many churches in Bucharest, the pieces of garments worn by a saint are being venerated almost as much as the holy relics,…
Fr. G: – It is not proper so. I do not mean that those garments are not impregnated with the divine power, but they are not like the relics. I do not think they can heal. At most, they can help a person have a better connection to the saint they belong and with God.
In – A church building, not a community of believers, can it be consider better, stronger, or more helpful to the faithful, if it bares in it sacred relics?
Fr. G: – The saint works in this matter: people themselves are stimulated to come to the church and to believe. But all [Orthodox] Churches are full of grace, and God is everywhere, not just where the relics are present. Not all the saints become relics. God works through various gifts that He grants to certain people. The relics are only one way of divine manifestation.
In: – Your reverence, do your remember great miracles that impressed masses of people in Romania?
Fr. G – There were many wonders, as the one with my student which I mentioned to you, but they are not being advertised and it is better that way. Thus, we’ll avoid a sort of pride from the churches that bear the holy relics, where miracles happen. If there is too much publicity, and too much fidgeting, it’s not good.
In: – Father, did you experience any miracle?
Fr. G: – Yes once back in 1972 or 1973, I went with my seminary students to St. George Church, where is the hand of St. Nicholas [of Myra]. After all of us passed and bowed before the reliquary, the hand of the saint began to spread a whiff of nice fragrance. Until then, the hand did not smell, and I considered it like a sign from the saint. Maybe it predicted what would happen to me later [father is referring to his second arrest] or maybe it was the saint’ joy that those students were proper to become good priests.
In: – At the end of this interview, for which I thank you father, lets summarize: what does an Orthodox faithful need to know about honoring the holy relics and the veneration of the icons?
Fr. G: – That they are all steps, and only steps in our ascent to God. The Orthodox Christians must not limit themselves to the prayer before the relics or even to the saint invoked in their prayer. The Christian ought to be aware that is God Himself Who works through the saints and responds to our prayers before the icons or the relics. Otherwise we’ll fall closely into idolatry. The danger is very great, especially for the people who are pious, but yet do not have a basic theological understanding of God.