October 4, 2006

Living Reliquaries

“According to the Orthodox belief the body remains a Temple of the Holy Spirit even after death. Redeemed, cleansed, sanctified by the blood of Jesus, consecrated by the indwelling Spirit, the bodies of Saints are drenched, as it were, to their very bones with divinity.”

Anthony M. Coniaris
Introducing The Orthodox Church: Its Faith and Life

My daughter, who is a freshman in college but living at home, was given the assignment in art class of making a reliquary. She did an outstanding job and crafted a reliquary for an imaginary child who died in the Holocaust. As many things in my life tend to do, it got me to thinking.

When I was first introduced to the tradition of Orthodox reliquaries, I’ll admit I was a bit put off. At first it seemed very strange (from my non-Orthodox background) to want to keep body parts or other items of the departed saints and martyrs. Without getting into a theological discussion, I understand that at least on one level they are tangible links to the past. Keeping relics is an act of love, a way of piercing the veil between this life and the life to come, a way or treasuring memory because Orthodox tradition, in a very tangible way, defines who we are and illuminates the path we are to follow. Now I more fully understand why in each altar there are relics of one of the martyrs.

Then I realized that one at least one level it was no different than wanting to hold on to an item left behind by a loved one, an article of clothing, even a photograph. I think the basic desire/instinct is the same. In a very real sense we are all living reliquaries. We all carry around relics of lost loved ones inside us as memories. Not as ornate as those crafted by the hand of man, but much more precious as we are all created in His likeness and image.

For me the most significant memory is that of my father. He died from the effects of acute alcoholism when he was just 36 years old. I have referred to his death obliquely in this blog before so I won’t belabor the point. In many ways his was the example of what not to do as a father. Still, I carry the memories because I do not want to lose him.

When I think of a reliquary this way it makes absolute sense. Not so much because it is a physical remnant of the actual person (that’s a whole different discussion), but because of how special that person was, of the impact they had in our lives or in the life of the Church.

Note: I realize that many of the posts on this blog conccern death in one fashion or another. This is a learning process for me as I would never have imagined the blog would have taken this turn. I will try to include less depressing material inthe future.

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