The veneration of the relics of Saints dates back to the early Church. 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. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (4th century) writes: “Though the soul is not present, a power resides in the bodies of the saints because of the righteous soul which has for so many years dwelt in it, or used it as its minister” (Catechetical Lectures (18:16).
Fr. Kallistos Ware reminds us that the veneration of the relics of Saints in the Orthodox Church proceeds from a highly developed theology of the body: “Belief in the deification of the body and in its eventual resurrection helps to explain the Orthodox veneration of relics. Since the body is redeemed and sanctified along with the soul, and since the body will rise again, it is only fitting that Christians should show respect for the bodily remains of the saints. Reverence for relics is not the fruit of ignorance and superstition, but springs from a highly developed theology of the body. ”
We read in The Martyrdom of Polycarp: “So we later took up his bones, more precious than costly stones and more valuable than gold, and laid them away in a suitable place. There the Lord will permit us, so far as possible, to gather together in joy and gladness to celebrate the day of his martyrdom as a birthday, in memory of those athletes who have gone before, and to train and make ready those who are to come hereafter.”
Fr. Kallistos Ware