Friday, November 13, 2009

On the Sanctification of Material Things

God’s purpose is not merely to sanctify our souls, but all of our being, body and soul (Romans 8:23). Not only that, but He is sanctifying His whole creation (Romans 8:22). This is one reason Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan: to sanctify its waters. And you know, of course, what happens to those waters. They evaporate, become clouds, are blown to somewhere else, condense eventually, and fall as rain in a new place, where the process begins all over again, until those waters, sanctified by His own body having been in their midst, end up watering the whole planet.

Perhaps people who are hung up on the guilt aspect of sin overlook the sanctification of material things, since stars or flowers or streams bear no guilt. It’s true, guilt they do not bear, so what does sanctification mean for them? It means material things, too, are filled with the Spirit of God, and with His power, and operate strictly and only according to His purpose, being unavailable to the devil and free from his grasp.

And that’s where relics of the saints come in. The very bodies of these people were already made holy. That is, they already were filled with the Holy Spirit and His goodness and His power. Of course the Holy Spirit indwells every Christian, but in the exceptionally mature ones we call saints, He has been given free rein and free reign. In the saints, the Christian body is at the disposal of the Holy Spirit in a manner approaching perfection, fully open to His promptings. It becomes His own body. So much so that sometimes the power in that body even spreads to the clothes. No, wait, really. This is not some pagan notion. It is thoroughly Christian. It is recorded as fact in Scripture. The woman with the flow of blood was cured when she merely touched the hem of Jesus' garment. St. Paul's clothes, like His Lord's, (for they were His Lord's) also were filled with God's miraculous power. “And God worked special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought to the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12).

St. Peter was so holy (conformed to Christ) that even his shadow was a vessel of the glory of the Lord: “…they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid [them] on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. There came also a crowd [out] of the cities round about to Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one (Acts 5:15-16).

So if you are a person who criticizes the Orthodox for venerating (not worshipping) holy relics, what I want to know is, why? Ought we not venerate God’s glory wherever, and in whatever, it is found?

Or to ask it another way (as I’ve done before), supposing you had one of St. Paul’s hankies by which God cured diseases, or one of his aprons by which He drove demons away? Assuming you knew it was authentic, and not some Roman forgery, you wouldn't, say, bury it, would you, really? Wouldn’t you display it? If you were sick, wouldn't you, kneeling before it, pray God to use it to cure you, too? Don't you think those people did the same, to whom St. Paul sent those relics around? You don't imagine, do you, really, truly, that they treated the healing handkerchiefs and aprons casually or irreverently?

And please don't tell me if you had Jesus' garment you wouldn't now and then kiss the hem of it, (or the glass covering over it) or at least long to, even if you felt too unworthy actually to do it.

No, let us never take a disdainful, faithless attitude toward even the material things in which God's miraculous love is poured out to us.


P.S. Come to think of it, we have yet another New Testament example of how a person's sanctity can "spread" even to his clothing, and that is the Transfiguration (Matthew 17, Mar, 9, Luke 9) in which Jesus' clothes became "dazzling", "white as the light", "shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them."