by Misty Duke
Prior to becoming an Orthodox catechumen I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to look at the bones of a dead man, even if he were a saint.
“What benefit is there to looking at that which belongs whole and hidden in a grave awaiting our Savior’s return?”
My Protestant mind so often questioned. But, a vacation to Edinburgh , Scotland would change my view of the practice of venerating relics.
In the corner of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Edinburgh, Scotland, is a shrine dedicated to the apostle Andrew. And, in that shrine are an icon of Andrew and two glass cases containing fragments of his bones. I remembered Andrew from my childhood Baptist Sunday School lessons. He came to be remembered as the first-called of the apostles after he declared to his brother Peter,
“We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41).
After Pentecost, the apostle Andrew evangelized Greece, Georgia and the Russian lands. In the year 62 A.D. in the town of Patras, Greece, Andrew followed Christ to the tree of his own martyrdom and comforted his converts from his cross until he gave up his soul to God.
Despite the facts I knew about St Andrew’s life, it was not until I beheld his body with my eyes that he became more than a name on a page. He became a man of flesh and blood, who knew joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, life and death. The disciple Luke says in Acts 5:15,
“…they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, so that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.”
At the moment I knelt in the shadow of Andrew’s bones, in the shadow of Peter’s very brother, I understood. Here lies my spiritual family! How could I not venerate that which the Church considers
“more honorable than precious stones and more gentle than gold”? (Polycarp).
How could I not feel
“the Holy Spirit who tabernacles in his remains”? (St Basil the Great).
How could I not look lovingly at the body of one who loved Christ so much that he stretched out his arms and died for Him?
The scriptures say there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. I wonder if Andrew would call me his friend. So many times I have not done that which is right. So many times I have cursed when I should have been silent and lied when I should have spoken the truth. But, after beholding St Andrew’s body, the vast recesses of my mind are flooded with thoughts of my grandmother. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and even the touch of home cause a river of tears to flow from my eyes. Memories beckon me to my grandmother’s house, upon whose doorstep I found mercy and within whose walls I found freedom in my youth.
Any revelation I gained the day I knelt in St Andrew’s shrine began not there in that distant homeland of my ancestors, but in my small Mississippi hometown in the summer of 1992, seventeen years earlier, when my family buried my grandmother, Betty. My grandmother’s death is the most painful one I have known in my thirty-five years. Her passing rings like a bell in my heart calling me home to the Church, within whose walls I am finding healing from such a painful loss. I close my eyes and see my grandfather kiss her good-bye. I close my eyes again and feel the cool of her forehead against my lips. And, I weep because I know this is not what God intended in that garden where He fashioned humanity. Christ has conquered the grave but the sting of death feels no less painful to my heart and no less cool to my lips.
There in those glass cases in St Andrew’s Shrine lay the pieces of a sinner like me. In Andrew’s brokenness, I see my own brokenness. And, again I weep. I weep for my own sins and for my grandmother whose absence is filled only by the hope of living in her presence again one day. Her name will not be remembered by millions as has Andrew’s. But, I will remember her. And, I will lift up her name in prayer for as long as I have breath, for our God, as the apostle Paul said,
is the God of the living and the dead (Romans 14:9).
Two months after beholding the relics of the blessed apostle Andrew I embraced the ancient Orthodox faith. But, another two years would have to pass before I could put into words the silence that overwhelmed me upon being in the presence of one who stood, spoke, ate, drank, and lived in the presence of Christ our God. I grasp Saint Andrew’s cross dangling near my heart and look at my grandmother’s picture. Fragments of a man whom I never met while he walked this earth and the body of a woman whose face I saw daily for sixteen years tug at the strings of my heart.
Through my icons of Christ and His mother, a window into heaven opens. I see arms out-stretched: my Savior’s, the Theotokos’, St Andrew’s, and my grandmother’s. And, I am filled with hope – hope that all will find healing in the Body and Blood that invites us to partake of Him so that we may have eternal life, hope that all will live in the light of the Resurrection.
You can read more about Misty Duke’s Journey to Orthodoxy here: My Journey Home