Prayer as the Expression of the Inward Life of the Churchby Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
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THE SPIRITUAL BOND OF THE
MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH IN PRAYER
PRAYER is the manifestation of the Church's life and the spiritual bond of its members with God in the Holy Trinity, and of all with each other. It is so inseparable from faith that it may be called the atmosphere of the Church or the breathing of the Church. Prayers are the threads of the living fabric of the Church body, and they go in all directions. The bond of prayer penetrates the whole body of the Church, leading each part of it into the common life of the body, animating each part and helping it by nourishing, by cleansing, and by other forms of mutual help (Eph. 4:16). It unites each member of the Church with the Heavenly Father, the members of the earthly Church with each other, and the earthly members with the heavenly members. It does not cease, but yet more increases and is exalted in the Heavenly Kingdom.
Through the whole Sacred Scripture of the New Testament there goes the commandment of ceaseless prayer:
Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17); praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit (Eph 6:18); and He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1).
The perfect example of personal prayer was given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself He left as an example the prayer "Our Father"-the Lord's Prayer. Prayer is (a) the form of the Church's life, (b) an instrument or means of its activity, and (c) its power of overcoming
Prayer is of two kinds: public and private. There is prayer which is of words, and in particular sung, and there is mental prayer, that is, inward prayer, or the prayer of the mind in the heart.1 The content of prayer is (a) praise or glory; (b) thanksgiving; (c) repentance; (d) entreaty for the mercy of God, for the forgiveness of sins, for the giving of good things of soul and body, both heavenly and earthly. Repentance before God sometimes has the form of a conversation with one’s own
soul–as, for example, often occurs in the canons.2
Prayer may be for oneself or for others. Prayer for each other expresses the mutual love between members of the Church. Since, according to the Apostle, love never faileth (1Cor. 13:8), the earthly members of the Church not only pray for each other, but also, according to the law of Christian love, they pray for those who are departed (the heavenly members); and the heavenly members likewise pray for those on earth, as well as for the repose of their brethren who are III need of the help of prayer. Finally, we ourselves appeal to those in heaven with the entreaty to pray for us and for our brethren. Upon this bond of the heavenly with the earthly is founded also the concern of the angels over us and our prayers to them.
The power of prayer for others is constantly affirmed by the word of God. The Savior said to the Apostle Peter: I have prayed for thee, that thy faithful not (Luke 22:32). The Holy Apostle Paul often entreats Christians to pray for him: I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you (Philemon, v. 22). Brethren, pray for us, that the word
of the Lord might have free course and be glorified, even as it is with you (11 Thes. 3: 1). Being far away, the Apostle is joined with his spiritual brethren in common prayer: Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me (Rom. 15:30). The Apostle James instructs: Pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:1 ). St. John the Theologian saw In revelation how in the heavens twenty-four elders, standing at the throne of God, fell down before the Lamb, and everyone had harps and vials filled with incense, which are the prayers of saints (Apoc. 5:8); that is, they raised up the prayers of the saints on earth to the Heavenly Throne.
Prayer for the Dead
Pray one for another (James 5:16).
Whether we live ... or die, we are the Lord’s (Rom. 14:8).
Love never faileth (I Cor. 13:8).
Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13).
In God all are alive. Church life is penetrated by a living awareness and feeling that our dead ones continue to live after death, only in a different form than on earth, and that they are not deprived of spiritual nearness to those who remain on earth. Therefore, the bond of prayer with them on the part of the pilgrim Church (on earth) does not cease. Neither death nor life ... shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39). The departed need only one kind of help from their brethren: prayer and petition for the remission of their sins.
And this is the confidence that we have in Him (the Son of God), that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us. And if lie know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it (I John 5:14-16).
Corresponding to this instruction of the Apostle, the Church prays for all its children who have died with true repentance. Praying for them as for those who are alive, the Church follows the words of the Apostle: Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living (Rom. 14:8-9). Those, however, who have died in unrepented sins, outside the communion of the Church, are not even vouchsafed the Church's prayers, as follows from the above-mentioned words of the Apostle John: I do not say that he should pray for it.
In the Old Testament Church also there existed the custom of praying for the dead. Concerning this there is the testimony of sacred history. Thus, in the days of the pious leader of the Jews Judas Maccabeus, when, after an inspection of those who had fallen on the field of battle, there was found in their garments plunder from the gifts offered to idols, all the Jews blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, Who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And Judas Maccabeus himself sent to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection (11 Mac. 12:39-45).
That the remission of sins for those who have sinned not unto death can be given both in the present life and after death is naturally to be concluded from the words of the Lord Himself. Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come (Matt. 12:32). Similarly, from the word of God we know that the Lord Jesus has the keys of hell and of death (Apoc. 1: 18); consequently, He has power to open the gates of hell by the prayers of the Church and by power of the propitiatory Bloodless Sacrifice which is offered for the dead.
In the Christian Church all the ancient Liturgies, both of East and West, testify to the Church’s remembrance in prayer of the dead. Such Liturgies are known under the names of the Holy Apostle James, the brother of the Lord; St. Basil the Great; St. John Chrysostom; and St. Gregory the Dialogist. Similar references are to be found in the Ro-
man, Spanish, and Gallican Liturgies, and finally, in the ancient Liturgies of the groups that separated from Orthodoxy: the Jacobites, Copts, Armenians, Ethiopians, Syrians, and others. For all their numbers, there is not a single one of these Liturgies where there is no prayer for the dead. The testimony of the Fathers and teachers of the Church speaks of the same thing.
Concerning the good effect of prayerful communion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ between those living on earth and the dead, St. Ephraim the Syrian, for example, reasons thus: "For the dead, the remembrance performed by the saints during their lifetime is beneficial. We see an example of this in a number of the works of God. For example, in a vineyard there are the ripening grapes in the field, and the wine already squeezed out into vessels; when the grapes ripen on the grapevine, then the wine which stands unmoving in the house begins to froth and be agitated, as if desiring to escape. The same thing happens, it seems, with another plant, the onion; for as soon as the onion which has been sown in the field begins to ripen, the onion which is in the house also begins to give sprouts. And so, if even growing things have between themselves such a fellow-feeling, will not the petitions of prayer be all the more felt by the dead? And when you will sensibly agree that this Occurs III accordance with the nature of creatures, then )List imagine that you are the first of the creatures of God."
In praying for the dead, the Church intercedes for them just as for the living, not in its own name, but in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:13-14), and by the power of His Sacrifice on the Cross, which was offered for the deliverance of all. These fervent
prayers help the seeds of new life which our departed ones have taken with them––if these seeds have been unable to open up sufficiently here on earth––to gradually open up and develop under the influence of prayers and the mercy of God, just as a good seed is developed in the earth under the life-giving rays of the sun, with favorable weather. But nothing can revive rotten seeds which have lost the very principle of vegetative life. Similarly, powerless would be prayers for the dead who have died in impiety and without repentance, who have quenched in themselves the Spirit of Christ (1Thess 5:19). It is precisely concerning such sinners t at one must remember the words of the Savior in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: that there is no deliverance for them from the deepest parts of hell, and no transference for them into the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:26). And indeed, such people usually do not leave behind them on earth people who might pray sincerely for them to God; likewise, they have not acquired for themselves friends in heaven among the saints, who, when they fall (that is, die), might receive them into everlasting habitations––that is, might pray for them (Luke 16:9).
Of course, on the earth it is not known to what lot each has been subjected after his death. But the prayer of love can never be profitless. If our dead ones who are dear to us have been vouchsafed the Kingdom of Heaven, they reply to prayer for them with an answering prayer for us. And if our prayers are powerless to help them, in any case they are not harmful to us, according to the word of that- Psalmist: My prayer shall return to my bosom (Ps. 34:16), and according to the word of the Savior: Let your peace return to you (Matt. 10: 13). But they are indeed profitable for us. St. John Damascene remarks: "If anyone wishes to anoint a sick man with myrrh or some other sacred oil, first he becomes a partaker of the anointing himself and then he anoints the sick one. So also, everyone who struggles for the salvation of his neighbor, first receives benefit himself, and then offers it to his neighbor; for God is not unjust, so as to forget the works, according to the word of the Divine Apostle."
Communion in Prayer with the Saints
The Church prays for all who have died in the faith, asking forgiveness for their sins. For there is no man without sin, if he have lived even a single day upon earth (Job 14:5, Septuagint). If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (I John 1:8). Therefore, no matter how righteous a man might be, when he departs from this world, the Church accompanies his departure with prayer for him to the Lord. Brethren, pray for us, the Holy Apostle Paul asks his spiritual children (I Thes. 5:25).
At the same time, when the common voice of the Church testifies to the righteousness of the reposed person, Christians, apart from prayer for him, are taught by the good example of his life and place him as an example to be Imitated.
And when, further, the common conviction of the sanctity of the reposed person is confirmed by special testimonies, such as martyrdom, fearless confession, self-sacrificing service to the Church, the gift of healing, and especially when the Lord confirms the sanctity of the reposed person by miracles after his death when he is remembered in prayer––then the Church glorifies him in a special way. How can the Church not glorify those whom the Lord Himself calls His "friends"? Ye are my friends.... I have called you friends (John 15:14-15), whom He has received in His heavenly mansions in fulfillment of the words: Where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:3). When this happens, prayers for the forgiveness of the sins of the departed one and for his repose cease; they give way to other forms of Church communion with him, namely: (a) the praising of his struggles in Christ, since neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house (Matt. 5:15); (b) petitions to him that he might pray for us, for the remission of our sins, for our moral advancement, and that he might help us in our spiritual needs and in our sorrows.
It is said: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth (Apoc. 14:13); and we indeed bless them.
It is said: And the glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them (John 17:22); and we indeed give to them this glory, according to the Savior's commandment.
Likewise the Savior said: He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet~ reward,- and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward (Matt. 10:41). Whosoever shall do the will of My Father Who is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother (Matt. 12:50). Therefore, we also should receive a righteous man as a righteous man. If he is a brother for the Lord, then he should be such for us also. The saints are our spiritual brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers; and our love for them is expressed by communion in prayer with them.
The Apostle John wrote to the Christians: That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with u sand truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (1John 1:3). And in the Church this fellowship with the Apostles is not interrupted; it goes over with them into the other realm of their existence, the heavenly realm.
The nearness of the saints to the Throne of the Lamb and the raising up by them of prayers for the Church on earth are depicted in the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologlan: And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the Throne, and the beasts, and the elders,- and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, who praised the Lord (Apoc. 5:11).
Communion in prayer with the saints is the realization in actual fact of the bond between Christians on earth and the Heavenly Church of which the Apostle speaks: Ye are come unto MountZion, and unto the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and the Church of the firstborn, who are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb. 12:22-23).
The Sacred Scripture presents numerous examples of the fact that the righteous, while still living on earth, can see and hear and know much that is inaccessible to the ordinary understanding. All the more are these gifts present with them when they have put off the flesh and are in heaven. The Holy Apostle Peter saw into the heart of Ananias, according to the book of Acts (5:3). To Elisha was revealed the lawless act of the servant Gehazi (IV Kings, chap. 4; II Kings in KJV); and what is even more remarkable, to him was revealed all the secret intentions of the Syrian court, which he then communicated to the King of Israel (IV Kings 6:12). ]'he saints, when still on earth, penetrated in spirit into the world above. Some of them saw choirs of angels, others were vouchsafed to behold the image of God (Isaiah, Ezekiel), and still others were exalted to the third heaven and heard there mystical, unutterable words, as for example, the Holy Apostle Paul. All the more when they are in heaven, are they capable of knowing what is happening on earth and of hearing those who appeal to them, since the saints in heaven are equal unto the angels (Luke 20:36).
From the parable of the Lord about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-3 1), we know that Abraham, being in heaven, could hear the cry of the rich man who was suffering in hell, despite the "great gulf" that separates them. The words of Abraham about the rich man’s brethren, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them (Luke 16:29), clearly indicate that Abraham knows the life of the Hebrew people which has occurred after his death; he knows of Moses and the Law, of the prophets and their writings. The spiritual vision of the souls of the righteous in heaven, without any doubt, is greater than it was on earth. The Apostle writes: Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known (1Cor. 13:12).
The Holy Church has always held the reaching of the invocation of the saints, being fully convinced that they intercede for us before God in heaven. This we see from the ancient Liturgies. In the Liturgy of the Holy Apostle James it is said: "Especially we perform the memorial of the Holy and Glorious Ever-Virgin, the Blessed Theotokos. Remember her, O Lord God, and by her pure and holy prayers spare and have mercy on us." St. Cyril of Jerusalem, explaining the Liturgy of the Church of Jerusalem, remarks: "Then we also commemorate (in offering the Bloodless Sacrifice) those who have previously departed: first of all, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, so that by their prayers and intercession God might receive our petition."
Numerous are the testimonies of the Fathers and teachers of the Church, especially from the 4th century onwards, concerning the Church's veneration of the saints. But already from the beginning of the 2nd century there are direct indications in ancient Christian literature concerning faith in the prayer of the saints in heaven for their earthly brethren. The witnesses of the martyric death of St. Ignatius the God-bearer (beginning of the 2nd century) say: "Having returned home with tears, we had the all-night vigil.... Then, after sleeping a little, some of us suddenly saw blessed Ignatius standing and embracing us, and others likewise saw him praying for us." Similar records, mentioning the prayers and intercession for us of the martyrs, are to be found in other accounts from the epoch of persecutions against Christians.
THE OUTWARD SIDE OF PRAYER (PHYSICAL)
Prayer is the offering of the mind and heart to God. However, while we are living in the body upon earth, our prayer naturally is expressed in various outward forms: bows and prostrations, the sign of the Cross, the lifting up of the hands, the use of various objects in the Divine services, and all the out-ward actions of the public Divine services of Orthodox Christians.
The Christian worship of God, in its highest state, is worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). The Christian Divine services are incomparably more exalted than the Old Testament ones. Although the Old Testament services were instituted according to the command of God Himself (Exodus 25:40), still they served only as the example and shadow of heavenly things (Heb. 8:5). They were done away with as "decayed and grown old" and near to "vanishing away" (Heb. 8:13) with the institution of the New Testament, which was sanctified by the holy Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Divine services of the New Testament consist not in constant sacrifices of calves and rams, but ill the prayer of praise, thanksgiving, and petition, in the offering of the Bloodless Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, and in the bestowing of Grace in the Holy Mysteries.
However, Christian prayer has also various outward actions. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself did not avoid the outward manifestations of prayer and sacrifice actions: He bowed the knee, fell on His face, and prayed; He raised His hands and blessed; He breathed and said to His disciples, Peace be to you; He used outward actions when healing; He visited the Temple in Jerusalem and called it "the house of My Father": My house shall he called the house of prayer (Matt. 21:13). The Apostles also did all these things.
Spiritual worship must be accompanied by bodily worship, as a result of the close bond and mutual influence of soul and body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price,- therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s (I Cor. 6:19-20).
A Christian is not only called to glorify God with his soul and in his body, but everything surrounding him he must also direct to the glorification of the Lord. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (1Cor. 10:3 1). One should sanctify by prayer not only oneself but also that which one makes use of: For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it i's sanctified by the word of God and prayer (I Tim. 4:4-5). The Christian is called consciously to aid towards the end that around him, in his hands, and in his consciousness there might be realized the call of the Psalm: Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord (Ps. 150:5). This is done by the Orthodox Christian Divine services, taken in their wholeness.
The Veneration of Icons
One of the outward forms of the worship of God and the veneration of the saints is the use of sacred images and the respect shown to them.
Among the various gifts of man which distinguish him from other creatures is the gift of art, or of depictions in line and color. 'I'his is a noble and high gift, and it is worthy to be used to glorify God. With all the pure and high means available to us we must glorify God according to the call of the Psalmist: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name (Ps. 102: 1). "All that is within me" refers to all the capabilities of the soul. And truly, the capability of art is a gift from God. Of old under Moses the Lord hath called by name Bezaleel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and He hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; and to devise skilled works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work. And He hath put in his heart that he may teach (others).... Them hath He filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer (Ex. 35:30-35).
The material objects made by the skilled work of artists for the tabernacle of Moses, as also subsequently for the Temple of Solomon, were all sacred. However, while some of them served more as sacred adornments, others were especially revered and became exceptional places of God's glory. For example, there was the "Ark of the Covenant," the very touching of which without special reverence Could cause death (II Kings [II Sam.] 6:6-7––the incident with Uzzah at the time of the transferral of the Ark under David, when Uzzah was struck dead because he touched the Ark with his hand). There were also the "Cherubim of glory" over the Ark, in the midst of which God deigned to reveal Himself and to give His commands to Moses. There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two Cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel (Ex. 25:18-22). These were "the visible image of the Invisible God" (in the expression of Metropolitan Macarius in his Orthodox Dogmatic Theology).
Among the numerous depictions on the walls and curtains of the Old Testament Temple, there were no depictions of the departed righteous ones, such as exist in the Christian Church. They were not there because the righteous ones themselves were awaiting their deliverance, waiting to be brought up out of hell; this was accomplished by the descent into hell and the Resurrection of Christ. According to the Apostle, they without us should not be made perfect (Heb. 11:40); they were glorified as saints only in the New Testament.
If in the Sacred Scripture there are strict prohibitions against the erection of idols and the worship of them, one cannot at all transfer these prohibitions to Christian icons. Idols are the images of false gods, and the worship of them was a worship of demons, or else of imaginary beings that have no existence; and thus, in essence, it is a worship of the lifeless objects themselves-wood, gold, or stone. But the Sacred Scripture strictly instructs us to put a difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean (Lev. 10: 10). He who is unable to see the difference between sacred images and idols blasphemes and defiles the icons; he commits sacrilege and is subject to the condemnation of Sacred Scripture, which warns: Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? (Rom. 2:22).
The discoveries of ecclesiastical archeology show that in the ancient Christian Church there existed sacred images in the catacombs and in other places of assembly for prayer, and subsequently in Christian churches. If in certain cases Christian writers have expressed themselves against the existence of statues and similar images, they have in mind the pagan worship (the Council of Elvira in Spain, 305). Sometimes, however, such expressions and prohibitions were evoked by the special conditions of the time-for example, the necessity to hide one's holy things from the pagan persecutors and from the non-Christian masses who had a hostile attitude toward Christianity.
It is natural to suppose that in the earliest period in the history of Christianity the first need was that people be drawn away from pagan idol-worship, and only later could there be brought into being the idea of the fullness of the forms for glorifying God and His saints; and among these forms there is a place for a glorification in colors, in sacred images.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council in the following words expressed the dogma of the veneration of sacred icons: "We therefore ... define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images ... should be set forth in the holy churches of God (for veneration).... For by so much more frequently as they are seen in artistic representation (that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Theotokos, the angels and saints who are depicted in the icons), by so much more readily arc men lifted up to the memory of their prototypes, and to a longing after them. And to these should be given due salutation and honorable reverence (Greek: timitiki proskynisis), not indeed that true worship of faith (Greek: latreia) which pertains alone to the Divine Nature; but to these ... incense and lights may be offered.... For the honor which is paid to the image passes on to that which the image represents" (Seven Ecumenical Councils, NPNF, P. 550).3
he Veneration of holy Relics
In giving veneration to the saints of God who have departed with their souls into heaven, the Holy Church at the same time honors the relics or bodies of the saints of God which remain on earth.
In the Old Testament there was no veneration of the bodies of the righteous, for the righteous themselves were still awaiting their deliverance. Then also the flesh (of the dead) in itself was considered unclean.
In the New Testament, after the Incarnation of the Savior, there was an elevation not only of the concept of man in Christ, but also of the concept of the body as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The Lord Himself, the Word of God, was incarnate and took upon Himself a human body. Christians are called to this: that not only their souls but also their bodies, sanctified by holy Baptism, sanctified by the reception of the Most Pure Body and Blood of Christ, might become true temples of the Holy Spirit. Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, Who is in you? (I Cor. 6:19). And therefore the bodies of Christians who have lived a righteous life, or who have become holy through receiving a martyr's death, are worthy of special veneration and honor.
The Holy Church in all times, following Sacred Tradition, has shown honor to holy relics. This honor has been expressed (a) in the reverent collection and preservation of the remains of the saints of God, as is known from accounts even of the 2nd century, and then from the testimonies of later times; (b) in the solemn uncovering and translation of holy relics; (c) in the building over them of churches and altars; (d) in the establishment of feasts in memory of their uncovering or translation; (e) in pilgrimages to holy tombs, and in adorning them; and (f) in the constant rule of the Church to place relics of holy martyrs at the dedication of altars, or to place holy relics in the holy antimension upon which is performed the Divine Liturgy.
This very natural honor given to the holy relics and other remains of the saints of God has a firm foundation in the fact that God Himself has deigned to honor and glorify them by innumerable signs and miracles––something for which there is testimony throughout the whole course of the Church's history.
Even in the Old Testament, when saints were not venerated with a special glorification after death, there were signs from the bodies of the righteous. Thus, the body of a certain dead man, after being touched to the bones of the Prophet Elisha in his tomb, immediately came to life, and the dead man arose (IV  Kings 13:21). The body of the Holy Prophet Elijah was raised up alive into heaven, and the mantle of Elijah, which was left by him to Elisha, parted by its touch the waters of the Jordan for the crossing of the river by Elisha.
Going over to the New Testament, we read in the book of the Acts of the Apostles that handkerchiefs and belts ("aprons") from the body of the Apostle Paul were placed upon the sick, and the diseases of the sick were cured, and evil spirits departed from them (Acts 19:12). The Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church have testified before their hearers and readers of the miracles occurring from the remains of the saints, and often they have called their contemporaries to be witnesses of the truth of their words. For example, St. Ambrose says in his homily at the uncovering of the relics of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius: "You have known and even seen yourselves many who have been delivered from demons, and even more of those who had no sooner touched the garments of the saints with their hands than immediately they were healed of their infirmities. The miracles of antiquity have been renewed from the time when, through the coming of the Lord Jesus, there has been poured out upon the earth a most abundant Grace! You see many who have been healed as if by the shadow of the saints. How many cloths have been handed from hand to hand! How many garments, laid upon the sacred remains and from the mere touching become a source of healing, do believers entreat from each other! All strive at least a little to touch (them), and the one who touches becomes well." Similar testimonies may be read in St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Ephraim the Syrian, St. John Chrysostom, Blessed Augustine, and others.
Already from the beginning of the 2nd century there is information on the honor given by Christians to the remains of saints. Thus, after describing the martyr's death of St. Ignatius the God-bearer, Bishop of Antioch, a person who witnessed this death states that "Of what remained from his body (he was torn to pieces by beasts in the invaluable treasure of the Grace which dwelt in the martyr, a treasure left to the Holy Church." -I"he residents of the cities, beginning with Rome, received these remains in succession at that time, and carried them on their shoulders, as St. John Chrysostom later testified, "to the present city (Antioch), praising the crowned victor and glorifying the struggler." Likewise, after the martyr's death of St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and the burning of his body by the Proconsul, the Christians "gathered the bones of St. Polycarp as a treasure more precious than precious stones and purer than gold, and placed them ... for the celebration of the day of his martyric birth, and for the instruction and confirmation of future Christians."
The remains of the saints (in Greek, ta leipsana; in Latin, reliquiae, both meaning what is "left") are revered whether or not they are incorrupt, out of respect for the holy life or the martyric death of the saint, and all the more when there are evident and confirmed signs of healing by prayer to the saints for their intercession before God. The Church Councils many times (for example, the Moscow Council of 1667) have forbidden the recognition of the reposed as saints solely by the sign of the incorruption of their bodies. But of course the incorruption of the bodies of the righteous is accepted as one of the Divine signs of their sanctity.4
Here let us note that the Slavonic word moshchi, "relics," refers not only to the bodies of saints: in Church Slavonic this word signifies in general the bodies of the reposed. Thus, in the Rite of Burial in the Book of needs we read: "And taking the relics of the reposed, we go out of the Church," etc. The ancient Slavonic moshchi (from the root mog) is apparently kin to the word mogila, "grave."
Revering holy relics, we believe not in the power or the might of the remains of the saints in themselves, but rather in the prayerful intercession of the saints whose holy relics are before us.
THE PATH OF THE CHRISTIAN
THE CROSS OF CHRIST: THE PATH, THE POWER, AND THE BANNER OF THE CHURCH
The dogmatic teaching of the Church has the most intimate connection with the whole moral order of Christian life; it gives to it a true direction. Any kind of departure from the dogmatic truths leads to an incorrect understanding of the moral duty of the Christian. Faith demands a life that corresponds to faith.
The Savior has defined the moral duty of man briefly in the two commandments of the law: the commandment to love God with one's whole heart, soul, mind, and understanding; and the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself. But at the same time the Savior taught that the authentic fulfillment of these commandments is impossible without some degree of self-renunciation, self-sacrifice: it demands struggle.5
And where does the believer find strength for struggle? He receives it through communion with Christ, through love for Christ which inspires him to follow after Him. This struggle of following Him Christ called His "yoke": Take My yoke upon you.... For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light (Matt. 11:29-30). He called it also a cross. Long before the day of His crucifixion, the Lord taught: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me (Matt. 16:24). He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me (Matt. 10:38).
The Orthodox path of the Christian is the path of the cross and of struggle. In other words, it is the path of patience; of the bearing of sorrows, persecutions for the name of Christ, and dangers from the enemies of Christ; of despising the goods of the world for the sake of Christ; of battling against one's passions and lusts.
Such a path of following Christ was taken by His Apostles. I am crucified with Christ, writes the Apostle Paul (Gal. 2:20). God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14). Following the path of Christ, the Apostles finished the struggle of their life with a martyr's death.
All believers are called to struggle according to their strength: They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the passions and lusts (Gal. 5:24). The moral life cannot exist without inward battle, without self-restraint. The Apostle writes: For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things (Phil. 3:18-19).
The whole history of the Church has been built on struggles: at first the sufferings of the martyrs in the earliest Christian age; then the self-sacrificing labors of the pillars of the Church, the hierarchs; and then the personal ascetic struggles, spiritual attainments in the battle with the flesh, on the part of the desert dwellers and other strugglers-"earthly angels and heavenly men," the righteous ones who have lived in the world without being defiled by the world. And thus up to now Christianity is adorned with confessors and martyrs for faith in Christ. And the Holy Church supports in believers this duty of self-restraint and spiritual cleansing by means of instructions and examples from the Gospel and the whole Sacred Scripture, by the examples of the saints, by the rules of the Church typicon, by vigils, fasts, and appeals to repentance.
Such is the lot not only of each separate Christian but of the Church herself as a whole: to be persecuted for the Cross of Christ, as was shown in the visions to the Holy Apostle John the Theologian in the Apocalypse. The Church in many periods of her history has endured totally open sorrows and persecutions and the martyr's death of her best servants-what one contemporary priest and Church writer has called the "harvest of God"––while in other periods, even in periods of outward prosperity, she has endured sorrows from inward enemies, from the unworthy manner of life of her members, and in particular of the people who are assigned to serve her.
Thus is defined the dogma of the Cross. The Cross is the path of the Christian and the Church.
At the same time it is also the power of the Church. Looking with his mental eyes unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2), the Christian finds spiritual strength in the awareness that after the Lord's death on the Cross there followed the Resurrection; that by the Cross the world has been conquered; that if we die with the Lord we shall reign with Him, and shall rejoice and triumph in the manifestation of His glory (I Peter 4:13).
The Cross, finally, is the banner of the Church. From the day when the Savior bore the Cross on His shoulders to Golgotha and was crucified on the material Cross, the Cross became the visible sign and banner of Christianity, of the Church, of everyone who believes in Christ.
Not everyone who belongs to Christianity "in general" has such ail understanding of the Gospel. Certain large Christian societies deny the Cross as a visible banner, considering that it has remained what it was, an instrument of reproach. The Apostle Paul already warned against such an "offense of the Cross" (Gal. 5:11), lest the Cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are being saved, it i's the power of God (I Cor. 1: 17-18). He exhorted men not to be ashamed of the Cross as a sign of reproach: Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach, he teaches (Heb. 13:13-14). For the reproach on the Cross led to the Resurrection in glory, and the Cross became the implement of salvation and the path to glory.
Having always before oneself the image of the Cross, making on oneself the sign of the Cross, the Christian first of all brings to his mind that he is called to follow the steps of Christ, bearing in the name of Christ sorrows and deprivations for his faith. Secondly, he is strengthened by the power of the Cross of Christ for battle against the evil in himself and in the world. And thirdly, he confesses that he awaits the manifestation of the glory of Christ, the Second Coming of the Lord, which itself will be preceded by the manifestation in heaven of the sign of the Son of Man, according to the Divine words of the Lord Himself (Matt. 24:30). This sign, according to the unanimous understanding of the Fathers of the Church, will be a magnificent manifestation of the Cross In the sky.
The sign of the Cross that we place upon ourselves or depict on ourselves by the movement of the hand is made in silence, but at the same time it is said loudly, because it is an open confession of our faith.
Thus, with the Cross is bound up the whole grandeur of our redemption, which reminds us of the necessity of personal struggle for the Christian. In the representation of the Cross, even in its name, is summed up the whole history of the Gospel, as also the history of martyrdom and the confession of Christianity in all ages.6
Reflecting deeply on the wealth of thoughts bound up with the Cross, the Church hymns the power of the Cross: "0 invincible and incomprehensible and Divine power of the precious and life-giving Cross, forsake not us sinners."
1 Mental (noetic) prayer, inward prayer, and prayer of the mind in the heart are usually associated with the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" ; or, in its shorter form, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." Holy ascetics of the Church have reached great heights of inward prayer with the aid of the Jesus Prayer; however, this Prayer is not reserved for such ascetics only. Saying the Jesus Prayer is a fundamental practice of Orthodox spiritual life, which should be undertaken by all Orthodox Christians, both monastic and lay.
Archimandritc Sophrony (Sakharov) indicates a sequence in the practice of the Jesus Prayer: "First it is ,i verbal matter: we say the prayer with our lips while trying to concentrate our attention on the Name and the words. Next, we no longer move our lips but pronounce the Name of Jesus Christ, and what follows after, in our minds, mentally. In the third stage mind and heart combine to act together: the attention of the mind is centered in the heart and the prayer is said there. Fourthly, the prayer becomes self-propelling. This happens when the prayer is confirmed in the heart and, with no especial effort on our part, continues there, where the mind is concentrated. Finally, the prayer, so full of blessing, starts to act like a gentle flame within us, as inspiration from on High, rejoicing the heart with a sensation of Divine love and delighting the mind in spiritual contemplation. This last state is sometimes accompanied by a vision of Light.
"A gradual ascent to prayer is the most trustworthy. The beginner who would embark on the Struggle IS Usually recommended to start with the first step, verbal pi-ayer, until body, tongue, brain and heart assimilate it. The time that this takes varies. The more earnest the repentance, the shorter the road" (His Life Is Mine, p. 113–3rd Ed).
2 Not, of course, the canons of rules of councils, but the canons, usually composed of nine canticles or odes, which area regular part of the services of Matins and Compline, or may be read or sung privately.3 'I'his distinction between the "worship" of God and the "reverence" or "veneration" shown for icons was set forth first by St. John Damascene in his treatises on the icons. (See his On Thee Divine Images, translated by David Anderson, Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1980, pp. 82-88, and the introduction, pp. 10-11.)
3. Nothing is said in the Orthodox cations regarding the veneration of statues, Such as came to be used in the religious art of the West in the Middle Ages and later centuries. However, the virtually universal tradition of the Orthodox Church of both East and West in the early centuries, and of the Eastern Church in later centuries, has been to allow as religious art two-dimensional depictions and bas-reliefs, but not statues in the round. The reason for this seems to lie in the realism that is inevitable in three-dimensional depictions, making them suitable for representing the things of this World of earth (for example, the statues of emperors), but not those of the heavenly world into which Our earthly thinking and realism cannot penetrate. Two-dimensional icons, Oil the other hand, are like "windows to heaven" which are much more capable of raising the mind and heart to heavenly, realities.
4. One might say that the incorruption of a dead body is no guarantee of sanctity: examples can be given of Oriental swamis whose bodies were incorrupt long after death (whether by some natural means related to their ascetic life, or by a demonic counterfeit); and of some great Orthodox saints (for example, St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Herman of Alaska) there remain only bones. The relics of St. Nectarios of Pentapolis (†1920) were incorrupt for several years, and then quickly decayed (in the ground), leaving only fragrant bones.
5 The Russian word podvig most commonly means “struggle,” but sometimes must be translated more specifically as “asceticism” or “ascetic exploit.”
6 In explaining why Christians venerate the Cross, St. John Damascene sums up what has been accomplished through the Cross, which, as he says, Is a term denoting the death of Christ: "Every action of Christ and all His working of miracles were truly very great and Divine and wonderful, but of all things the most wonderful is His honorable Cross. For by nothing else except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has death been brought low, the sin of our first parent destroyed, licll Plundered, resurrection bestowed, the power given us to despise the things of this world and even death itself, the road back to the former blessedness made smooth, the gates of Paradise opened, our nature scared at the right hand of God, and we made children and heirs of God. By the Cross all things have been set aright. For as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, says the Apostle, were baptized into His death (Rom. 6:3), and as many of you ,is have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27); moreover, Christ is the power and wisdom of God (1Cor 1:24). See how the death of Christ, the Cross, that is to say, has clothed us with the subsistent wisdom and power of God!" (Exact Exposition 4.11; FC, pp. 349-50-3RD ED).
Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Chapter 9, pp 311-331
Life of Fr. Michael Pomazansky