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A Byzantine church in Michigan is home to a remarkable collection of hundreds of first-class relics of the saints.
Father Joseph Marquis of Sacred Heart Byzantine Catholic Church in Livonia guards — and grows — the precious collection of the All Saints Shrine displayed in his parish.
Father Marquis sees the relics not as dead objects but as a window into a living historical theater of the martyrs and saints of our faith. "Through relics of the saints, we have a tangible connection to our brothers and sisters in Heaven," he says.
He traces his devotion to the saints, in particular, to St. Nicholas, back to his childhood days, when he and his twin brother prayed to the saint for the recovery of their ailing parents. After both his parents recovered, St. Nicholas became the priest's lifelong beloved saint.
Many of the relics date from the time of Emperor Diocletian (284–305) to the Great Schism (1054).
Some relics, including splinters from the True Cross as well as linen fibers from the Shroud of Turin, date from the time of Christ's earthly life. Threads from a veil worn by the Blessed Mother and from a tunic worn by St. Joseph are also displayed.
Other relics include a bone fragment of St. Anne, mother of Mary, a fragment of Lazarus' spine, the right index finger of Joseph of Arimathea and a bone belonging to St. John the Baptist.
A favorite of Fr. Marquis' is the relic of St. Barbara, an early Church martyr, noted for her bravery in the face of torture and eventual beheading by her own father, owing to her following the lead of Christ rather than the precepts of the Roman gods.
Saint Barbara, along with Ss. Felicity and Perpetua, "womaned up" in ways that exemplified courage for the men and women martyrs who followed them, the priest explained.
Some relics date closer to the present time, including those of St. Kateri Tekakwitha and a lock of hair of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, which bears the name "Servant of God," indicating it dates from before the time she was canonized. A fragment of Pope St. John Paul II's bloody cassock is also included.
An ambry case, devoted to relics of St. Nicholas, contains a bottle filled with a liquid that smells like roses, which formed around his bones over the centuries. The liquid is called "manna" and has been shown to possess miraculous powers attested to by numerous sick people and pilgrims who visit the bones of St. Nicholas in the basilica in Bari, Italy.
Father Marquis' devotion to St. Nicholas plays out especially on his feast day every year and during the Christmas season. Father has portrayed St. Nicholas in the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade for many years and for children at holiday parties and hospitals. He founded the St. Nicholas Institute to promote the ideals of the the saint and carry on the legacy begun in Fr. Marquis' childhood.
"The dearth of heroes for young people made me want to inspire them with heroes of the early Church who literally put their lives on the line for Christ," he told Church Militant. "Most people don't know who Polycarp is or St. Ignatius of Antioch or St. Tarcisius, the boy saint. They often don't know about the saints at all."
The veneration of pieces of the deceased saints' bodies or artifacts is not new and dates to the beginning of Christianity, as well as being referenced in Scripture. "And some that were burying a man ... and cast the body into the sepulchre of Eliseus. And when it had touched the bones of Eliseus, the man came to life, and stood upon his feet," reads 2 Kings 13:21.
"And God wrought by the hand of Paul more than common miracles. So that even there were brought from his body to the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the wicked spirits went out of them," reads Acts 19:11–13.
Catholics understand that all power comes from God but believe He can work through the saints, our "models and intercessors," as noted in section 828 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. According to Fr. Marquis, the remains of the sainted dead can become living reminders of the heroes of the past, and showcasing the relics can serve as a form of evangelization.
Paying homage to the relics juxtaposes the past, even the distant past with the present, and points to the future: "After all," Fr. Marquis muses, "what is time but a human construct?"
He laments the current persecution of Christians and the desecration of Catholic properties: "First [Christians] are marginalized, then persecuted and objectified — their humanity and dignity taken — then anything is justified."
"I'd like the All Saints Shrine to be a legacy to foster greater love for and familiarity with the lives and examples of the saints, " he said. "It may also strenghten the Faith of the present and ensure the Faith of the future."
Sacred Heart Byzantine Catholic Church will celebrate St. Nicholas' feast day on Friday, beginning with Divine Liturgy at 6 p.m. followed by a potluck dinner for friends and family.