Reliquaries have made the church a place of pilgrimage, where one can contemplate ecclesial unity.
There sometimes seems to be as much division and conflicting opinion in the Christian world as there is in society, so it’s hard to imagine a time when the Church was not divided. But early on, that almost perfect unity did exist.
Visitors to a small church in Michigan can imagine what that must have been like as they sit in the presence of some 45 relics of saints from the first millennium of Christianity.
Looking at the names of the saints whose relics are displayed at Sacred Heart Byzantine Church in Livonia, one reflect on the unity of the early Church, but also on the diversity that existed even in those early centuries.
A full list is at the parish’s website, but here are some of the highlights:
Three Apostles: Andrew, Peter and Paul;
A disciple of St. John the Evangelist, St. Polycarp;
A pope who was ordained by St. Peter, St. Clement of Rome;
Several early martyrs, including Cecilia, Agatha and Sebastian;
St. Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor responsible for the legalization of Christianity in the Empire, and his mother, St. Helen, who discovered the cross of Christ in Jerusalem, as well as several fragments of the Cross;
St. Nicholas of Myra, the bishop thought to be the precursor of “Santa Claus”;
St. John Chrysostom, whose liturgy is used at Sacred Heart Church.
The relics are displayed in six ambries, or relic cases, at the side altars of the church. The ambries were donated by individual parishioners and parish organizations.
According to Horizons, the publication of the Byzantine Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, the parish in Livonia has become a pilgrimage site aimed at helping pilgrims connect with the Early Church martyrs.
The purpose of the shrine is to “foster a greater love, familiarity and inspiration to be drawn from the lives and examples of these elder sisters and brothers of our faith,” Father Joseph Marquis, the pastor, told Horizons. Most of the relics are from the personal collection of Father Marquis and his wife, Mary. The precious items were acquired over an extended period of time.
The only relic in the collection not from the early Church is one from Pope St. John Paul II—a part of the blood-stained cassock he was wearing the day of the assassination attempt in 1981. But it’s an appropriate relic to have at Sacred Heart, since John Paul, the first Slavic pope in history, was a keen advocate for the Eastern Church and for better relations between Catholics and Orthodox.
Bishop Milan Lach, SJ, of Parma, blessed the ambries on his first pastoral visit to the parish October 14, Horizons reported. “Since then, some Roman Catholic parishes in the area have made pilgrimages to Sacred Heart church to venerate the relics,” the article said.
The relics remain in place most of the time, but when the feast day of a particular saint who is represented there comes up, Fr. Marquis places the relics in a special place for veneration.