After visiting St. Trophime in Arles, France and standing before the holy relics of St. Anthony of the Desert, I knew I had to read Bulgakov’s Relics and Miracles.

Bulgakov’s apologia for the veneration of relics is an apologia for sanctified matter and a sacramentalized cosmos. In a word, deification makes possible the logic of holy relics. Bulgakov refers to this as, “religious materialism” (9). He goes on to state:

As the Lord says about Himself, He came not to destroy the world but to save it. Therefore, in the gracious life of the Church, all that is spiritual is corporeal; all that is divine has flesh, is human, for man is man-god – all that is spiritual is material, is clothed in a body. Therefore, we perform all the sacraments having at our disposal a certain material of the sacrament – bread and wine, oil, myrrh, water, and, in the extreme case, word and touch. Therefore, we “sanctify” or “bless” water, icons, temples, and so on; and that, in general, is why we have holy things, holy places and objects. And that is also why we venerate holy relics (9).

After all, writes Bulgakov, “if the saints are holy, then their remains – their relics – are holy too” (9). The denial of relics amounts to a denial of the sanctification of the flesh. Further, such a denial is to default to a position of false spiritualism (idealism) and its double, materialism.

Spiritual acts and states are connected and implanted in things, and are transmitted by and through things – that is what we learn from the practices of the Christian cult, whose fundamental and unifying principle is the idea of holy flesh, of the spiritual body, of the unity and inseparability of flesh and spirit. And the natural and self-evident consequence of this is the religious materialism with which, from the time of Protestantism, it has been customary to reproach the practices of the Church, equating these practices with paganism, mystagogy, magic, sorcery, and fetishism (13-14).

This changes the awkward feeling I had standing before one of my favorite Saints, wondering about religious fetishism, asking myself is these really were his remains and if so, so what? Perhaps the undeniable holiness of St. Anthony did remain within the last bits of his corporality.