Audio length: 49:31 minutes
Transcript published: July 31, 2011
In his continuing series on the Names of Jesus, Fr. Tom Hopko explores Jesus as the Holy One of God.
Among the many names and titles of Jesus that we find in the Scripture, we find the expression that Jesus is the Holy One, or the Holy One of God. Being the Beloved, being the Chosen, being the Firstborn, being the Only-begotten, being the Son of God’s love, Jesus is also the Holy One and the Holy One of God.
When we read the Holy Scripture, we find this affirmation made by the demons. It’s very interesting that in St. Mark’s Gospel… St. Mark’s Gospel is something that should really be read very carefully by Christian people. It’s the starkest, it’s the shortest, it’s the clearest, it’s the most apocalyptic. In fact, I like to call it the apocalyptic Gospel. The clash between the holy God and the powers of darkness, the clash between God and Satan, between truth and falsehood, life and death itself: that’s what you find in St. Mark’s Gospel, that Christ has the authority of God himself, and he encounters all the powers of evil and destroys them.
In this Gospel, it’s so interesting, St. Mark’s Gospel, that no human being calls Jesus the Son of God until the centurion at the Cross, the soldier at the Cross, rather, says, “Truly this was God’s Son. Truly he is God’s Son.” That’s the only place you find it. Even in the confession of Peter, it doesn’t say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It simply says, “You are the Christ.” And at the end of St. Mark’s Gospel, especially if we see the last part of the last chapter there as an addition, it ends with the angel of God proclaiming that Christ is risen to the women at the empty tomb, and that’s the end of it. No human being, even, testifies to the Resurrection of Christ in St. Mark’s Gospel; it’s testified to by God. God is the one who bears witness to him through his signs and wonders.
But it’s very interesting that the demons know who he is. The human beings don’t know who he is, but the demons know who he is. So in St. Mark’s Gospel in the very first chapter, the very first chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel, after John the Baptist is arrested and Jesus comes into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God—God’s Gospel, that’s how Christianity emerges on the Planet Earth: as God’s Gospel, the Gospel of God, the Gospel of Christ, or the Gospel of God in Christ—Jesus comes into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
And then he calls Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. Then he calls John and James, the sons of Zebedee, and they follow him. Then he goes into Capernaum, and he begins teaching in the synagogue, and they’re astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. So you have your someone special, someone who speaks with authority. In fact, Archbishop Demetrios, the head of the Greek Orthodox [Archdiocese of America] right now, when he was a professor at Harvard, he wrote a book on St. Mark’s Gospel, and the title was Authority and Passion. That’s what you have in St. Mark’s Gospel: Jesus coming with the authority of God himself in order to endure his Passion, to destroy all the destructive powers of evil and sin, darkness and death itself, to destroy the devil.
So it says he’s teaching as one who had authority and not as the scribes. And then it says immediately:
There was in the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.”
And there you have that confession. Coming from demons! “I know who you are. You are the Holy One of God.” Then it says:
Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent! Come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him, cried out with a loud voice, came out of him, and they were all amazed.
So it’s the demon who confesses, “We know who you are. You are the Holy One of God.” If you read a few chapters later, in the same St. Mark’s Gospel, you’ll have again the demons confessing Christ, but this time they are saying, “You are the Son of God.” This happens by the sea when Jesus is preaching to a great multitude, again near Galilee, and the crowds are so great that they’re going to crush him, and he healed many people, so all the people with diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Then it says:
And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.
The secret, so to speak, that will come only at the end when he’s risen from the dead. So: “We know who you are. You are the Son of God. You are the Holy One of God.” In the Nicene Creed, the Symbol of Faith, when the Church makes this confession of faith that is said at the services and is said at the Holy Eucharist, it is said for the first time by a person on the day that they are baptized, Jesus is confessed as “Light from Light and true God from true God.” We confess:
I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not created, of one identically same divinity as God the Father, the one (the Son, the Word) by whom all things were created.
So we could say right now, in this meditation, that Jesus, being Light from Light and true God from true God, being the Son of the Father, is also the Holy One from the Holy One. He is the Holy One of God who alone is the Holy One.
In the Holy Scripture, certainly in the Old Covenant, God—Yahweh, the Lord—is the only holy one. It’s confessed in the Scriptures, in the psalms: “You alone are holy.” That line will be used in the Great Doxology of Christians: “You alone are holy. You alone are the Lord, Jesus Christ.” But it is God alone who is holy, and Jesus is holy because he is God’s Son, God’s Word, God’s Image; that he is everything that God is. He has the same divinity as God himself. He is the Holy One from the Holy One, or as we said earlier in our meditations, if Yahweh the Lord is the “I am,” the “I am who I am,” then Jesus is the “I am” from the “I am,” the Lord from Lord, God from God, begotten God.
But in the Old Covenant, what we want to see now is that the Holy One, the Holy One of Israel, is God himself. For example, in the Torah, in the Law, you have that confession being made all the time, that God alone is the Holy One. And then, of course, and we’ll see this right now, since God is the Holy One, then his people have to also be holy with the same holiness that God himself is and has. One of the most important texts in the Old Covenant, in the law of Moses, is that “I am the Holy One.” God is the Holy One, and that those who belong to God are also a holy nation. For example, in Exodus it says:
Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.
In Leviticus, you have this sentence:
You shall be holy to me, for I, the Lord, am holy and have separated you from all the peoples, that you should belong to me, that you should be mine.
And then he even says most specifically about the priests, those who offer the bread of God:
You shall consecrate the priest, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I, the Lord who [sanctifies] you am holy. I, the Lord, am holy.
And you find that all through the Old Testament. You can just repeat it again and again. In Isaiah the Prophet, you have the very famous vision of Isaiah, in the Temple, where, in the year that King Uzziah died, it’s the sixth chapter:
I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. And his train filled the Temple, and above his stood the seraphim, each with six wings. With two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, with two he flew. And one called to another and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory!”
So that appellation to God, that cry out to God, the proclamation of God, which remains throughout the whole of Christianity, it’s the center of our Eucharistic prayer. It’s the center of our prayer, period. All of our prayers. “Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” And we’ll see that in the Book of Revelation, this very same vision is shown to the seer of the Apocalypse, John, where, in the Temple, this is what is written in Book of Revelation. It says that the seer saw God sitting again upon his throne, and it says:
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings are full of eyes and all around and within and day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” And whenever the living creatures gave glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the 24 elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, singing, “Worthy art thou, O Lord God, to receive glory and honor and power. For thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.”
But then in the Book of Revelation, it says that not only is the “Holy, holy, holy” sung to him who sits upon the throne, God the Lord himself, the Lord God Almighty, but the seer sees the Lamb, standing as though it had been slain, and then the 24 elders now fall down before the Lamb, and they sing the song to the Lamb:
“Worthy art thou to take the scroll and open it. For thou wast slain and by thy blood did ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, has made them a king and a priest to our God. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!”
And so the same glory and honor and dominion is given to the Lamb. To him who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb. And that, of course, evokes memories of the Book of Daniel, how the Son of man is approaching the Ancient of Days and is seated at his right hand and receives all glory, honor, dominion, thanksgiving, worship, glory, as given to God Almighty himself. So when we read these things in the Holy Scripture, we see that God is the Holy One, and all his people are supposed to be holy, but the Holy One of his people who makes them holy is Christ himself.
For example, again, let’s go back to the Old Testament, the Prophets. Isaiah not only has the vision in the Temple, but when he speaks to the people and especially to his servant, the servant of Yahweh, he says, “Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel. I will help you, says the Lord. Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, and that redeemer is God. In the Old Testament, the redeemer is God; it’s God who redeems, but the redeeming action of God is done through Christ. Christ is the Redeemer. We are redeemed by the broken Body and shed Blood of Christ.
So again, the Holy One is God, and he redeems us, but he redeems us through the Holy One of God, the Holy One from the Holy One, who is Christ himself, our Redeemer, our Savior, our Lord, our God. This is the teaching of the Holy Scripture. [Hosea], for example, says, “For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst. I will not come to destroy.” But he comes to save. “You know no God but me, and beside me there is no savior.” Hosea is saying that God is the Holy One. The Holy One: he is God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.
When we get to the New Testament, the confession is that God is in our midst through Christ, his Son, his chosen, his beloved, his Word incarnate, and that Christ is the Holy One of God. God is the Holy One, and Christ is the Holy One. In fact, in the Christian tradition later, even the Trisagion, the hymn: “Holy, holy, holy” which we find in Isaiah, which we find in the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, it is applied to the three Persons of the Trinity: the Holy God, the Holy Mighty, and the Holy Immortal. Holy God the Father; Holy One of God, the Holy Son of God; and the most Holy Spirit, the all-holy Spirit. So you have this text that I just read; the demons confess to Jesus, “We know who you are.” “I know who you are,” that demon says. “You are the Holy One of God.” And then later, in plural: “We know who you are. You are the very Son of God.”
This expression of Jesus as the Holy is also confessed in the Book of Acts. In the Acts of the Apostles, you have the sermons, the first sermons of Christianity. You have the first sermon of Peter on the streets of Jerusalem after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh. And you have in that very first sermon of Peter the quotation of the psalm of David. When Peter is preaching about Jesus of Nazareth, this is what he says, on the very first sermon in the Christian era:
Men of Israel, hear these words. Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God, with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him, in your midst, as you yourselves know, this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men, but God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him…
Now, “David” here means “the Psalms.” So now the Apostle Peter directly quotes the psalms of the Old Testament, and this is what he reads. It’s from Psalm 16:
I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will dwell in hope, for you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let thy Holy One see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life. Thou will make me full of gladness with thy presence.
And, of course, Peter says that this refers to Jesus. This refers to Jesus. It’s Jesus who is the Holy One whose soul, whose life will not be abandoned to Sheol, to the place of death. “Nor let thy Holy One see corruption.” And that Holy One is Christ himself. So Peter continues:
Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the Patriarch David, the one who wrote these words, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the Resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades nor did his flesh see corruption, because it is written, “Thou will not abandon my soul to Hades nor let thy Holy One see corruption.”
This Jesus God raised up and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this very same Holy Spirit which you see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make thine enemies a stool for thy feet.’ ”
That’s Psalm 110:1, the most-quoted Scripture in the New Testament. Then he continues, Peter:
Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus, the Holy One, whom you crucified.
Now, again Peter and John are on the street, and again they do an act in the name of Jesus, and again they begin preaching to the people. This is in the third chapter of the Book of Acts. And here again Peter preaches, and this is what he says:
Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this? Why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers glorified his servant (his child) Jesus…
And that’s the word for the suffering servant in Isaiah, “pais”: his child Jesus.
...whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate when he had decided to release him.
Now listen to this:
But you denied the holy and righteous one…
You denied the Holy One and the righteous one.
...and you asked for a murderer to be granted you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this, we are witnesses.
So the point is: here again, Jesus is called the Holy One, both in the first sermon in Christian history and in the second sermon in Christian history; Jesus is called the Holy One. And of course, in the Scripture, the Holy One is God Almighty himself. So Jesus being the Son of God is the Holy One from the Holy One, and he comes in order to make us all holy, that we all become holy through him.
Before we meditate a bit about that, how the Holy One comes to make us holy… And here we just know that that’s clearly the teaching. Probably the most-quoted text on that particular point is found in the New Testament in the Letter of Peter where it is repeated that what was said about the Israelites in the law of Moses, namely that they were to be a holy nation, a holy priesthood, a kingdom of prophets and priests, that this is now what the Christians themselves inherit. They become the people of God, and they, the Christians, the believers in Jesus, the Holy One of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit are made to be a holy nation and a holy priesthood, to offer holy sacrifices acceptable to God.
So this is what you find in Peter: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” But then you have this text that is so commonly or so frequently quoted. It’s in the Letter [of] Peter in the first chapter:
As obedient children (of God through Jesus the Son of God), do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy for I am holy.”
“You shall be holy for I am holy.” And that’s a quotation of Leviticus that we already quoted, that I, your God, am holy, and you, my people, shall also be holy. And indeed, in the Old Testament and in the New, everything that belongs to God, everything that serves God can bear the adjective “holy.” So you have the holy Scriptures, the holy Temple, the holy Tabernacle, the holy Law, the holy place, the Holy of Holies. Everything is holy to the Lord when it is consecrated by God and sanctified [to] God to his purposes. And certainly the people of God are called to be holy as God himself is holy.
Here we confess as Christians that no one was holy, that Israel itself rejected its calling to be sons and children of God and to be holy. And so the whole of Israel is reduced again, as we’ve said before, to this one Person, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s own Son, begotten of the Father before all ages, who is born on earth to be and to do what all humans were created to be and do but failed. And so he is the Son of God, the beloved, the chosen, the firstborn, the firstfruit, and he is also the righteous one. He is the life, the truth, the way, and, therefore, he is also the Holy One. “We know who you are: the Holy One.”
Let’s now ask this question: What does it mean to be holy? What does the word “holy” mean? What is being said here, when God is called holy and all that belongs to God is holy and everything that is consecrated and sanctified by God is holy? The prophets are the holy prophets; the Law is the holy Law; the Scriptures are the holy Scriptures; the Temple is the holy Temple; the sacrifices are the holy sacrifices; the people are the holy people. What does “holy” mean? What does it mean?
Here we just want to mention, and it’s very important to mention, that in the Scriptures and in the Liturgy, in English, two different words are used in English for one and the same word in Hebrew and Greek. English is the only language that has two words that are used. In all the other languages, virtually all the other languages, at least that I know about, there aren’t two words; there’s only one word. In Hebrew, that word is “qadowsh,” which means “holy,” or as the Arabs sing in the Syrian church, “qadus.” Holy God. In Greek, the word is “agios, hagios.” And actually, there’s an aspirant alpha in the beginning. You’re supposed to breathe with an aspirant: “ha,” like an /h/ in front of it. That’s why it’s often transliterated in English with “h-a-g-i-o-s,” like Hagia Sophia. The same thing is true about the word “Alleluia,” by the way. It’s “ha”: “Halleluia.” But in any case, the word is “hagios,” and it means holy. In Church Slavonic, the word is “svjatyj.” Russian “svyatoĭ” or “svyatoe, svyataya.” It means “holy.” In French, “le saint, saint.” In Latin, “sanctus.” And that’s the only word that there is. But in English, and this makes it a little bit difficult for English-speaking people, because we often don’t realize that the term “holy” and the term “saint” are exactly the same word. We think of “saint” as a person and “holy” as a thing, but a person can be called a holy person. But a holy person is a saint, and it’s the same word. If you say “Saint Nicholas” in English, you say, “Hagios Nikolaos, Holy Nicholas” or “Svjatyjn Nikolai” in Slavonic, “Holy Nicholas.” It’s one and the same word. If you say “Holy Bible”; in French you say “La Sainte Bible” or “sancta” in Latin: “Sancta Scriptura, the Holy Scriptures.” So there’s only one word, but in English there’s two.
But we should always remember that there are two words, and they both mean the same thing. So when we say “saint” and when we say “holy,” we are saying the very same thing. Now, sometimes in English, not only do we usually use the term “saint” only for persons and not for things, but we never call God “saint.” We don’t say, “For you alone are saint.” “Saint” [refers] to creatures. God is called the Holy One. But that’s important to know, that in the original languages, that’s not the case; the same word is used for both. God is holy and we are holy and the Bible is holy and the Scriptures are holy and the Liturgy is holy.
And the people who are holy are holy, and they’re holy with the same holiness of God himself, that God gives that holiness which belongs to him alone as a grace and as a gift to his creatures. And he gives it through all that he sanctifies and makes holy, and ultimately, we believe as Christians, he gives it through the Holy One of God, his own Holy One, who is Jesus Christ, and he gives it through his Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is always called “holy” through the entire Scripture.
And by the way, speaking about words, I think we can also say that certainly in our Liturgy in the ancient Christian Liturgies, and the Orthodox Liturgy today, a synonym of the term “holy” would just be “divine,” an adjective from the word “theos, god.” So we speak about the Divine Liturgy, the divine Scriptures, the divine fathers, the divine apostles. In fact, I have a friend who was doing translations into English from Greek and Slavonic of hymns, and he said most of the time we have that term, “divine,” thrown into our hymns in order to complete a meter; whenever a two-syllable word was needed, that they would use the term “divine.” If a three-syllable word was needed, you’d have the word “holy”: “Hagios is a three-syllable word; “theis” or “theios” or “thei,” the adjectival form of “theos” is a two-syllable word. But “divine” and “holy” are basically synonymous.
But what does the term “holy” mean etymologically? What does it mean literally? Like, if we ask this question: what does “holy” mean? And by the way, it also occurred to me I wanted to mention that sometimes funny things come up in English. For example, I’ve been at church services where the people sing, “Holy father Nicholas, pray to God for us” or “Holy father Basil, pray to God for us,” and then it will say, “All you holy saints, pray to God for us.” “O holy saints, pray [to] God for us”: but to say “holy saint” is redundant. It’s like saying, “O holy holy ones,” because in English we have two words, “holy” and “saint,” where in the other languages, we just have the one word.
But let’s get back to the term “holy.” What does “holy” mean? It literally means separate, different, not common, uncommon. It means not like anything else. It means that which is pure and clear and undefiled, unstained. I think you could also say that it means, originally, uncreated. The created things become holy because the holy God has consecrated and sanctified them to become holy. And by the way, those verb forms, “consecrate,” “sanctify,” they have the same root of “hagios,” of the term “holy” in them, in every single language. They’re verb forms: to make holy, to consecrate or to sanctify or to hallow. For example, in the Lord’s Prayer we say to God, “May your name be kept holy.” “Hallowed be thy name,” in the usual English translation of the old King James Scripture in English. But it’s “hagiasthētō,” make hagios, hallow, sanctify, consecrate. But it means to make God-like.
So I think that what we would say is that God alone is holy. God alone is different from all creation. Creation is God’s creation, and it is a creature; it is not God. Therefore you cannot say that creation, anything in creation, by itself is holy. Only God is holy. “You alone are holy. You alone are God, Jesus Christ, through the glory of God the Father. Amen,” as we sing in the Liturgy. Only God is holy, and Jesus is the Holy One of God because he is divine, literally. He’s a divine Person who becomes human. No creature by himself could be called holy, except by the grace of God, but Jesus is the Son of God, not by grace. God doesn’t consecrate Jesus as a mere man to be the Holy One of Israel. He is the Holy One of God, begotten by the Father before all ages.
“Holy” is only belonging to God. “Holy” is a synonym of “uncreated.” “Holiness” is a synonym of “not like anything else.” And in this sense, the term “holy” does not carry a moral or ethical meaning in the first instance. God is not ethical. God is not moral. God is God, and God is holy by his very nature. He is the holy one. Holy is his name. His name is the Holy One. And sometimes, in Scripture, like in the Psalms or in the Magnificat of Mary in the Gospel of St. Luke, we don’t know whether the text is saying that God’s name is holy—in other words, his name has to be kept holy—or whether his actual name is “Holy,” whether his actual name is “the Holy One.” Holy is his name.
For example, in the Magnificat, when the Theotokos sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” [she] says, “For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Does that mean his name is kept holy or does it mean that his very name is Holy? Well, it could mean both things, and certainly it does definitely mean both things in the Scripture. God’s name is holy, it’s the holy name of God, and keeping the name holy is very, very strictly commanded in the law of Moses and in the Old Testament and by the prophets. You don’t take the name of the Lord God in vain. You don’t blaspheme the name. In fact, the name of God, the Tetragrammaton, the [YHWH] that the Jews were not allowed to say, which we now do say, “Yahweh,” that was such a holy name that it wasn’t even said. When it was written, they would say, “the Lord,” and only the priest would say it, only once a year.
But when Jesus is born, and when he is going to be born, that the angel says to Mary, when she’s going to give birth to Jesus, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. The power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born of you will be called Holy.” Or “will be called the Holy One, the Son of God.” So that holiness is given to the name of Jesus right from the very beginning, before he’s even born, before he’s even conceived in Mary’s womb. And it happens by the Holy Spirit. And everything that Jesus does as the Holy One of God, he does by the Holy Spirit, the divine Spirit, the Spirit of God himself.
Sometimes in [the] Latin language, they like to say about God that God is “totaliter aliter”: totally other. “Aliter” means to be other, not like anything else. “Totaliter aliter”: God is completely different. God is holy. In Isaiah the Prophet, it says that God, the Holy One, is not like anything else. And in Isaiah, the expression is used that there’s nothing in heaven and on earth that can compare with God. Nothing can be compared with God. There’s nothing in creation that you can say is like God. You can say that creation is like God because it’s made by grace to be like God, but God is not like a creature at all. God is completely, totally holy; he’s completely different. He’s holy, holy, holy; he’s thrice-holy. He’s super-holy, and therefore nothing in creation can possibly be compared to him.
And here, this leads to again another very important affirmation. In speaking about God, sometimes we say we speak anthropomorphically, and we do. We speak about God as having eyes, seeing us; ears, and hearing our prayer; having hands and touching us; having [a] mouth and kissing us. We speak about God walking in the garden. Even God speaks about his soul and his spirit in Isaiah. He says that his soul rejoices in his suffering servant, and his spirit is placed upon him and so on.
But we want to really be careful on this, because the truth of the matter is, according to the Holy Scripture, that we are made in God’s image. So, as a writer that I really love, named Karl Stern, has said, “We must always keep in mind that we are theomorphic; God is not anthropomorphic.” In other words, we do not imagine God as we are, but we are the way we are because in created forms, and we underline that with five underlinings, we in created forms and created ways image what is absolutely incomparable and ineffable and inconceivable and beyond understanding and beyond non-understanding in God who is holy.
So when we say that God is holy and is completely other than anything else, what we are saying is he’s not like anything that we can possibly imagine. He’s completely and totally different, completely and totally separate, completely and totally other. He is otherness itself. But then we quickly add that this God who is holy has decided to create. He’s decided to bring into being that which before was not. And what he brings into being he consecrates with his own holiness. He makes all creation his servants, sharing in his [holiness]. He sanctifies; he consecrates; he hallows.
And again, I repeat: this in the beginning has nothing ethical or moral about it at all. It has to do with the being of things, not with their behavior. We will definitely quickly say that a human being who’s created in the image and likeness of God, who is created to be holy as God is holy, then has to behave like God, has to behave in a holy manner, has to be good and true and kind and merciful and loving and wise and prudent and compassionate. We have to be like God by grace, but we have to first be consecrated by God to become holy and then we live out the holiness through our behavior. And here I think we can say that the non-human creatures—animals, plants, rocks, stars, moons, galaxies—they show forth the glory and the holiness of God just in their very being. There’s nothing ethical about it. A tree cannot be moral or immoral. Even an animal, who may be wild and ferocious, is that way by nature, or also because we in our humanity have not known how to care for that animal properly and spring our own evils on that animal, just like we corrupt the plants and the stones and the waters and the air, so we can corrupt all the animals, too.
But they are holy by nature. God makes them to be holy, so to speak. They glorify God by their very being, and we human beings must glorify God by our very being. But the problem with human beings is we’re not rocks or plants or animals. We are free, self-conscious creatures, made in the image and likeness of God, with freedom to exercise our holiness, to believe our holiness, to receive our holiness, to actualize and realize our holiness, that’s given to us as a gift from God.
And here we should also mention that in the Old Covenant, you had the holiness codes in the Torah of God, the instructions of Moses, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. And that is why you have the teaching there, the practice there, a pedagogical practice of the Old Covenant, that whenever a creature, who is also a sinner, is in touch with what is holy, they are said to be rendered unclean, and they have to do a purification rite because of their, so to speak, paradoxically, their contamination by the holiness of God.
So if you read Leviticus, for example, whenever a creature was in touch with what is holy, they’re rendered unclean and have to do a purification. They have to show somehow that they’re unworthy of being touched with what is holy. And what were those holy things? Well, they were the things that had to do with the direct action of God in human life. First of all, the things that had to do with birth, the things that had to with death. They had to do with blood. And this is why if a man had an emission of semen or a woman was menstruating, and they were touching this blood and they were dealing with what is [life-creating], it rendered them unclean. They had to make a purification rite.
When the priests went and served in the Temple in the holy place, when they came out they had to do a purification rite. When a rabbi or a priest touched the Holy Scriptures, the hands were rendered unclean, and they had to have a purification rite. When a woman had a baby and gave birth to life and shared life, you had to do a purification rite. When a person was in touch with diseases and suffering, leprosy, sores of any kind, sicknesses of any kind, they had to do a purification rite, because God was involved in that activity, because it was God who was involved in everything human. And certainly death: when a person died or when human beings who were still alive were in touch with those who had died, touched corpses or in the presence of death, they also had to do a purification rite.
But here, we’ve got to notice and underline a million times: this had nothing to do with ethics. It has nothing to do with morality. It has to do with the objective holiness of God acting in creatures who are created to be holy, made to be holy, sanctified to be holy, but who are and very often impure and corrupt and defiling the holiness of God. And here we have to see also that even etymologically, in Greek at least, the term “hagios,” which means “holy,” is always very often connected to another term, the agioi are the agnoi. “Agnoi” means “pure, clean.” This is a very important connection also, etymologically. The agioi are the agnoi. “Agnoia” is “purity.”
So purity and holiness go together, but the strange way of speaking is that when an impure person is in touch with the holiness of God, the holiness renders them impure, or you might dare say reveals their impurity, renders them unclean because the unclean one has touched the clean holiness of God, and therefore they have to do a purification rite. They have to offer a sacrifice or do a libation or wash with water. I mean, you could read about it in the Levitical codes, but it’s really important to know this has nothing to do with sins. It has nothing to do with evil as such. Yeah, it has to do with evil, sinful, impure people being in touch with the holy, but the acts themselves are not sinful.
For a woman to have a baby is not sinful. To touch a corpse is not sinful. To have a disease with sores or leprosy is not sinful. To emit semen or to ovulate is not sinful. To be in touch with blood or to touch blood, which must never be drunk in the Old Testament… That’s why Jesus says, “This is my Blood of the New Covenant; drink of it,” oh, that’s scandalous for a Jew. You don’t drink it; you don’t even touch it. In fact, even in the Book of Acts, the Christian pagans, the Gentiles, were not allowed to eat the blood of the animals, because the life was in the blood. Blood and life were synonymous.
So this holiness is a grace; it’s a gift; it’s an act that God does. He consecrates. He sanctifies. And, of course, the Christian teaching would be: the ultimate and final and everlasting sanctification and consecration of human beings and the whole of creation, all the plants and animals and rocks and birds and everything else, is done by Christ, the Holy One of God. He comes as the Holy One of God to make everything holy. And in Jesus, there’s no unholiness at all. And in his humanity, there’s no unholiness at all. His human body is completely and totally holy. And those who belong to him, their bodies are supposed to be holy and can become holy through him. But his body was never unholy. His body was always a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Nothing in Jesus was unholy. Nothing in Jesus was impure. But he became human—should say, he, the Christ, became Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God became man—in order to make us holy, to make us divine, to make us share in that which belongs to God alone, the only Holy One. So God Almighty is the only Holy One, and the God-man, Jesus Christ, is the only holy human being. He’s the only saint, if you want to put it that way. He’s the only Holy One that there is, but we participate in his holiness through the Holy Spirit, and we participate by faith, by grace. We receive his holy words which make us clean; they make us holy, especially when we receive them and follow them. And then, of course, we partake of his holy Body, his most-holy Blood, by the power of his most-holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of the Holy One himself, God Almighty.
So we are sanctified and glorified, and even deified through Jesus as the Holy One of God. And that’s why in the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament, the Christians are called “the saints.” They’re called the holy [ones]. In St. John’s first letter, it says, “You have been anointed by the Holy One.” Actually, it says literally, “You have received unction from the Holy One, and you know all things.” And that Holy One is God the Father and God the Son; it’s the Father and the Son. It’s God Almighty and the Lord Jesus Christ: the Holy One. So we have received that holiness from God.
And in all of the letters of the Apostle Paul, the Christians are greeted as “saints.” They’re called saints. That is a title for Christian: called to be saints, or who are the saints. So, for example, a very good example here, if you read the letters in the New Testament, if you read the epistles of the Apostle Paul—read them!—the Letter to the Romans and the First Letter to the Corinthians, in the very first chapter, in the very greeting, the [letters] quote “klētois agiois”: those who are called to be saints. Called to be saints, called “saints.”
The Letter to the Ephesians begins, “Not only that we should be holy, but to all the saints in Christ Jesus.” In Philippians and Colossians, “To all the saints who are in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi”; Colossians: “To the saints and faithful who are in Christ and Colossae.” And the Thessalonians, it’s “to the church”; both letters “to the church of Jesus Christ.” The Philippians speaks to the Christians as to all of the saints. John speaks of the elect or the chosen; Jude speaks about the called. So those who are called and chosen and are the Church. They are the holy ones, and the Church is called holy. In the Creed, the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”: one with the unity of God, catholic with the fullness of God, holy with the holiness of God, and apostolic with the very mission of God in the world, namely, to consecrate and sanctify all things.
I once counted in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom how many times the word “holy” is used. It’s used over 160 times, the word “hagios, holy” or “all-holy.” And, of course, the Holy Spirit is called “all-holy.” And among the Christian holy people, among the Christian saints, the Theotokos, mother of Christ, came to be called “pan-agia, all-holy.” “Panagia” means “all-holy.” So you have the panagion pnevma, the all-holy Spirit, and then you have the panagia Theotokos, the most-holy Theotokos. But all who are Christians are holy with the holiness of God, just as a gift, as a grace. We’re all to be saints.
If we actualize the gift, then we really do become saints, and that is proven by our behavior. We act in a holy manner. We keep the holy commandments. We do God’s holy will. We keep his holy words. We eat Christ’s holy Body and [drink] his holy Blood. Everything is holy! In the Old Testament even, I don’t know, the shovel for the latrine, when the people were going to the desert had written on it, “Holy to God.” Now, if you add terms like “sanctify” or “consecrate” or the term “hagiosynē, holiness,” in the Divine Liturgy those words would be over 175 times. Over 175 times you have the word “hagios” or words that contain the root “hagios” in them, like “consecrate” or “sanctify” or “hallow,” or “holiness” as a noun.
This is the faith; this is the Christian faith: that Jesus is the Holy One of God. He is the only Holy One. He’s the only human being who’s holy. But in and with him, by him, by the will of his Holy Father, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we become holy, too. We share the holiness of God, and it’s written in the Scriptures, provided that we suffer with him. We become sons of God and holy [like] God and are glorified and sanctified provided that we keep his commandments, provided that we suffer with him. But in suffering with him, we participate in his holiness.
So this is our faith. We confess Jesus, Jesus alone among human beings, as the Saint, the Holy One of God. Then we confess that he consecrates and hallows and sanctifies all of us, and that if our God is holy, through the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ, we are to become holy, too. Our bodies are to become holy. Our souls, our spirits, our actions—everything is to become holy. The whole creation is to become holy. And, as a matter of fact, it is sanctified; it is glorified; it is deified, through Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, and it is done so by the power of God’s own Holy Spirit.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty! Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Holy are you, O God, you and your only-begotten Son, and your Holy Spirit. For you are holy and all-holy, and through you we become holy, too. But how do we become holy? Through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who alone is the Holy One of God.