The concept of “holy space” takes a beating in our modern society that values egalitarianism above hierarchy. But without one place being set aside as “holy” we lose the ability to see the “holy” in every place!
In our Scripture Lesson today we read how God promised Abram (later his name would be changed to “Abraham”) the land of Israel for his people. Look at Genesis 13:12-18:
Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelt among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” So Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the LORD.
Notice please this last verse: “So Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the LORD.”
Interestingly, it is at this sacred spot near the Oaks of Mamre that Abraham and his wife will show hospitality to “three angels” that will become for we Orthodox an icon of the Holy Trinity. It is this “encounter” at the Oaks of Mamre that will forever change the lives of all the faithful and will reinforce God’s gracious revelation of Himself to His creation. Talk about sacred space!
Notice how Abram makes this spot special; he builds an altar to the Lord and worships. He makes the spot special; he makes the place “holy.”
That word “holy” is so misunderstood. For too many of us, when we think of the word “holy” we almost have a “magical” idea about it. If something is “holy” we imagine it has “mystical” powers or is somehow something “different” than “normal” things. This is a weakness that makes the word “holy” into something totally different that what it really is. But “Holy” literally means “set apart for a specific use.” If something is “holy” then it is used only for one, singular, focused, purpose and for nothing else. So, a church building is “holy” because it is only used to worship God. A chalice is “holy” because it is used only to hold the precious Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist. And you are “holy” when you reserve your life for God alone and live only for His purpose in your life. You are “holy” when you reserve your love, your devotion, your time, talents, treasures for God alone. It is single mindedness that makes holiness. It is exclusive devotion that creates sacred space. As an aside, this is why we Orthodox don’t have “multi-use” space for our worship and Divine Liturgy. No, our worship space is exclusively used for that purpose, and the reason for this exclusivity is because we understand that, when we worship, we do so “for the life of the world.” We make one, specific, space holy so that every place can become holy!
So, Today, where are the holy places in your life? Where are the holy places in your heart, your home, your family, and your community? Are you “keeping” them holy or is the holiness of this or that place merely some distant memory kept alive by weak nostalgia? Make a space holy in your home, your heart, your community and then “keep” it holy by focusing your devotion and your purposeful love in remembering the “holy” purpose for which that space exists. Setting a specific place as holy in your life, as sacred, as special, also keeps the chance alive that all places in your life can become holy as well. It’s all about being Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. On an all New Faith Encouraged LIVE, the wonderful Abbot Tryphon will be my special guest this coming Sunday at 8 PM on AncientFaith.com!