The word “holy” stumps most folks. They think they know what it means, but, in the end, they really don’t. So, when you hear the word “holy” what pops into your mind? What does the word “holy” mean?
I won’t keep you in suspense. Here’s the key to understanding the word “holy.” It literally means “set apart for a specific use.” This is a big deal! And I really can’t emphasize just how important it is for you to shift your thinking here about the word “holy.” It will make so much more sense to you once you understand this aspect of what it means for something or someone or Someone to be “holy.”
Look at our lesson today in Isaiah 6:1-12:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and 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.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land is utterly desolate, and the LORD removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.”
I confess, this is one of my most favorite passages in the First Testament. That’s because it was pressing out the power of this passage that was a great assistance to me in coming into the Orthodox Church. Seeing the “Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” was a way for me to abandon the notion that worship was anything less than the embrace of this cosmic vision of Who God is. Not for His sake, mind you. No, I needed this elevation of my thinking about worship SO THAT I would be changed and formed and made into someone who could actually stand in the Presence of Him on His throne.
The scene is arresting to say the least. Isaiah sees into the throne room of eternity here and the power of that vision wakes him up to just Who God is and who he is as well. God is holy. He is single minded. Simple. Unchanging. Focused. Unconfused. Clear. Purposeful. And Awesome! And Isaiah has to confess he is “a man of unclean lips” and he dwells “in the midst of a people with unclean lips.”
Again, the imagery is clear. One set of lips from the angels declares the awesome truth. But Isaiah has to confess his lips are not that clean. He is not “holy” because his lips don’t declare the truth. And all the people around him suffer from the same lack of “holiness.” The remedy for Isaiah? FIRE! The angel takes a burning coal from the altar of incense and places this fire of Isaiah’s lips. Then the angel declares the truth again: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin forgiven.” By the way, these are the same words I say as a priest after I receive the Eucharist at every liturgy!
Today, are you holy? Are you “set apart for a specific use?” Are you so focused in your life that you see God as the true goal for your life? Don’t worry, we all stumble. The remedy will be the Eucharistic life of a Purposeful Orthodoxy that you live today, tomorrow, and the rest of your life.