OK, so one of my most favorite movies in the whole world is “Princess Bride” and one of my most favorite scenes in the movie is when Vincent keeps using the word “inconceivable!” Finally, after so many times of hearing this word from Vincent, Inigo Montoya responds “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
The truth is words matter, and the meaning of words matters. To one degree or another meaning is sacrificed when we forget to protect the meaning of words. In fact, great harm can come to important truths if we lazily disregard the meaning of the words we use. This is why translation is such a challenging job, and why we struggle over seemingly small matters when we do theology.
It’s because we are handling truths that have eternal consequences, so we don’t move fast (my grandmother always reminded me “You only stumble when you hurry.”) and we insist on the fullest meaning of a word.
Whole religious movements have been spawned by the misunderstanding of words. Whole peoples have been used and abused based on the misuse of theology, sociology, politics, and power. Words matter. Period.
As an aside, it is, for this reason, I will not allow my children to use the word “awesome” for anything other than the Trinity. The flippant application of the concept of awesomeness dilutes the power of awe in our lives, and that has a direct consequence on my own ability to stand in authentic awe of the Uncreated! Just a pet peeve, no reason to panic!
Look at our lesson today in Ephesians 1:1-9:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose.
Notice, please, the phrase “holy and blameless.” That’s our focus today, and specifically the word “holy.” I think “blameless” is pretty clear, but I have been amazed at the trouble the word “holy” conjures up in people’s minds. When I’ve taught classes on the Faith, one of my main objectives is to fill up our thoughts and understanding of the word “holy.”
When I’ve asked, many people try to define “holy” by saying “Well, you know, if something is holy it’s, well, holy.” Or they think of “holy” as some sort of magical attribute that makes saints glow in the dark. Let’s be honest, we use the word “holy” a lot in the Christian faith. We should probably understand this word as good or better than many others! And we Orthodox use the word “holy” a lot!
The true meaning of “holy” is this: “set apart for a specific and exclusive use.” The nature of a “holy” object or person is the very fact that this object or person belongs only to One purpose and One usage. The Chalice is “Holy” on the altar because this Cup is used for only one purpose forever! And we become “holy” when we continue to grow in the faith to belong exclusively to Jesus Christ and His eternal love. When we are “holy” we reflect our exclusive devotion to Christ in becoming like Him in our interactions with others, in our compassion and care for the weak and the poor, and in our actively choosing to priorities our relationship with God higher than all our other relationships.
Today, you are called to be “holy.” You are called to belong, to see as your primary purpose of existence, to serve exclusively, the God Who made you and loves you more than you, yourself, know how to love. You are called to belong only to Jesus Christ, and to reflect that exclusive relationship in your choices, your priorities, and your actions. In other words, you are called to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, You are Holy. We sing and pray at every liturgy the beautiful Trisagion Prayer that declares You thrice Holy. And we hear You command us to be holy as You are holy. But we are so far removed in our day from even understanding what holy really means. But You are calling me to belong exclusively to You and to follow You alone. You are calling me to not have a divided heart and divided loyalties. Lord, this is much more difficult than I thought. Please help me and give me strength. Amen.