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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 matter. 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 words as we possibly can.

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 direct consequence on my own ability to stand in authentic awe of the Uncreated! Just a pet peeve, no reason to panic!

In today’s Epistle Lesson St. Paul gives us an excellent opportunity to press out the full meaning of a word we use all too often without appreciating its full intent. The whole lesson is found in Ephesians 1:1-9, but I want to focus on verse 4. St. Paul writes the Ephesians a sweeping introduction to the cosmic beauty of just what it means to be in the Kingdom of God because of Christ. He says in verse 4: “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

The phrase “holy and blameless” is my 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 its, 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 that many others!

Each week we sing the Trisagion Hymn in the Divine Liturgy “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” We call the Panagia “Holy.” We refer to the Eucharist as the “Holy” Eucharist. And now St. Paul is telling the Ephesians that they are suppose to be “holy” as well.

And 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 God 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, knows how to love. You are called to belong only to Christ, and to reflect that exclusive relationship in your choices, your priorities, and your actions.

So, today, BE “holy!”


  • Virgil T. Morant
    Posted October 11, 2013 at 1:16 am

    Awes— er, I mean, nice post, Fr. Barnabas. A fine and worthy observation that holy is devoted wholly to God.

    By the way, I just had a look-see at your YouTube page, and hearing your accent calls to mind a monk I once met years ago at the St. Gregory Palamas Monastery here in Ohio. He was from the South and had a thick accent, considerably more pronounced indeed than yours. When he chanted—striking, it seems to my recollection, every note very well and singing the melody nicely—he did so with no loss whatsoever of his heavy Southern accent. First time I’d ever heard Orthodox hymnody in such a voice.

    Pardon the digression.

  • Post Author
    Fr. Barnabas Powell
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Dear Virgil, no digression at all, my friend. I count myself blessed double by being Southern and Orthodox!

    Great beginning to your comment. I smiled for an hour after reading it. I look forward to your future comments.

    Fr. B

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