For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44)
In any English translation of the New Testament, a host of English words are necessary to capture the full range of basically one Greek word – agios. We need all of these English words to encompass the various uses of agios in Greek: holy, holiness, saint, sanctify and sanctification. In the New Testament, the basic Greek word for holy is used about 260 times. About 90 times it is used in conjunction with God’s Spirit – the Holy Spirit. It is used about 120 times to refer in one way or another to humans, God’s people, individuals, prophets, believers. It is also used in reference to Jesus, God, the temple, a place/city, angels, a kiss, the Law, Scripture and the covenant. If we take away all of the references to the Holy Spirit, we see that holiness in the New Testament is most often used about people, the believers, the Church members. Almost never in the New Testament is it used about things – Holy Water, Holy Icon, Holy Chalice, Holy Vestments, etc. We have the Sunday of All Saints, which is all the people who are holy. This Sunday follows Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is about us and our way of life more than about miracles and magic taking hold of things and making them holy.
Holiness in the New Testament is far more a state of being for humans and also the way we live. The New Testament does not focus on holy things and doesn’t tell believers to do so either. Holiness is more dynamic and puts us in relationship with God. Holiness courses through our lives and is expanding the Church in baptism, the Eucharist, our growing in faith and love. Theosis is our participation in God’s holiness.
Holiness does not get concentrated in things which we stand around to reverence or feel some closeness to God. In the New Testament we don’t look to things to experience holiness, for holiness is to be present in our daily lives.
We can look at a few passages from the New Testament and we get this sense that holiness is much more about us and what we are and what we are to do. In each passage below the holiness word is emphasized.
Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. (john 17:7)
But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:11)
May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess 5:23)
Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)
and make holiness perfect in the fear of God. (2 Cor 7:1)
While God sanctifies us (makes us holy), obviously holiness is also something we can strive and something we can make perfect. Holiness is not merely something God bestows on us, it is also something we can shape and develop in our own lives. Holiness is thus a force in our lives, which is both given to us by God and shaped by our own lives and how we follow Christ. God commands us to be holy! It is something within our power to do.
Holiness as such is not some magic which makes “things” holy, but rather the very force in our lives which unites us to God. Holiness is active in our hearts and minds – in our spirit, soul and body. Holiness is not just for the soul, but it is for our entire being as humans and is to be present in every aspect of our humanity. We show holiness in our lives not only in worship or in participating in the sacraments but also in stewardship, tithing, generosity, loving, forgiving, asking forgiveness, obeying Christ, being charitable, merciful, peacemakers and in all the ways we practice our discipleship.
Orthodox often flock to where they believe holiness is – in an icon, in a monastery, in a church, in the Holy Fire. The New Testament on the other hand points out that holiness is not so much to be sought out in things, but is to be lived in our hearts, souls, minds and bodies. We can’t make holiness perfect in things – Holy Icons or Holy Fire – we can only perfect it in ourselves.