What is Holy
There are two “kinds” of holy. There is holy by participation and holy by nature. Icons, the holy cross, relics, holy water and man are all holy or can be holy, by participation. We know actually that anything really can be holy by participation because by His Incarnation, God forever closed the chasm between the Creator and created. We know also that God dwells in these not in some kind of a symbolic manner but in reality; it is not man, or water, or an icon which work miracles but God who is present there.
But what about holy by nature. Of course, the only thing holy by nature is God.
Yet the questions arises…what do we know of God? How do we even know there is a God? Us, sinful, fallen critters of the earth…did we imagine Him? Did we think Him up? Again, you and I would agree of course not! We know God because God revealed Himself to us.
Not too long ago, I was reading the Mystagogy on the Holy Spirit by Saint Photios the Great. The introduction is really very good and here’s a small chunk of it.
“Were not the ‘knowledge of God implanted in us by nature’ as Saint John Damascus declared, and had He not revealed Himself in His ‘effects’ that is, His Energies and operations, and finally by His Incarnation, we shohuld have no knowledge of God whatsoever."
To be cut off from the Knowledge of Him, is death. So God revealed Himself to mankind first through His prophets then in His fullness; so we would know Him; this knowledge being Life itself, He Himself. The most striking example of this revelation is when Moses literally asked Him “what should I call you? [what is the Truth about you?] and he answered “I am that I am, tell them, I am has sent me”. At the Revelation of revelations, His Incarnation, how did the Virgin know to call her son “Jesus”? Did not the Archangel, the messenger of God, tell her so? How do we know that Jesus was the Son of God? Did not God Himself say so at His baptism? “This is my beloved Son”. How do we know that there is a Father? Did not Christ Himself tell us of the Father? How do we know the Holy Spirit…”I will send you a Comforter”, are Christ’s words. “And this also it behooves us to know, that the names Fatherhood, Sonship and Procession, were not applied to the Holy Godhead by us: on the contrary, they were communicated to us by the Godhead.” Says Saint John Damascus. It seems that every name we have of God and the Trinity was directly revealed to us by God; it is the God revealed Truth about Himself…how can that be created? How can this knowledge, if it is in and of itself Life (as Saint Athanasius puts it “when they [humans] lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it”) not be God? It is this knowledge that enables us to say “I believe in One God the Father Almighty….and in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God…and in the Holy Spirit the giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father.” We could say a great many other variations of this yet this is our faith (and our salvation) and we know it to be Truth because the only Being who knew to tell us of it, is God.
And yes, we use words which in and of themselves are holy by participation, but our belief that rests in these words, the Truth about God that He Himself told us, is uncreated, and in this sense it is His Energy and only in this sense is His Name God Himself; as he said “I am the Life, the Way, the Truth”. Saint Basil says: “The name of God is said to be holy, not entirely because it has a certain sanctifying power in its syllables, but because the whole specific character of God and the thought contained in what is specially contemplated concerning Him is holy and pure”.
It is in this “deeper” sense that The Church often refer to the Name of God. For example, the Name of God in services is not referred to in the same way as things that are holy by participation. In fact, sometimes in exchange for saying “the Son” the service uses “Thine all-holy Name” (“That by elements, by Angels, and by men, by things visible and by things invisible, Thine all-holy Name may be glorified, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”) Similarly, Saint Maximus the Confessor says: "the Name of the Father is the Only Begotten Son" (Since the Father is known through the Son).
Yet you could still affix your mind to “name” and say that’s created over and over. Yet what about Light?, We know God is Light (among other things). But Light is photons and waves. Are we, Orthodox Christians, pantheists? Do we gaze up at the sun when the clouds scatter and fall on our knees worshiping the light that comes from it, confusing God with His creation? Of course not. Yet at the same time, acknowledging that our Faith is that of mystery, we say God is Light, God is Love, God is Truth, Life, Grace. Saint Gregory dedicated his life to defending the Uncreated Light.
The fact is that there is nothing new about our Faith. Our Faith is not created by man, nothing was ever added to it or subtracted from it. Unfortunately, however, we live our lives taking for granted the words we say in prayer, not fully knowing what it is we are saying. Then when a conflict arises within the faithful, we do not set aside our own rationality and logic but allow it to cloud us from fearlessly searching the depth of our Faith for the unadulterated Truth.