We often watch DVD classes from The Great Courses to learn and experience lands and peoples that we would likely not see in person. In the class “Great Tours: Greece and Turkey, from Athens to Istanbul”, Professor John R. Hale talked about, and had pictures of, Byzantine architecture found at Meteroa. (By the way, I would highly recommend these courses for anyone who wants an armchair education. They are excellent and well researched and presented and the topics are myriad. thegreatcourses.com. But I digress!)
Meteora was a cluster of monasteries built in Greece in the 14th century. The name “Meteroa” means “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above”. One look and you realize that these were aptly named.
Originally there were 24 monasteries in this group, but now there are only four that house religious communities and they are important sites for the Eastern Orthodox church. The monasteries were built on natural sandstone rock pillars that were virtually inaccessible so that they functioned as a place of sanctuary from the violent controversies on the land below.
The pinnacles rise over 400 meters above the Peneas valley. They are incredible examples of architecture that transformed rugged rock spires into places of calm serenity and retreat. Access was deliberately difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets on ropes that would be used to haul up both goods and people. This required quite a leap of faith, both in the people doing the hauling and in the ropes transporting visitors and goods up the sides of these pinnacles.
[Some of the information and the picture above was obtained from http://www.amusingplanet.com/2012/09/5-most-inaccessible-monasteries-in-world.html a website that includes more information than that which is presented here.]
Do you have to be ensconced in a monastery on top of a pinnacle in order to be holy? And, what is holiness anyway?
According to Strong’s Thesaurus/Lexicon, the Hebrew word translated as “holy” or “holiness” means “apartness, holiness, sacredness, separateness … set-apartness.”
We are told that we are to be holy. He wants us to be set apart for Him, rather than being one with the world and its culture.
For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
Exodus 3:5. Moses had stepped aside to see the burning bush and God instructed him to take off his sandals because God’s presence rendered the very ground “holy”.
God is not our “Buddy in the Sky”. Notice that even though God and Moses had a very close relationship, there was a great difference between them. He is holy and this holiness is one of the attributes of God, it is intrinsic in His being and it cannot be violated. Because He is holy, we cannot come before Him — our sin has dirtied us up from the inside out and God cannot countenance any disobedience to His law, i.e., sin.
The difference between us and God is monumental. God omniscient and omnipotent. In contrast, we are temporal and totally dependent on God for life itself. God is holy, and we are not.
Isaiah’s vision of God is descriptive of this difference:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe 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!”
Up to this point, the vision of Isaiah is very similar to the vision that the Apostle John had as recounted in Revelation 4:2-8. Isaiah, however, gives us his response to what he saw:
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 one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that 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 atoned for.”
Isaiah’s response to seeing God on His throne in heaven was an immediate recognition that he was lost, sinful, and unworthy to stand before the King, the LORD of Hosts. In fact, God did not speak to him or acknowledge his presence until after the angel had touched his lips with the coal from the altar saying that he had received atonement for his sin. After this, God spoke.
He is a holy God and we must not forget that fact. We have absolutely no standing before God in and of ourselves because of our sinful disobedience to His commands.
The struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. He is just and we are unjust. This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God. The unjust person does not desire the company of a just judge. We become fugitives, fleeing from the presence of One whose glory can blind us and whose justice can condemn us. We are at war with Him unless and until we are justified. Only the justified person can be comfortable in the presence of a holy God.
R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 147
Becoming holy has nothing to do with your physical location. Rather, it has everything to do with your relationship with Jesus Christ, the One who died so that you could be justified, and then be “comfortable in the presence of a holy God”.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The faith that saves is faith in Jesus Christ, the One who died as an atoning sacrifice, taking your sin on Himself, so that if you believe in Him, you will be clothed in His righteousness. In that way, God sees Christ in you and adopts us as His children.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The answer to “How can I be holy?” is “You can’t!”, at least not on your own. None of us has anything that we can give to the holy God … we are sinful creatures with no redeeming merit no matter how good we seem to other people. Yet we are called to be holy, and we can be so in and through Jesus Christ.
“Be holy as I am holy.” We don’t need to be on top of a pillar to be holy. Our holiness is not dependent on anything that we can do or anywhere that we must go. Praise be to God the Father and to His Son for giving us a way to stand before God and call Him Father. We can be holy – if we are washed in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus.
Listen to the choir sing “Clothed in Righteousness” from the album Glory to the Holy One, lyrics written by R. C. Sproul:
Here are the lyrics for your review while you listen:
Fallen race in Eden fair Exposed and full of shame Fled we naked from Thy sight Far from Thy holy Name
Clothe us in Your righteousness Hide filthy rags of sin Dress us in Your perfect garb Both outside and within
Sent from the garden in the east Outside of Eden’s gate Banished there from Thy pure light Were Adam and his mate
Scarlet souls are now like snow By Thy atoning grace Crimson hearts become like wool For Adam’s fallen race
No work of ours is good enough For evil to atone Your merit, Lord, is all we have It saves, and it alone
Father, I pray that these words would be encouragement to believers and that they would be used by the Holy Spirit to convict the nonbeliever of the need for repentance and faith in the Savior. Thank you Father for making a way for us to come before you in faith.