What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.
In the Orthodox Tradition, we have a concept of sacred space. We use our church buildings almost exclusively for worship. There are times when we offer a catechism class in the church sanctuary. There might even be some parishes that don’t have a dedicated church sanctuary, that utilize their worship space for multiple purposes, including fellowship. However, even in these multi-use situations, there is a concept of the sacredness of the space. There won’t be a paint-ball tournament in the sacred space, or a basketball game, or a violent movie. Because these uses are antithetical to the sacred space used for worship.
Saint Paul tells us that we are supposed to see our bodies as temples, as sacred spaces that are set aside to glorify God. Ideally, that is what we are supposed to do with our bodies. Our bodies, of course, are multiple use bodies. We have one body with which to pray, but also to work. Our bodies get dirty when we mow our lawns, or go hiking. Our bodies should be used for exercise and physical exertion. They should also be used for fun. We should laugh, we should enjoy ourselves. However, the chief function of our bodies is to glorify God. Therefore, even when we are having fun, we should still see our bodies as temples of the living God. That’s where getting drunk to the point where one is throwing up does not honor the body as a temple. Neither is overeating to the point of feeling uncomfortable and being unhealthy. Neither is desecrating our bodies with what we wear or covering them with crude messages.
We have to watch what we say with our mouths. We have one mouth at our disposal. We have to be careful that this same mouth that utters words of prayer does not utter words of slander, gossip, or cursing. We have one set of hands. These are to be used to help others, not hurt others. We have one mind, that we are to use to develop talents to help one another, not to hatch diabolical plots to cheat or hurt one another.
If we went into the church building and someone suggested, “hey, let’s put graffiti on the walls,” others would say “no, this is sacred space, which it to be respected and not defaced.” We need to have this attitude with our own bodies and everything associated with them—they are sacred spaces, which are to be respected and not defaced.
The altar in the parish where I serve is immaculately clean. There isn’t a speck of dust or one thing that is out of place. My office is a different story. My body is a different story. My life is a different story. The challenge for me, personally, is to make everything else immaculate like the Holy Altar. I have always had a sense of urgency to keep the altar clean. I am working to find the same sense of urgency with everything else.
Many people don’t have a concept of sacred space, whether it is a building or their own body. They are reckless. They don’t think about honoring the body as a temple of God, or about dedicating their lives to glorifying God. We read in II Corinthians 6:17: “Therefore come out from them and be separate from them.” In other words, don’t go along with the crowd. Be different. God expects us to be different.
In II Corinthians 7:1, Saint Paul exhorts us to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.”
Obviously, no human being is perfect. No life is immaculate. Try as we might, no one’s body or life resembles the holiness of God or the cleanliness of the temple. Holy Unction is meant to be a cleansing agent. It helps wash us of filth and gives us a spiritual restart. We leave from the sacrament renewed and it is then up to us to keep ourselves clean and focused.
One final thought on the word “Holy.” “Holy” means “set apart for God.” In the Divine Liturgy, when the priest says “The Holy Gifts for the Holy People of God,” he is saying “the things that are set apart from all other things, the bread and wine now become the Body and Blood of Christ, are for the people who are setting themselves apart from other things and are focusing on setting themselves apart with and for God.” For us, holiness is not just a destination. It is the journey. We won’t achieve holiness in this life, because to be holy is to be one with God. This is our goal. In the journey, we are supposed to seek oneness with God. Will we have this at all times? In our sinful nature, no, we won’t. However, we can pursue holiness at all times. Because the pursuit is a choice, a choice we can make at any time and in any circumstance. Holy Unction, both through the anointing with oil and the spiritual renewal of the prayers, calls us to a sense of holiness and asks God to strengthen each of us so that our minds and hearts desire that choice to be holy and set apart for God in all times and in all circumstances.
Show compassion and mercy, O Savior; deliver from dead and pains; shield from the darts of the Evil One, the souls and bodies of Your suppliants, forasmuch as You are a merciful Lord, who heals by grace Divine. (9th Ode)
Strive for holiness. Keep the temple of your body and your mind immaculate like a church sanctuary. Set your life apart for God, focus on glorifying Him in all you do.