This is an important topic, even today, even for people who are not religious, who don't even believe in God. The word itself is related to another word that people use a little more often—worthy. Worship has been explained as the movement of the mind, heart and will, the whole person really, to acknowledge something or someone as worthy. Is it an accident that the Greek words for ‘worthy’ and ‘holy’ are so similar? Axios, worthy, and Agios, holy. Perhaps not.
What we regard as worthy, we worship. Well, maybe not exactly, but almost. I remember as a young man, I was being trained in the operation of some sophisticated woodworking machinery—I was a cabinetmaker by trade—which my company had purchased in Germany at a trade show. The German company shipped the machines to us, and also a couple of men, one to install the machines for us, and later, another older man to train us in the operation of them.
Neither of these men spoke English, but I spoke German fluently, so it was my job to assist them and meanwhile learn from them all I could about the machines, in order to operate and maintain them, and teach others how to use them. The older of the two men was a very wise and intelligent mentor on many levels. I would bring him home with me to have supper with us each night. Before he left, I thanked him, and tried my best to let him know how much I appreciated him as a mentor.
‘Ich verehre Sie,’ I told him, using what I thought was the word for respect and honor. ‘Nee, nee, nee! Nicht verehren! Nur ehren, vielleicht!’ he responded emphatically but with a smile. ‘No, no, no, not adore, but maybe honor!’ Since that time my command of the language has improved, I know that adding ver- to a verb intensifies its meaning. How silly I felt at the time. I made a mistake out of ignorance, but many, including myself sometimes, make a similar mistake. We worship or adore what may only be honored or appreciated.
Here’s some Greek now. Eis Agios, eis Kyrios, Yisus Christos eis dhoxan Theou Patros. ‘One [is] Holy, One [is] Lord, Jesus Christ in [the] glory of God [the] Father.’ This is sung at every Orthodox liturgy, as a reminder to the faithful who or what is alone, not only Holy, but also worthy. Here's that similarity between the two words I pointed out earlier. We can speak of only One Holy, that is, God, and as for the rest of us, by His grace, we become worthy. He adds the ‘s’ from Sotiría, ‘salvation,’ to the word Agios, ‘holy,’ and calls us that, Axios, ‘worthy.’
Now here’s some Hebrew. Something like that happened to Abram and Sarai in the book of Genesis. After meeting with them, and blessing them with the promise of a child, the Lord changed their names, by adding a letter from the Divine Name YHWH to each of their names. Adding an ‘h’ to Abram, the name Abraham was formed. Adding an ‘h’ to Sarai, we have Sarah. The meaning of their new names? ‘Father of multitudes’ and ‘Princess.’ The Divine Nature never lets you go without taking away far more than you came with. Hence, we never approach without an offering.
That is worship.