A Response to Vladimir Moss’s “Seven Theses on Names and Name-Worshipping”
by Thomas S. Deretich
December 1/16, 2016
1. It is a linguistic fact that in Hebraic, Greek, and Christian usage, “name” often means “glory” or “power” and sometimes means “real person.” These are normal, dictionary definitions of “shem” or “ónoma.” It is factually incorrect to assume that “name” simply means a merely-symbolic name (sounds or letters). It is factually incorrect to assume that using “name” to mean “glory” or “power” or “person” is unusual. These usages are common within Christianity.
2. Yes, in the prayer “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” it is “God Himself” Who is being praised. Thus “the name of the Lord” can mean “God Himself.” Thus, “the name of God is God Himself,” does have at least one fully Orthodox interpretation. At the same time, “name” can also mean “glory” or “power.” Saint Cyril of Alexandria (Commentary on John 11.9) teaches us that when Christ speaks of “name” (John 17), He means “glory” or “power” or “energy.” Saint Cyril (11.7) also states that it is the established tradition of Orthodox Christians to use “name” to mean “glory.” Thus, the prayer (“Blessed be the name of the Lord”) can also be interpreted to be praise of “the uncreated glory or power or energy that is God Himself.” There are Orthodox liturgical prayers in which God’s power is specifically worshiped: “Glory to Your power, O Lord”; “Glory to Your power, O Christ”; etc. The prayers of the Church do give divine worship (latreía) to God’s “power” and “name” (meaning God Himself or God’s uncreated power that is God Himself). Saint Clement of Rome teaches clearly that Christians are “those who give divine worship” (latreuóntōn, 1 Clement 45.7) to God’s uncreated “name” (power and energy), which he calls “the author-of-all-creation name” (tò archegónon pásēs ktíseōs ónoma, 1 Clement 59.3). Saint Gregory Palamas (Homily 53, 19‒20) also refers to God’s uncreated “divine name” (divine glory, power, presence). He teaches clearly that “the divine name” (toû theíou onómatos) that dwelled in the Old Testament Holy of Holies, was “the divine name” that is “God alone” (mónōͅ Theôͅ). Worshiping God’s power or energy is worshiping God Himself; and worshipping God Himself is worshipping God’s essence and God’s energy. It is outright heresy to say “we worship the three persons of the Trinity but not the essence or the energy.” Orthodox Christians worship all that is the one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, essence and energy.
3. It is not a “special use” to use “name” to mean “person.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged (Kittle, Friedrich, and Bromiley 1985) has the following entry (with the bracketed words in the original): “Ónoma [name, person].” Thus “person” is a standard dictionary definition of “ónoma.” Saint Luke writes that, for the first Christian Pentecost, those who gathered in the Upper Room were a “crowd of names [óchlos onomátōn], about a hundred and twenty, in the same place” (Acts 1:15). In the language of Holy Scripture, “name” can mean “real person.”
4. Yes, the writings of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite use “name” to mean “divine property” or “divine energy.” However, it is a grave error to claim that this is a “special use.” The prophets and saints and liturgical prayers of the people of God of all ages have used “name” to mean “divine glory” or “divine power” or “divine energy” or “divine property.”
5. Yes, “the word ‘Jesus’ is a created name.” However, the created name is based on uncreated divine revelation (energy), the revealed truth that “the Lord saves.” God’s truth, revelation, and energy are God Himself. To quote the Synodicon of Orthodoxy, God’s “essential” energy (or “natural” energy) “flows without separation” from God’s essence. God’s energy is the “movement” (kínēsis) of God’s essence. God’s essence and energy are distinct but never separate. Created names refer not to God’s essence but to the activity (enérgeia, energy) or movement (kínēsis) of God’s essence. That is why the Synodicon refers to God’s energy as “essential” (ousiṓdē) energy. The Synodicon of Orthodoxy teaches: “there is in God both His essence and His essential and natural energy.” We must also confess that God’s uncreated energies (“names”) dwell in the God-given sayings and words of the Holy Scriptures, especially the sacred (created) names for God. To quote Saint Gregory Palamas’s Confession of the Orthodox Faith, confirmed as dogma by the great Council of Constantinople of 1351: “we venerate relatively [proskynoûmen schetikôs] the holy icon of the Son of God …, piously offering up the veneration [proskýnēsin] to the prototype; and the honored wood of the Cross, and all the symbols of his sufferings … the divine temples and places, and the sacred vessels, and the God-given sayings [theoparádota lógia], because of the God Who dwells in [enoikoûnta] them.” The fact that God’s power and energy dwell in the words of the Gospel is a consistent teaching of the Orthodox Church. Many Holy Fathers teach about the divine grace that dwells in created words. Saint Justin the Philosopher and Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 9) summarizes what Orthodox Christians believe about God’s grace and the (created) words of the Gospel: “we have not believed empty myths, or words without any foundation, but [words] filled with divine spirit, and big with power, and flourishing with grace.” Saint Justin’s phrase that is translated “big with power” (dynámei brýousi) could also be translated “full of power,” “swelling with power,” “abounding with power,” “teeming with power,” “bursting with power,” or “overflowing with power.” This is what the Orthodox Church teaches about God’s presence in created words.
6. Yes, the grace of God “rests” in the name “Jesus.” God Himself “dwells in” the names for God and that is why we give them relative veneration. The name “Jesus” is not just “associated with” with God, but is based on the revealed grace and truth of God that is God Himself — the uncreated grace that is actively present in created words and names.
7. Yes, we give veneration to the created names for God, because they are verbal icons. We venerate the physical Book of the Holy Gospels as we venerate the physical (painted) icons, because they are based on divine revelation and because God’s energy dwells in them. Yes, it would be heresy and idolatry to give divine worship (latreía) to created names consisting of sounds or letters.
8. The Slavic “name-glorifiers” of the Holy Mountain were slandered when they were accused of giving divine worship (latreía) to create names. What these monastics actually confessed is as follows: “As from the very beginning of the dispute, we were unjustly accused of deifying ‘the very’ created name according to its outward appearance and even of ‘equating’ this ‘very’ name ‘with the very essence’ of the One Who Is and of ‘merging’ them. Therefore we feel obliged to declare that we never deified ‘the very name’ and nowhere in our confessions of faith can be found the expression ‘the very Name of God is God.’ But rather, in our confessions of faith starting from 1909, we said it very clearly, that by calling — together with Father John of Kronstadt — the Name of God ‘God Himself,’ we do it in the same sense as did Father John of Kronstadt, believing in the inseparable presence of God in His Name, but never in the sense of deification of the name in its material, outward appearance and separately from God.” The “name-glorifiers” did not teach the heresy that they were accused of teaching, but explicitly rejected it.
9. It is a historical absurdity to equate the monastic name-glorifiers with the syncretistic intellectuals (such as Father Pavel Florenskii and Father Sergii Bulgakov) who defended these monastics. If Florenskii and Bulgakov fell into heresy by confusing the Creator with His creation, one cannot simply assume that Father Antonii Bulatovich also fell into that same heresy. We need to take into account Father Antonii’s letter in which he criticizes Florenskii for making that heretical confusion. We need to be faithful to Saint Tikhon’s opinion that Father Antonii’s writings need to be judged by a competent group of theologians in order to make a final judgment.
10. The letter of Archbishop Sergii Stragorodskii of May 16/29, 1913, condemned the dogma of the Orthodox Church that God’s energies are God. It said falsely that God energies are not God and not even “Divinity” in the normal sense. That, taken literally, is heresy. Because this letter condemned, out of ignorance, a dogma of the Church, the letter must never be given the dignity of an “Orthodox synodal decision.” The letter was a sin; its false theology never had any authority in the Orthodox Church. The letter’s false theology has been rejected by the Church. The Orthodox Church faithfully follows the teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas that God’s energies are God Himself.
11. Orthodox Christians in 2016 should follow the precedent of Saint Tikhon. He did not repeat the anti-Palamite, false theology of Sergii’s letter of May 1913 and the saint reconciled with the name-glorifiers in the last years of his life (1920–1925). He considered them Orthodox and he liturgized with their leader, Archimandrite David Mukhranov, even as David continued to defend, openly and vigorously, what he believed to be the Orthodox teaching of Father Antonii Bulatovich. Saint Tikhon’s 1921 encyclical, which exonerated the name-glorifiers led by Archimandrite David, was in the spirit of the May 1914 decision of the Moscow Synodal Office, signed by Saint Macarius II (Nevskii), Metropolitan of Moscow, and Bishop Anastasii (Gribanovskii) of Serpukhov, the future metropolitan and chief-hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. That 1914 decision also exonerated the name-glorifiers. Saint Macarius II and Bishop Anastasii and later Saint Tikhon all concluded that the name-glorifiers did not deify sounds or letters and concluded that there was no reason for separation. That was the final decision of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy on the matter. Many martyrs and saints of the Orthodox Church defended the name-glorifiers: Saint Macarius II of Moscow, Saint Tikhon of Moscow, the Holy Tsar Martyr Nicholas and the Tsarina Alexandra, Saint Elizabeth the Grand Duchess, and Saint Mark (Mikhail Novoselov), catacomb Bishop of Sergiev-Posad, the New Sacred Martyr.
12. The Orthodox Church teaches unanimously that: (1) we give divine worship to God’s (uncreated) “name” (with “name” here meaning “God Himself” or the “uncreated glory, power, or energy that is God Himself”); (2) we give relative veneration to the created names for God because God’s grace dwells in them; and (3) we must never give divine worship to created names.
13. It is a violation of Orthodox dogma to confuse Orthodox “name-glorification” with heretical “name-worship” (giving divine worship to created names). To confuse these two different things would be a violation of dogma because the Seventh Ecumenical Council teaches that we must always make a clear distinction between the “latreía” (divine adoration, absolute worship) given to God alone and the “proskýnēsis” (veneration, or worship in the broad sense of “honor”) given to saints, icons, relics, and the Scriptures. It is a violation of Orthodox dogma to confuse Orthodox “imiaslavie” (name-glorification) with heretical “imiabozhie” (name-deification with respect to created names). It is a violation of Orthodox dogma to confuse Orthodox “onomatodoxía” (name-glorification) with heretical “onomatolatreía” (giving divine worship to created names). No one should ever use “name-glorification” interchangeably with “name-worship,” since this violates the teachings of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.
14. It is wrong to claim that “A name does not express a truth. It is just a name. A proposition expresses a truth.” The names for God express truths about God that have been revealed by God: God is almighty, God is holy and righteous, God is love, mercy, grace, and truth. The name “Jesus,” especially, expresses a truth. “Jesus” (in the original Hebrew) means “the Lord saves.” The single word “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.” Thus, the name “Jesus” is both a name and a proposition (a statement of truth). The name “Jesus” is a statement of the truth that “the Lord saves.” Whenever a person is named Joshua or Jesus or any equivalent name, the naming is based on and expresses the eternal truth that “the Lord saves” and the name refers to God’s salvific activity (energy) that is God Himself. The sounds and letters are created, but the Lord’s salvific energy is uncreated. God’s salvific energy is God Himself. As Saint Cyril of Alexandria also points out in his commentary on Christ’s words (John 17), both God’s uncreated “name” and God’s uncreated “truth” are the uncreated “activity” (“energy”) of God’s Divine Nature; thus, in that sense, we must confess that God’s “name” and God’s “truth” are God Himself. The Orthodox Church gives divine worship to God’s energies that are God Himself; Orthodox Christians give veneration to God’s created names through which God’s energies are active.
15. The Holy Orthodox Church in North America (HOCNA) has been the victim of slanderous accusations of “the heresy of name-worship.” HOCNA has in fact condemned, many times, the heresy of giving divine worship (latreía) to created names. Metropolitan Ephraim’s first official statement on the name-glorification controversy came out in June 2012. He stated that if anyone (including Father Antonii Bulatovich) was guilty of deifying letters and sounds, then he was guilty of heresy. This was a succinct repudiation of the heresy of name-worshipping. Since his writings have yet to be fully and objectively examined by a committee of theologians (as Saint Tikhon and the 1918 All-Russia Council wanted), HOCNA has not taken a position on these writings, other than supporting the reconciliation that occurred under Saint Tikhon. Metropolitan Ephraim also pointed out in the summer of 2012 how the May 1913 “synodal” letter repudiated the teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas. The response of those who left HOCNA in September 2012 was to demand that HOCNA endorse the false letter “without reservation” and “without qualification.” Clearly, the 1913 letter was wrong about Saint Gregory Palamas’s teaching. Not only that, the 1913 letter made a superficial, uninformed, and biased inquiry into so holy a subject as the name of God, with conclusions both self-contradictory and opposed to the biblical and patristic teaching on the name of God. Therefore, it would have been a sin against the teachings of the Church to endorse that letter. Logically, we have to conclude that the main reason people gave for leaving HOCNA in September 2012, that HOCNA would not endorse that letter, was an un-Orthodox viewpoint. It was a sin against Orthodox dogma to endorse that letter as those who left HOCNA did endorse it. HOCNA’s writings on name-glorification have faithfully represented the consensus of the Orthodox Church, without adding anything and without subtracting anything.