November 17, 2012

"I have revealed Thy Name unto men." (John 17:6)

7/20 October, 2012
Ss. Sergius and Bacchus

Dear _____ ,

The Church teaches us to pray, saying:

"Glory to the Father and to the Son  and to the Holy Spirit..."

She also teaches us to pray thus:
"Grant us... that we may hymn and glorify Thine All-honourable and Majestical Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..."

Do you consider that in the first prayer we are worshipping the Holy Trinity, but in the second - something else? Of course not.

In both cases we worship the Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But the fact that we know that there is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is because the Holy Trinity revealed Its Names to us. Without these revealed Names, we would not know that there is Father, Son and Holy Spirit at all. It is these revealed Names that allow us to really know that there is Holy Trinity. That is why the Names cannot be separated from God because it is they that reveal Him.

This is what St. Maximus the Confessor says in his scholia to St. Dionysius’ On the Divine Names, 2.7:

“Everything Divine that has been revealed to us (*), can only be known by participation.”

(*) Commentary by St. Maximus “That is - the Names

St. Ephraim the Syrian:

Father and Son and Holy Spirit can be attained only through Their Names.
Do not investigate Their Hypostases,
Meditate only on Their Names.
If you will start to search out the Hypostasis, you will perish;
But if you believe in the Name, you will live. May the Name of the Father be a boundary for you: do not cross it and do not search out His Hypostasis. May the Name of the Son be a wall for you: do not try to overcome it and do not search out His Begetting. May the Name of the Spirit be a hedge for you: do not enter therein to investigate Him.

St. John of Damascus tells us:

And this also it behoves 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, as the divine apostle says, ‘Wherefore I bow the knee to the Father, from Whom is every family in heaven and on earth’.

And our Saviour Himself prays to the Father, saying:

"I have revealed Thy Name unto men."

When God reveals something about Himself, can that be created?

This is what we mean by the Name of God - the revealed Truth about Him, and only afterwards - the human words by which this truth is articulated. This Truth about God exists and will always exist no matter if we materialize it in our human language or not. During your stay here in Boston, I asked you, whether created concepts and ideas can exist without words. You said: "Of course," and brought as an example the mathematical concepts. This is exactly how the term “Name of God” should be understood. It is the Truth about God, revealed by God, which is then articulated in human, created words. Every revelation of God about Himself, every Truth about God, is His Energy. It is in this sense, and in this sense alone, that the Name of God is His Energy. When this Name is articulated in human words, it, of course,  is not the Energy of God, but rather, it has the same holiness as an icon, and we may say that God's Energy is present in this created (sacred) word.

That is why the Saints say that the Name of God is holy by nature, that it is the source of sanctification, that by it are the mysteries accomplished, that it cleanses the heart of passions, and that is casts out demons etc. These are things that only God can do, and this is because the Name of God (again, its inner meaning and content) is the revealed Truth about God, and thus, His Energy.

This discussion really reminds one of the iconoclast period. The defenders of Orthodoxy taught that the Holy Icons are blessed by the inscription of the names, to which the heretics asked:

“Is the inscription to be venerated, or the icon, of which the title is inscribed? Is it exclusively one or the other, and not both? How?”

St. Theodore the Studite answered:

That is rather like asking, “is it right to venerate the Gospel book or the title on it?” The representation of the Cross or the inscription on it?” I might add also in the case of our kind, “the man, or his name?” perhaps Peter and Paul and each of the individuals of the same species. Would that not  be stupid, not to say ridiculous? What is there, of all things before our eyes that is nameless? How can the thing which is named be separated in honour from its own appellation, so that we may offer veneration to the one and deprive the other of it? These are relationships, for the name is by nature the name of something which is named, and a kind of natural icon of that to which it is applied. Therefore the unity in veneration is not divided.

In a very similar manner, when we worship God, how can His Names be deprived of the honour of worship? It is through them that we are able to know and worship God in the first place. Because these Name are not human deductions but a revelation of God about Himself.

We do not worship or venerate or glorify just the “Names,” independently from God, but rather, as much as the Names of God are a revelation of God, they are inevitably part of the worship that is due unto God. In the same manner, we do not worship simply “Light” or “Providence” or “Power” taken independently, but rather, as much as they are God’s operations, they are part of the worship that we render to God.

I hope this will help to clarify matters.

With love in our Saviour,

+ Gregory *

* Bishop of Brookline (HOCNA)