November 24, 2012

Letter to a Friend

We do not consider modern academic theologians and bishops, even Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, to be equal in authority to the great Fathers and Teachers of the Church, such as the three Great Hierarchs and the three Pillars of Orthodoxy. Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky clearly did misunderstand and misrepresent the teachings of Saint Gregory Palamas on the Essence and Energies of God. Saint Gregory’s teachings were accepted and proclaimed as dogma by the Hesychast Councils of the fourteenth century and are included in the Synodicon of Orthodoxy. But around 1913, because of the Latin Captivity and pseudomorphosis, Russian academic theologians and some bishops appear not to have been reading Saint Gregory, these councils, or the full Greek text of the Synodicon. These texts were available in printed editions, but they were not “fashionable” in the Russian theological academies because of the Latin Captivity.

We also do not consider the Russian “synod” of a few government-appointed bishops to be equal in authority to the seven Ecumenical Councils, the Councils held under Saint Photius the Great, or the Hesychast Councils. These councils have been accepted by the entire Orthodox Church and their teachings have been incorporated into the Synodicon of Orthodoxy. Certain modern councils are sometimes given the title “pan-Orthodox Councils,” such as those that condemned the new calendar in the sixteenth century. But the Russian “synod” cannot compare in authority to any of these councils. The Russian “synod”—which existed from the time that Peter the Great abolished the patriarchate until the election of Saint Tikhon as patriarch—was something like a government bureau. The bishops were presided over by a layman (the over-procurator) who was sometimes not even an Orthodox Christian, but a Lutheran. This “synod” made several decisions inconsistent with Orthodoxy. This “synod” once approved intercommunion with Lutherans. Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky protested that un-Orthodox decision.

We must make the proper Orthodox distinction between God’s Essence and His Energies. We all agree that God’s Essence is unknowable, undefinable, and has no name. But we are speaking of God’s uncreated Energies, or Graces, which are knowable, can be participated in, and definitely do have Names (see the work, The Divine Names, by the Areopagite).

The 1913 Russian decree mistakenly claims that when Saint Gregory Palamas called the Energies of God “Divinity/Godhead,” that he was speaking in a way that is more broad than usual. This is false. Saint Gregory, the Hesychast Councils, and the Synodicon all make it clear that the Energies of God must always be confessed to be “Divinity/Godhead.” That is the normal language of the Church.

The Russian decree of 1913 also wrongly claimed that the Energies of God cannot be called “God” and certainly cannot be called “God Himself,” but can only be called “Divinity/Godhead.” But this is the exact opposite of what Saint Gregory Palamas taught. The Saint wrote that “every power or energy [of God] is God Himself.” Similarly, the Hesychast Councils and the Synodicon do not separate “God” from “Godhead/Divinity” in the way that the mistaken 1913 decree does. In the tradition of the Church, these words can and are used interchangeably. For example, God the Holy Trinity is called the Tri-Hypostatic Divinity.

We all agree that we do not render divine worship or adoration to any created name, to material sounds and letters. It is clear, however, that God’s Grace is attached to the sacred names and prayers just as God’s Grace is attached to and works through holy icons. This is not mechanical or magical, but it is one way God’s Grace works. Even the material, created names of God are a type of icon and we venerate holy icons. Thus we venerate God’s created names as we venerate the holy icons.

What the many quotations from the Scriptures, Fathers, and prayers of the Church that we have provided also demonstrate is that the “Name of God” in the language of the Church, often refers, not to the material or created names, but to their inner significance. The “Name of God” often refers to the uncreated Revelation, Grace, and Energy of God. And the Church clearly teaches that all the uncreated Divine Energies are “God Himself.” Thus, when the Scriptures, Fathers, and prayers of the Church enjoin us to praise the Name of God, they mean that we ought to praise God Himself.

Thomas Deretich.