December 19, 2012

Father Sophrony (Sakharov) on the Name of God

But what does the Divine Name mean? In order to pray 'in the Name of' is it necessary to understand its significance, its nature, its essence? Yes, indeed, it is even vital if our joy is to be full. (John xv: 11) p. 122

I arrived on Mt. Athos in 1925. Recently fierce arguments had raged concerning the nature of the Divine Name. The bitter controversy - similar to theological polemics of the 14th century concerning the nature of the Light on Mt. Tabor - had promoted not a few initiatives which ought not to occur among people who have given their souls into the hands of the Almighty. A certain analogy may be drawn in these polemics with the age-old divisions between nominalists and realists, idealists and rationalists. Now they die down, only later to flare up in another guise. Two different natural formations may be observed. On the one side are the prophets and poets. On the other – scientists and technocrats. I do not propose to dwell on the outward aspect of events that occurred at that time, preferring to concentrate on the essence of the problem, in order to apprehend the imperishable knowledge from on High vouchsafed to the holy ascetics, the lovers of mental prayer. p. 123

He Who is above all Names in His Substance reveals Himself to the reasonable beings created in His image under many Names: Eternal, All-knowing, Almighty; Light, Life, Beauty, Wisdom; Goodness, Truth, Love; Saviour, Hallowed, et al. In each and through all of these we feel the presence of the One God, and in virtue of His indivisibility we possess Him altogether. It is meet to think thus but at the same time not one of these attributes affords us full comprehension of Him 'as He is'. His Being in Its Essence transcends all Names. And yet He goes on revealing Himself in Names. p. 129

By virtue of the unity of God the Name I AM applies likewise to all the Trinity and to each Hypostasis separately. Like many other Names, this Name can and must be understood both as a common appellative and as proper to each Person - in the same way as the Name 'Lord' refers likewise to all Three Persons and at the same time serves as the proper Name for each of the Three. The same can be said about the Name JESUS - that is, God the Saviour. But in our practice of prayer we use this Name JESUS exclusively as Christ's own Name, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. p. 132

The Name Jesus as knowledge, as 'energy' of God in relation to the world and as His proper Name, is ontologically bound up with Him. It is spiritual reality. Its sound can merge with its reality but not necessarily so. As a name it was given to many mortal men but when we pray we utter it with another content, another 'frame' of spirit. For us it is the bridge between us and Him. It is the canal along which the streams of divine strength flow to us. As proceeding from the Holy God it is holy and it hallows us by its invocation. With this Name and through it prayer acquires a certain tangibleness: it unites us with God. In it, this Name, God is present like a scent- flask full of fragrance. Through it, the Celestial One can be sensed imminently. As divine energy it proceeds from the Substance of Divinity and is divine itself. pp.133-134

We know that not only the Name Jesus but all the other Names, too, are revealed to us from on High, are ontologically linked with Him - God. p. 134

Neglect of the ontological character of the Divine Names, the lack of this experience in prayers and the celebration of the divine office has desolated the lives of many. For them prayer and the sacraments themselves lose their eternal reality. The Liturgy becomes, not a Divine Act but simply a psychological or mental commemoration. p. 135

It is very important that we should become like Moses who 'endured, as seeing him who is invisible,' (Heb. xi: 27) and invoke Him recognising the ontological connection between the Name and Him Who is named, with the Person of Christ. p. 137

When our brain stops functioning and all other prayers become difficult to remember and pronounce, the light of knowledge of God proceeding from the Name which we know intimately will continue imprescriptible in our spirit. p. 150

Archimandrite Sophrony, On Prayer.