March 17, 2014


By Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston, Bishop Gregory of Brookline and Thomas Deretich (HOCNA)

By the term “Name of God,” Orthodox Christians mean two things: 1) We mean the revealed Truth about God, and, 2) in another sense, we mean also the human, created words by which this revealed Truth is articulated. The eternal, revealed Truth about God exists and will always exist, whether we articulate it in our human language or not. This is what our Saviour intimates to us when in the Gospel of St. John, He tells the Jews:

"But now you seek to kill Me, a Man that has told you the Truth, which I have heard from God." (John 8:40)

No one in his right mind would assert that the Truth which God the Son heard from God the Father was communicated in human words! The communication in the Holy Trinity is entirely ineffable. Yet it is this very Truth, the uncreated and ineffable Truth of God, that our Saviour, when He became man for us, revealed to us in human speech. This is also the very same divine Truth with which the Holy Spirit enlightened the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, in accordance with the promise of our Saviour:

"When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all Truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak." (John 16:13)

Again, the Truth that the Holy Spirit shall speak and guide Christ’s disciples in, is an ineffable and divine Truth, which He received from the Son. Yet this is the same Truth that the Spirit showed to the Apostles and which they preached with human words in all the known world!

These examples illustrate clearly the two aspects of God’s revelation and the distinction that lies between them: the uncreated and eternal Truth of God’s revelation, and created, human concepts and words with which this revelation is articulated in order to become accessible to the human mind. And this is the very same distinction that exists between the uncreated Name of God, that is, the eternal Truth about God, and the created names of God, that is, human words and concepts, which the Church has taught us to use in order to articulate the eternal Truth about God.

It is exclusively in the former sense, that is, in the sense of the uncreated Truth about God, that we say that the Name of God is an Energy of God, because every revelation of God about Himself, every Truth about God, is His Energy. In the latter sense, that is, in terms of human speech, the names of God are both created and temporal, being part of this world, and they are certainly not an Energy of God.

The prominent Russian professor and writer of books on Orthodox theology, Serge Verhovskoy, discusses these two aspects of the Name of God, in his book, "God and Man":

"A particular form of the revelation of God in a word is the revelation of God in the Divine Names. A Name of God, as a human word, is, of course, created. (It is, therefore, possible to use it senselessly or “in vain.” The identification of a Name of God, as a [created] word, with God Himself is a heresy which was condemned by the Russian Holy Synod in the twentieth century.) But God Himself can dwell and act in it.

"The Divine aspect of a Divine Name is, as it were, a Divine “self-definition” or a thought of God about Himself. The presence of a divine principle in the Divine Names follows from the whole attitude of the Old Testament toward Them. The Name of God is Holy, and God sanctifies Himself in His Name (Lev. 22:32). Men can offend the Name of God by their sins (Am. 2:7). God acts for the sake of His Name (Ez. 39:7, 25). The Name of God is one, great, and eternal, as is God Himself (Ps. 9:2, 134:13, Zach. 14:9). God acts through His Name (Ps. 53:1). If there were nothing Divine in the Name of God, how would it be possible for us to bless, praise, and love it, worship and serve it, rejoice in it and be persecuted for it’s sake? Finally it is striking that God reveals His Names (e.g. Ex. 3:13–14, 6:3). It follows that They express the genuine Divine reality.

"God is near to a man in His Names (Ps. 75:1). The presence of God is equivalent to the presence of the Name of God. The Name of God dwells in the whole earth and especially in the Holy Land, in Israel, in Jerusalem, in the temple and in individuals. The Jews loved to give their children names in which there was a Divine Name (Ishmael, John, Joachim, Jesus, etc.)

"There are about one hundred Divine Names in the Old Testament. Each of them has its own meaning. It is possible to include into Them the entire theology of the Old Testament. The Divine Name is “wonderful” (Jg. 13:17–18); it is “remembrance of God” (Ex. 3:15). God reveals His Name in order for men to know Him (Ex. 6:3, 33:19; Jer. 23:6)."

Further on, he writes:

"He is revealed to us in the Divine Names, perfections and actions [i.e. Energies], which reveal something to us not only about the Creator and about Providence, but also about God Himself, … He manifests Himself as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as Unity, Life, Essence, Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Holiness, Love, and as many other properties [i.e. Graces and Names] which really belong to Him, though it be a manner other than we are capable of imagining."

The well-known Greek hierarch, Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, agrees and writes:

"The Name of God is the Energy of God. It is known from our Orthodox theology that God has Essence and Energy. Even created things have essence and Energy; the sun, for example is a heavenly body and emits its light, and its fire is something that burns and emits Energy, that is, heat, and light. But God, since He is uncreated, is both uncreated Essence and uncreated Energy; with regard to His Essence, God is without name and beyond names, but with regard to His Energies, He has many Names.

"Whenever God revealed Himself to men, He revealed one of His Energies, like love, peace, righteousness, or love for mankind. In this way He has communion with men. For this reason also I say that the Names of God are His Energies. Whenever, indeed, anyone mentions the Name of God with compunction, humility, repentance, faith, etc., he receives knowledge and experience of the Energy of God."

In His Essence, God is unknowable and cannot be understood or described by any creature. His Essence has no name, nor can any be applied to that ineffable Essence.

But in His Energies, in His Power and Glory, in His Divine Grace and Revelation, God reveals Himself and is made known—to the extent that man is able to comprehend Him. Here is what Metropolitan Philaret of Chernigov, a prominent theologian of the Russian Church in the nineteenth century, says concerning the Name of God:

"The Name of God is the being of God in that aspect in which it can become known.

"What is said about God in proper sense, that is what God is; and what He is by His nature, that is what is said [about Him] in proper sense. The revealed names and characteristics of God are not a product of human thought, so that they [i.e. names and characteristics] should be likened to meaningless words."

Some ancient heresies (e.g. the Eunomians) would not acknowledge the Divinity of Christ, but they did claim to know God’s Essence and therefore attributed man-made labels to that Essence. However, the Eunomians were resolutely condemned by the Holy Fathers and the Holy Councils of the Church.

But, contrary to what some claim today, Eunomianism is not what our Saints, or the Church writers mentioned above, teach. Nobody—absolutely no one—knows God’s Essence, nor can anyone attribute a name to that Essence.

Below, there follow several Scriptural and Patristic texts that confirm the Orthodox Christian teaching on the Name of God:

The ancient Christian document, the Shepherd of Hermas (c. A.D. 150), says, “The Name of the Son of God is great and boundless, and upholds the entire universe.” Orthodox Christians believe that only the Grace of God—that is to say, only God Himself—is “boundless and upholds the entire universe.” So, it is clear that here, the Shepherd of Hermas equates the Grace of God with the boundless Name of the Son of God.

St. Clement of Rome does the same, when he tells us: “It was through [Jesus Christ] that He called us ‘from darkness to light,’ from ignorance to the recognition of His glorious Name, to hope on Thy Name, which is the origin of all creation.” Again, Orthodox Christians believe that only the Grace of God—that is to say, only God Himself—is “the origin of all creation.” It is obvious, therefore, that here, St. Clement of Rome also identifies the “glorious Name” with the Grace of God.

St. Cyril of Alexandria makes exactly the same identification when he instructs us: “[Christ] says that His disciples ought to be kept in the Name of the Father, that is to say, in the Glory and Power of His Godhead.”

Psalm 19:1 also identifies the Name of God with the Power of God:

"The Lord hear thee in the day of affliction;
The Name of the God of Jacob defend thee."

Psalm 101:15 tells us precisely the same thing:

"And the heathen shall fear Thy Name, O Lord,
And all the kings of the earth Thy Glory."

Here, again, we see this identity of “Name” and “Glory.”
Psalm 71:17 says that His Name is “before the sun,” that is, before creation:

His Name shall be blessed unto the ages;
Before the sun doth His Name continue.

The Synodicon of Orthodoxy identifies the Glory of God with God Himself, when it tells us that this Grace, or Energy, or Light, or Glory and Power, or Revelation, “emanates inseparably from God’s Essence,” though it is distinct from that Essence. That is to say, this Divine Energy, this “Glory and Power of His Godhead” is God Himself.

St. Gregory Palamas affirms: “Every Power or Energy [of God] is God Himself.” This “Power or Energy,” which is God Himself, is “boundless” and “before creation.”

In "The Guide," St. Anastasius of Sinai has the following discourse:

"Question: Does the designation “God” refer to the Essence, or the Person, or the Energy, or a symbol, or a metaphor?

"Answer: It is clear that [the designation] “God” refers to the Energy. It does not represent the very Essence of God; for it is impossible to know this, but it represents and reveals His Energy that is able to be contemplated."

The largest Hesychastic Council, the Council of Constantinople of 1351, confirmed this teaching in its long dogmatic decree, called the Synodal Tome, when it affirmed that the Energy of God “is called ‘Godhead’ by the saints.” The Council also approvingly quoted St. Anastasius’ teaching that the name “God” applies to the Energy of God. St. Gregory Palamas signed the Tome of the Council of 1351, and this Council also endorsed his written Confession of the Orthodox Faith.

In his writings, St. Gregory Palamas refers both to the uncreated Name of God (which is the Energy of God and thus God Himself) and to the created words (which are not an Energy of God) in which, however, God Himself dwells. In his Homily 53, on the Entry of the Mother of God into the Holy of Holies, St. Gregory Palamas states that the Holy of Holies was “the place assigned to God alone, which was consecrated as His dwelling, and out of which He gave audience to Moses, Aaron, and those of their successors who were equally worthy.” St. Gregory Palamas also states, one paragraph earlier in the same homily, that the Holy of Holies was “the dwelling-place, as David calls it, of the Holy Name” (Psalm 74:7). The uncreated Glory and Energy of God is called, by the Prophet David, the “Name” of God. The Holy of Holies was the dwelling place of the uncreated “Holy Name” which is the same as “God alone,” according to St. Gregory Palamas. In his "Confession of the Orthodox Faith," St. Gregory Palamas also refers to God dwelling in created words of the Holy Scriptures as He dwells in the saints, the icons, and the Cross: “we venerate the salutary form of the honorable cross, the glorious temples and places and the God-given Scriptures because of the God who dwells in them.” Thus, according to St. Gregory Palamas, God dwells in holy (created) words, but God’s (uncreated) “Name” (Psalm 73:7) is “God alone.”

St. John of Kronstadt agrees with the foregoing Scriptural and Patristic texts: “His Name is [God] Himself” and “The Name of God is God Himself.”

God’s Name, therefore, must properly be understood in two senses: 1) in its Divine and eternal sense, when it is an Energy of God; and 2) in its human and created sense, when it is certainly not an Energy of God.

In conclusion, therefore, we see that, from many sources, old and new, the voice of the Church rings clear on this issue.

To be continued