BASIC DOGMATIC TEACHING
An Orthodox Handbook
by Protopresbyter Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos (1931 – 1996)
Dr. of Theology, Dr. of Philosophy
Chapter 3 – The Divine Energies
1. Ignorance of the essence of God
The Apostle Peter writes in his second epistle that:
“….His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him, Who has called us by His glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust”. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
This last phrase of the Apostle of course does not imply that man can possibly come to know the essence of God – that is, that which characterizes the divine existence and separates it from the created creations. And this is because, if man were capable of entering the divine nature, then he himself would become God; in which case, we would not have just one but many gods. “You will not be able to see My face” says God to Moses, “because it is not possible for man to look upon My face and live.” (Exod.33:20; cmp. 1 Tim.6:16)
2. Knowledge of the divine energies
Nevertheless, the words of the Holy Bible are explicit; God’s promise is that He will render mankind “a communicant of divine nature” – partakers of the divine life.
So, how is this possible, if God’s nature is inapproachable by man?
The answer is provided by the Fathers of the Church, when they discern between the Divine Essence and the Divine Energies. Man -they assert- cannot possibly become acquainted with the essence of God. However, it is possible for him to become acquainted with His Divine Energies, which are inseparable from His Essence. At this point, the Fathers use the example of the sun’s rays and say that even though the sunrays are inseparable from the sun, they nevertheless are perceptible and they act beyond the sun.
“The divine energies of God” says Basil the Great, “descend upon us. His Essence however remains unapproachable”. In this way, God is present in His divine energies, which constitute the revealing of the divine nature. God therefore reveals Himself to people through His divine energies and He invites them to become “communants of divine nature”. Not participants of the Divine Essence, but the uncreated divine energies, which are inseparable from the Divine Essence.
The glory of the Trinitarian God, which reveals itself with the Uncreated divine light within Creation and in the life of people, renders the Saints of our Church participants of the divine glory.
We will have the opportunity to refer more extensively on this subject, when we speak about the divine glory that fills God’s new creation: that is, the life of the Church and of the Saints of the Church and acts through the precious Cross, the sacred icons, the venerable relics, sanctification and generally speaking, through all the sanctified things of our Church. For this reason, we shall confine ourselves here to only these few things, without further fortifying them with the Holy Bible.
3. The eternicity of the divine energies
It is obvious that the expression of the Divine Essence through divine powers and energies is not at all dependent on the existence or not of the world. The world has absolutely nothing to do with this event. It is for this reason that we say the divine energies are uncreated and eternal – just as the glory of the Trinitarian God is likewise uncreated and eternal.
It is in this way that we comprehend why the creation of the world (which is the result of those divine energies), as well as all the other events of God’s presence within the world and through those divine energies, do not impose any change in the divine life; they are the result of God’s love, which, like all divine powers, comprise the manifestation of God’s essence.
God remains unaltered – that is, without any “variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17; cmp. Psalms 101:28) but His glory fills and vivifies man and Creation overall.
4. God’s traces in Creation
With the uncreated energies that are made manifest in the world and leave their imprint in Creation, man – who studies those creations – is able to perceive the presence of God; in other words, he can discover the glory of God within Creation itself.
The Apostle Paul says: “because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…” (Romans 1:19-20)
The Prophet Habakkuk cries out: “…His virtue has covered heavens, and the earth is full of his praise. 4 And his brightness will be like light; horns are in his hands. And he has established a strong love of his strength. (Habbakuk 3:4; cmp. Numbers 14:21)
This same truth is also proclaimed by the Psalmist:
“The heavens are telling of divine glory,
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day spews forth utterance,and night to night proclaims knowledge. There are no conversations, nor are there words,the articulations of which are not heard. Their sound went out to all the earth,and to the ends of the world their utterances. […] The law of the Lord is faultless, turning souls; the testimony of the Lord is reliable, making infants wise; the statutes of the Lord are upright, making glad the heart; the commandment of the Lord is radiant, enlightening the eyes…” (Psalms 19:1-4, 7-8. Cmp. Wisdom of Solomon 13:3-9, Wisdom of Sirah 43:11-33).
Here, it is not only about an external witness of God’s presence in the world, but mainly about the encounter of the divine energies of God in the heart of man; about the union of man with the uncreated Divine Energies, which are the result of divine grace inside man.
Therefore, that which is revealed to man through Creation is the glory of God – the love and the wisdom of God – the rays of divine glory which emanate and vivify all of Creation.
When man perceives these life-giving rays of divine love, he senses the presence of God Who emanates the divine powers, he becomes united with the Divine Energies of God – in other words, he becomes a vessel of God’s grace, a communicant of the divine nature and a “partaker of God’s holiness” (Hebr. 12:10; 2 Peter 1:4).