THE FOLLOWING IS ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE ON THE UNCREATED ENERGIES OF GOD
by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos
A contemporary monastic of the Orthodox Christian Church in Greece, Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, is a prolific writer and an expert on Saint Gregory Palamas and his teachings of the Essence of God and the Uncreated Energies of God. He was born in 1945 and graduated from the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki. He taught Greek for several semesters and gave lectures on Orthodox ethics to the students of the St. John of Damascus Theological School at the University of the Patriarchate of Antioch in Balamand, Lebanon. Already in his youth he was particularly interested in the Fathers of the Church, working for a time in the monastery libraries of Mount Athos, on the recording of the codices. He was especially interested in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas.
The study of Patristic texts and particularly those of the Hesychast Fathers of the Philokalia, many years of studying St. Gregory Palamas, association with the monks of the Holy Mountain, many years of pastoral experience, all brought him to the realization that Orthodox theology is a science of the healing of man and that the Neptic Fathers can help the modern restless man who is disturbed by many internal and external problems. Within this framework he has written a multitude of books, the fruit of his pastoral work, among which is “Orthodox Psychotherapy.” Some of these books have been translated into various languages. With these books he is conveying the Orthodox spirit of the Philokalia to the restless and disturbed man of our time. This is why they have aroused such interest.
He tells us: “Orthodox spirituality differs distinctly from any other spirituality of an Eastern or Western type. There can be no confusion among the various spiritualities because Orthodox spirituality is God-centered, whereas all others are man-centered. The difference appears primarily in the doctrinal teaching. For this reason we put “Orthodox” before the word “Church” so as to distinguish it from any other religion. Certainly “Orthodox” must be linked with the term “Ecclesiastic,” since Orthodoxy cannot exist outside the Church; neither, of course, can the Church exist outside of Orthodoxy.
The dogmas are the results of decision made at the Ecumenical Councils on various matters of faith. Dogmas are referred to as such, because they draw the boundaries between truth and error, between sickness and health. Dogmas express the revealed truth. They formulate the life of the Church. Thus they are, on the one hand, the expression of Revelation and on the other act as remedies in order to lead us to communion with God; to our reason for being. Dogmatic differences reflect corresponding differences in therapy. If a person does not follow the right way he cannot ever reach his destination. If he does not take the proper remedies, he cannot ever acquire health; in other words, he will experience no therapeutic benefits. Again, if we compare Orthodox spirituality with other Christian tradition, the difference in approach and method of therapy is more evident.
The fundamental teaching of the Holy Fathers is that the Church is a “Hospital” which cures the wounded man. In many passages of Holy Scripture such language is used. One such passage is that of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33-35). In this parable, the Samaritan represents Christ who cured the wounded man and led him to the Inn that is to the “Hospital” which is the Church. It is evident here that Christ is presented as the Healer, the physician who cures man’s maladies; and the Church as the true Hospital. It is very characteristic that St. John Chrysostom, analyzing this parable, presents these truths emphasized above.
Man’s life in Paradise was reduced to a life governed by the devil and his wiles. “And fell among thieves,” that is in the hands of the devil and of all the hostile powers. The wounds man suffered are the various sins, as the Prophet David says: “my wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness.” (Psalm 37) “For every sin causes a bruise and a wound.” The Samaritan is Christ Himself who descended to earth from Heaven in order to cure the wounded man. He used oil and wine to “treat” the wounds; in other words, by “mingling His Blood with the Holy Spirit, He brought man to life.” According to another interpretation, oil corresponds to the comforting word and wine to the harsh word. Mingled together they have the power to unify the scattered mind. “He set him on His own beast,” that is He assumed human flesh on “the shoulders” of His divinity and ascended incarnate to His Father in Heaven.
Then the Good Samaritan, i.e. Christ, took man to the grand, wondrous and spacious inn—to the Church. And He handed the man over to the innkeeper, who is the Apostle Paul, ad through the Apostle Paul to all Bishops and priests, saying: “Take care of the Gentile people, whom I have handed over to you in the Church. They suffer illness wounded by sin, so cure them, using as remedies the words of the Prophets and the teaching of the Gospel; make them healthy through the admonitions and comforting word of the Old and New Testaments.” Thus, according to St. John Chrysostom, St. Paul is he who maintains the Churches of God, “curing all people by his spiritual admonitions and offering to each one of them what they really need.”
In the interpretation of this parable by St. John Chrysostom, it is clearly shown that the Church is a Hospital which cures people wounded by sin; and the Bishops and priests are the therapists of the people of God.
And this precisely is the work of Orthodox theology. When referring to Orthodox theology, we do not simply mean a history of theology. The latter is, of course, a part of this but not absolutely or exclusively. In Patristic Tradition, theologians are the God-seers. St. Gregory Palamas calls Balaam (who attempted to bring Western scholastic theology into the Orthodox Church) a theologian, but he clearly emphasizes that intellectual theology differs greatly from the experience of the vision of God. According to St. Gregory Palamas theologians are God—seers; those who have followed the method of the Church and have attained to perfect faith, to the illumination of nous (mind) and to divinization (θέωσις). Theology is the fruit of man’s cure and that which leads to cure and the acquisition of the knowledge of God.
Western theology, however, has differentiated itself from Eastern Orthodox theology. Instead of being therapeutic, it is more intellectual and emotional in character. In the West (after the Carolingian Renaissance), Scholastic theology tried to understand logically the Revelation of God and conform to philosophical methodology. Characteristic of such an approach is the saying of Anselm (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093-1109, one of the first after the Norman Conquest and destruction of the Old English Orthodox Church); “I believe so as to understand.” The Scholastics acknowledged God at the outset and then endeavored to prove His existence by logical arguments and rational categories. In the Orthodox Church, as expressed by the Holy Fathers, faith is God revealing Himself to man. We accept faith by hearing it not so that we can understand it rationally, but so that we can cleanse our hearts, attain to faith by theoria and experience the Revelation of God. Consequently, Scholastics, who are occupied with reason, consider themselves superior to the Holy Fathers of the Church. They also believe that human knowledge, an offspring of reason, is loftier than Revelation and experience.
It is within this context that the conflict between St. Gregory Palamas and Balaam should be viewed. Balaam was essentially a scholastic theologian who attempted to pass on scholastic theology to the Orthodox East.
Balaam’s views—that we cannot really know Who the Holy Spirit is exactly (an outgrowth of which is agnosticism), that the ancient Greek philosophers are superior to the Prophets and the Apostles (since reason is above the vision of the Apostles), that the light of the Transfiguration is something which is created and can be undone, that the hesychastic way of life (i.e. the purification of the heart and the unceasing noetic prayer is not essential—are views which express a scholastic and, subsequently, a secularized point of view of theology. St. Gregory Palamas foresaw the danger that these views held for Orthodoxy and through the power and energy of the Most Holy Spirit and the experience which he himself had acquired as a successor to the Holy Fathers, he confronted this great danger and preserved unadulterated the Orthodox Faith and Tradition.
Having given a framework to the topic at hand, if Orthodox spirituality is examined in relationship to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, the differences are immediately discovered. Protestants do not have a therapeutic treatment tradition. They suppose that believing in God, intellectually, constitutes salvation. Yet salvation is not a matter of intellectual acceptance of truth; rather it is a person’s transformation and divinization by grace. This transformation is effected by the analogous treatment of one’s personality, as shall be seen in the following chapters. In the Holy Scriptures it appears that faith comes by hearing the Word and by experiencing “theoria” (vision of God). We accept faith at first by hearing in order to be healed, and then we attain to faith by theoria, (vision of God) which saves man. Protestants, because they believe that the acceptance of the truths of faith, the theoretical acceptance of God’s Revelation, i.e. faith by hearing saves man, do not have a “therapeutic tradition.” It could be said that such a conception is naive.
The Roman Catholics as well do not have the perfection of the therapeutic tradition which the Orthodox Church has. Their doctrine of the Filioque is a manifestation of the weakness in their theology to grasp the relationship existing between the person and society. They confuse the personal properties: the “un-begotten” of the Father, the “begotten of the Son, and the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause of the “generation” of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit.
The Latin’s weakness to comprehend and failure to express the dogma of the Trinity show the non-existence of empirical theology. The three Disciples of Christ (Peter, James and John) beheld the glory of Christ on Mount Tabor; they heard at once the voice of the Father, “This is My beloved Son,” and saw the coming of the Holy Spirit in a cloud, for, the cloud is the presence of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Gregory Palamas says. Thus the Disciples of Christ acquired the knowledge of the Triune God in theoria (vision of God) and by revelation. It was revealed to them that God is one essence in three hypostases.
This is what St. Simeon the New Theologian teaches. In his poems he proclaims over and over again that, while beholding the Uncreated Light, the deified man acquires the Revelation of God as Trinity. Being in theoria (vision of God), the saints do not confuse the hypostatic attributes. The fact that the Latin tradition came to the point of confusing these hypostatic attributes and teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also, shows the non-existence of empirical theology for them. Latin tradition also speaks of created grace, a fact which suggests that there is no experience of the Grace of God. For, when man obtains the experience of God, then he comes to understand well that this grace is uncreated. Without this experience there can be no genuine “therapeutic tradition.”
And indeed we cannot find in all of Latin tradition, the equivalent to Orthodoxy’s therapeutic method. The nous (mind) is not spoken of; neither is it distinguished from reason. The darkened nous (mind) is not treated as a malady, or the illumination of the nous (mind) as therapy. Many greatly publicized Latin texts are sentimental and exhaust themselves in a barren ethicology. In the Orthodox Church, on the contrary, there is a great tradition concerning these issues, which shows that within it there exists the true therapeutic method.
A faith is a true faith inasmuch as it has therapeutic benefits. If it is able to cure, then it is true faith. If it does not cure, it is not a true faith. The same thing can be said about medicine: a true scientist is the doctor who knows how to cure and his method has therapeutic benefits, whereas a charlatan is unable to cure. The same holds true where matters of the soul are concerned. The difference between Orthodoxy and the Latin tradition, as well as the Protestant confessions, is apparent primarily in the method of therapy. This difference is made manifest in the doctrines of each denomination. Dogmas are not philosophy, neither is theology, the same as philosophy.
Since Orthodox spirituality differs distinctly from the “spiritualities” of other confessions, so much the more does it differ from the “spirituality of eastern religions, which do not believe in the Theanthropic (God-man) nature of Christ and the Holy Spirit. They are influenced by the philosophical dialectic, which has been surpassed by the Revelation of God. These traditions are unaware of the notion of personhood and thus the hypostatic principle. And love, as a fundamental teaching, is totally absent. One may find, of course, in these eastern religions an effort on the part of their followers to divest themselves of images and rational thoughts, but this is in fact a movement towards nothingness, to non-existence. There is no past leading their “disciples” to theosis-divinization of the whole man. This is why a vast and chaotic gap exists between Orthodox spirituality and the eastern religions, in spite of certain external similarities in terminology. For example, eastern religions may employ terms like ecstasy, dispassion, illumination, noetic energy, etc. but they are impregnated with content different from corresponding terms in Orthodox spirituality. (This commentary is taken from the 2nd chapter of the book Orthodox Spirituality: A brief introduction written by Metropolitan Vlachos).
(The following commentary is that of Fr. Simones)
In spite of all the theological turmoil that took place during the fourteenth century in Constantinople over this controversy of the Uncreated Energies of God as experienced and taught by St. Gregory Palamas of Thessaloniki, there are contemporary Saints of Holy Orthodoxy who have experienced the Uncreated Energies of God. Let me quote for you an experience of a recently canonized Saint of the Orthodox Church, Saint Porphyrios. Monk Akakios, the caretaker of Saint Porphyrios, as Porphyrios was preparing to leave this earthly life, tells us his eyewitness account of the Uncreated Light of God. “He experienced this Uncreated Light in his cell at the Monastery in Malakasa, Greece which is about one hour outside of Athens. That particular day, he was talking to Akakios, his caretaker, about spiritual issues. He was able at that time to still get up from his bed and walk a few steps. He got up and walked a few steps toward me and suddenly I saw him levitating above the floor. At the same time he started to exude a very bright blue light—his clothing, his face, and everything about him was reflecting this bright blue Light. I tried to look at his face but my eyes could not stand the brightness of that Light. I turned away for a while and then I looked at him again. I could not get enough of that Light that was shining from him. Again I could not stand the brightness and I turned away. I do not remember how long this phenomenon lasted. But slowly, slowly the brightness started to diminish and he was gently lowered to the floor.”