I’m reading a book to learn more about the Orthodox Church. I’ve been attending on and off for about a year, depending on when I’m in the country and when I’m not borderline freaked out by how different Orthodoxy is from any other Christian experience I’ve ever had. I expected this book to be mostly historical - about what was discussed at ecumenical councils, the crusades, etc. And granted, these things are discussed. But the heavy, intense, mind-blowing, deeper-than-I’ve-ever-thought-possible theology of many of these councils is also brought up. One thing I absolutely love about Orthodoxy is that I experience the Christian thought that’s been going on for 2000 years. It feels more linear than protestantism - and don’t get me wrong, I grew up Lutheran, but an older Church with a longer period of trying to figure this whole church thing out opens you up to a little more. Though I’m a deep thinker - there’s always a question or seven in my head, which lead to a question or seven more - by pursuing Orthodoxy, I’m being opened to mind-blowing things I never even thought about. The Orthodox have thought long and hard about who God is, and it astounds me.
Bear with me. I know nothing. So this post will probably be choppy.
Fourteenth century. The seven main ecumenical councils (a bunch of bishops getting together to discuss the Trinity or the nature Christ or the use of icons, etc. in order to avoid heretical thought in the Church) have come and gone, but the ideas are still being applied in new ways centuries later. Barlaam the Calabrian professed that we can only know God indirectly, that the immediate experience of God is impossible in this present life. I’m trying to avoid overwhelming detail here, but Barlaam met a crazy dialogue with St. Gregory Palamas (really awesome Greek hermit monk and then Archbishop of Thessalonica), who disagreed wholeheartedly with him by explaining that we know the energies of God, but not his essence, an idea that comes from St. Basil. From here, I think I’ll let the book speak for itself ...
“‘God is not a nature,’ [Gregory] wrote, ‘for He is above all nature; He is not a being, for He is above all beings ... no single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the supreme nature or nearness to it.’ But however remote from us in His essence, yet in His energies God has revealed Himself to us. These energies are not something that exists apart from God, not a gift which God confers upon humans; they are God Himself in His action and revelation to the world. God exists complete and entire in each of His divine energies. The world, as Gerard Manley Hopkins said, is charged with the grandeur of God; all creation is a gigantic Burning Bush, permeated but not consumed by the ineffable and wondrous fire of God’s energies.
It is through these energies that God enters into a direct and immediate relationship with humankind. In relation to us humans, the divine energy is in fact nothing else than the grace of God; grace is not just a ‘gift’ from God, not just an object which God bestows on humans, but a direct manifestation of the living God Himself, a personal encounter between creature and Creator. ‘Grace signifies all the abundance of the divine nature, in so far as it is communicated to men.’ When we say that the saints have been transformed or ‘deified’ by the grace of God, what we mean is that they have a direct experience of God Himself. They know God - that is to say, God in His energies, not in His essence.”
I don’t know if that blows your mind in any way. But it sure blows mine to even think about God’s energies permeating everything and the world as being a Burning Bush of God Himself. Even try to picture that ...
It seems like many heretics in history have made the gulf between us and God too wide. And this is where Truth comes in; it is here to “safeguard our direct approach to God, to uphold our full deification and entire redemption.”
I have in the last year felt humbled by the Holiness of God. I have even let it go too far - to the point where I feel unable to approach God. At all times. But I need to remember that in all these things I’m learn and in all these ways I’m growing, there is an opportunity for direct experience with God’s energies, that I too can be a Burning Bush, a wondrous fire of God’s energies.