The Essence and Energies of God—St. Gregory Palamas
Scriptures of the Triodion
Second Saturday of Great Lent
No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known. John 1:18
Good morning Prayer Team!
Tomorrow, on the second Sunday of Lent, we commemorate St. Gregory Palamas, who lived from 1296-1359, and was the Archbishop of Thessalonika in Greece. He wrote about the difference between the “essence” and the “energies” of God. As you know, I am not a theologian, and I try to write “common stuff for the common person.” The theology of St. Gregory Palamas is so deep and so rich that it is hard for me to understand, let alone extrapolate on. However, his writings are important, and his thoughts on essence and energy are important because they have a pragmatic component.
No one can know the essence of God. No one has seen God. At a certain period of time, many people saw Christ. Even those who didn’t believe He was the Messiah acknowledged that He was a teacher, a miracle worker, some even called Him a prophet. There is no question that He was crucified on a particular date, in a particular place. History affirms this. So, for those who criticize the followers of Christ, we are not following a fictitious person. History affirms the humanity of Christ. What is the matter of faith and subject of debate is the Resurrection. The Gospels tell us that Christ was seen on many occasions and by many people after the Resurrection. This is the evidence that He rose from the dead. As further evidence, people have for two thousand years believed this, have passed it down from generation to generation, have lived and have died for Christ and for Christianity.
So, going on the belief that Christ is our Savior and all that we have heard about Him is true, how do we know Christ, as well as God the Father and the Holy Spirit? We know them not in essence, but we know them through their energies. This was the main contribution of St. Gregory Palamas to the Christian world.
So, what are the energies of God, that we can know? Let me offer a few examples. We know God through the created world. We may not know the essence of God, and how He created. But we know what He created. The sun, the wind, the clouds and the stars—these are energies of God.
We don’t know the essence of love. We can’t hold love in our hands or put it in our pockets. But we know how it feels to love and to be loved. This is the energy of love. We know that God is the author and creator of love, so in loving one another, we also come to know the love of God.
Grace is an energy of God. We know what it feels like to be forgiven, to feel that a prayer is heard, to experience Holy Communion, after the gifts of bread and wine have been transformed by the Grace of the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ. This is another example of the energy of God.
When we are surrounded by nature, by love and by grace, then we are experiencing the energies of God and are surrounded by Him. We can never know God in essence until we see Him face to face in heaven, but we can know Him by His energies. They are all around us.
Beacon of Orthodox believe, the strong support of the Church and her teacher inspired by God, you are the ornament of monks, the unassailable champion of theologians. O Gregory the Wonder-worker and boast of Thessalonica, the messenger of grace. Forever earnestly entreat for the salvation of our souls. (Apolytikion of St. Gregory Palamas, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Feel God’s energies through the grace that comes through prayer, worship, love, and nature!
Photo credit: St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church
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