Question and Answer

Eastern Orthodoxy

Question:

I have several questions about Eastern Orthodoxy. (1) What is the Eastern Orthodox view of the essence and energies of God? (2) How does the Reformed view differ from this Eastern Orthodox view? (3) Was the light that Jesus shone with during the Transfiguration created light or the uncreated light of God? Was it God’s essence? Was it God’s energy? (4) Was the light that the apostle Paul saw on the road to Damascus created light or the uncreated light of God? Was it God’s essence? Was it God’s energy?

Answer:

First, I will state up front that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is not the Eastern Orthodox church or any of the related Orthodox churches. The OPC is a historic Protestant denomination that traces back to John Calvin and the Reformation. The OPC separated from the mainline, liberal Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1936. To distinguish our biblical teachings from their unbiblical teachings we called ourselves “Orthodox,” meaning correct belief or sound opinion.

I will give a brief answer to your question, as I am not sufficiently informed to go into detail. Most of what I have learned comes from The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, by Vladimir Lossky.

1. What is the Eastern Orthodox view of the essence and energies of God? The Eastern Orthodox churches differentiate between the essence / nature of the three persons of the Trinity and the energy (I believe the Eastern Orthodox think of this as the work of God). God cannot be known in his essence, for his infinite, divine creator’s nature is also a sinless nature. At every point our nature is not his, ours being finite, human, created and sinful. Fallen man cannot know God in his essence or being. It appears that the Eastern Orthodox do not think it possible to know God in his being or essence, but only through his energies, which might be his work. Looking at God as he reveals himself in his energies is like looking at a reflection of an object in a mirror, while the actual object is invisible. The reflection is not the real object, but it does truly present an image of the object that we would see were it not invisible to us. This in part explains Eastern iconography and the freedom they feel in worshiping the image (icon) or worshiping through the icon.

2. How does the Reformed view differ from this Eastern Orthodox view? Reformed Christianity does not separate the divine essence from the divine energy. We believe that God reveals himself in both his person and his work. Father, Son and Spirit are of the same essence, yet three persons. Each person is fully involved in the work of creation and salvation, though in the work of salvation differences can be seen between the work of each of the three persons and thus between the functional offices they occupy. Note: the differing works of salvation and thus different offices is not intended to refer to the personal properties of the Father, Son and Spirit. As regards worship, Reformed Christians avoid any visual depiction of the three persons of the Trinity, understanding this as a violation of the Second Commandment. We hold that God reveals himself in his person, as disclosed in the Old Testament theophanies, but principally in the incarnation of Christ Jesus, in his Word and work. Christ as the perfect man and God came as one person and died on the cross of Calvary, enduring the penalty for the sins of all who believe in him. Salvation only comes through faith in Christ Jesus (Isa. 6:1–13, Isa. 52:13–53:12, John 1:1–14, Ps. 19:7–14, Ps. 8:3–4, Rom. 1:20).

3. Was the light that Jesus shone with during the Transfiguration created light or the uncreated light of God? Was it God’s essence? Was it God’s energy? You are asking a question about someone / something that is not part of our physical world but pre-existent and uncreated; thus, the language of modern science is of limited benefit, so I will attempt to answer using the language of Scripture. I believe that the heavenly majesty that radiated from our Lord at his transfiguration was the weight of his uncreated glory. There are scriptural passages that speak of God’s glory as being him, his being or essence, and others which speak of it as radiating from him. 1 Chronicles 16:24 presents God’s glory as being synonymous with his works, but in Isaiah 6:3 the seraphims’ (meaning the burning ones’) praise makes it clear that God’s glory includes his thrice-holy being. Romans 11:36 encompasses both the glory of God in his essence or being, and in his energy or work. Another key point is that Jesus, because he is the Savior to a lost world, is in himself the light of the world. In him the glory of God’s mercy and truth are seen (John 1:5–9, 14). Every human needs to see this light and believe in the Savior.

4. Was the light that the apostle Paul saw on the road to Damascus created light or the uncreated light of God? Was it God’s essence? Was it God’s energy? I do not believe we have sufficient information to determine this. Furthermore I don’t think we need to; allow me to explain. In Acts 9:3 we are told that a light shone from heaven. Whether this was the radiant glory of God’s sinless creation—heaven itself—or whether this was the light of Christ I do not know. In some ways it is a bit like a man saying, “I burnt my hand in the log fire,” and another asking him, “Was it the flame that burnt you or the heat from the flame?” Yes, the two can be scientifically distinguished from one another; but that distinction is not of much help when in pain and receiving medical attention to heal my injury!

Given that I am not Eastern Orthodox, this might not have been the answer that you hoped for. If you wish to know anything about the Gospel of Christ Jesus, or Reformed Doctrine and the OPC, I can provide a much fuller answer.


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