Essence AND Energies

The concept of God's essence in Eastern Orthodox theology is called (ousia - The generally agreed-upon meaning of ousia in Eastern Christianity is "all that subsists by itself and which has not its being in another") and is distinct from his energies (energeia in Greek, actus in Latin) or activities as actualized in the world.
The ousia of God is God as God is. It is the energies of God that enable us to experience something of the Divine, at first through sensory perception and then later intuitively or noetically. The essence, being, nature and substance (ousia) of God as taught in Eastern Christianity is uncreated and incomprehensible. God's ousia is defined as "that which finds no existence or subsistence in another or any other thing". God's ousia is beyond all states of (nous) consciousness and unconsciousness, being and non-being, beyond something and nothing, beyond existence and non-existence. God's ousia has no necessity or subsistence that needs or is dependent on anything other than itself. As uncreated God's ousia is incomprehensible to any created being. God in essence is therefore superior to all forms of ontology (metaphysics). The source of God's ousia or incomprehensibleness is the Father hypostasis. 

Distinction between created and uncreated

For the Eastern Orthodox, the distinction as the tradition and perspective behind this understanding, is that creation is the task of energy. If we deny the real distinction between essence and energy, we can not fix any very clear borderline between the procession of the divine persons (as existences and or realities of God) and the creation of the world: both the one and the other will be equally acts of the divine nature (strictly uncreated from uncreated). The being and the action(s) of God then would appear identical, leading to the teaching of Pantheism.  Eastern Orthodox theologians assert that Western Christianity treats God's ousia as energeia and dunamis (Aristotle's Actus et potentia) as part of the scholastic method in theology. Which allows God's incomprehensibility to become comprehensible, by not making a distinction between God's nature and manifestation of things about God's nature.

As Aristotle and Pagan philosophy taught that God was the underlying substance, nature, being, essence (ousia) of all things (as the Monad in substance theory). Making the very thing that makes God, God (uncreated, incomprehensible) the same as God's created world and created beings. God's ousia then becomes detectable and experienced as a substance, essence, being or nature. Rather than God's hyper-being (ousia) as, infinite and never comprehensible to a finite mind or consciousness. Therefore Pagan philosophy via Metaphysical dialects sought to reconcile all of existence (ontology), with Mankind's reason or rational faculty culminating into deification called henosis. Where in Pagan henosis all of creation is absorbed into the Monad and then recycled back into created existence. Since in Pantheism there is nothing outside of creation or the cosmos, including God, since God is the cosmos in Pantheism. Or rather meaning no ontology outside of the cosmos (creation). Where as Orthodox Christianity strictly seeks soteriology as reconciliation (via synergeia) of man (creation, creatures) with God (the uncreated) called theosis. Mankind is not absorbed into the God's ousia or hypostases or energies in theosis. Ousia here is a general thing or generality, in this case ousia is the essence, nature, being, substance of the word God and concept of God.

If no distinction is made between God's essence and his works, acts (i.e. the cosmos) that there is no distinction between God and the material or created world, cosmos. We end up with Pantheism. This is the basis of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism where the only reality is the essence which is same within me, you and the First Cause. The caused has to be the same ousia as the cause.

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              is "all that subsists by itself and which has not its being in another";
analogous to the English concepts of
being and ontic used in contemporary philosophy. Ousia is often translated to Latin as substantia and essentia, and to English as substance and essence.


Strong's Concordance

ousia: substance, property

Original Word: οὐσία, ας, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Transliteration: ousia
Phonetic Spelling: (oo-see'-ah)
Short Definition: property, wealth
Definition: property, wealth, substance.






Energia is God giving of Himself in such a way to do His work.  For us, as fallen beings, it is God revealing Himself in such as way that His presence does not destroy us.
Wholly unknowable in His essence, God wholly reveals Himself in His energies, which yet in no way divide His nature into two parts–knowable and unknowable–but signify two different modes of the divine existence, in the essence and outside of the essence.

Strong's Concordance

energeia: working, activity

Original Word: ἐνέργεια, ας, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Transliteration: energeia
Phonetic Spelling: (en-erg'-i-ah)
Short Definition: working, activity
Definition: working, action, productive work, activity; in the NT, confined to superhuman activity.

HELPS Word-studies

Cognate: 1753 enérgeia (the root of the English term "energy") – energy; "power in action" (Wm. Barclay, More NT Words, 46). See 1754 (energeō).

1753 /enérgeia ("divine energy") typically refers to God's energy which transitions the believer from point to point in His plan (accomplishing His definition of progress).

[1753 (enérgeia) occurs 8 times – always of God's energy, except at 2 Thes 2:9.]

On Mount Sinai, in Exodus 33, God warned Moses that “you cannot see my face [divine being/essence], for man shall not see me and live.”  Nonetheless, He continued: “while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back [energia], but my face [being/essence] shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:20, 22-23).

God’s Energia In the Apostles
Galatians 2:8: For He [Jesus] who worked (energized) through Peter for His apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked (energized) also through me for mine to the Gentiles.

Ephesians 1:1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will (energy) of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 3:7: Of this gospel I [Paul] was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working (energizing) of His power.

Colossians 1:29: For this I [Paul] toil, struggling with all His energy (energy) that He powerfully works (energizes) within me.

Our Confessions describe this divine/human presence at work within the pastor:
[Pastors] represent the person of Christ and do not represent their own persons, as Christ testifies,
“The one who hears you hears Me (Luke 10:16). (
Ap VII/VIII, para 28)

God’s Energia in each Christian
1 Corinthians 12:6: There are varieties of activities (energies), but it is the same God who empowers (energizes) them all in everyone.

Ephesians 4:16: from whom [Jesus] the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working [energizing] properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love

Philippians 2:13: For it is God who is at work in (energizing) you, both to will and to work (energize) for His good pleasure.


God's energies are "unbegotten" or "uncreated," just like the existences of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), both God's existences and energies can be experienced or comprehended. God's ousia is uncreatedness, beyond existence, beyond no existence – God's hyper-being is not comprehensible to created beings.

As St John Damascene states,
"all that we say positively of God manifests not his nature but the things about his nature."

If we reject the concept of energies and identify the energy as part of the essence of God then we have the problem of relation between man and God.  Adam was created with the breath of God.  Was the spirit that was blown in Adam in creating part of the essence of God? This spirit returns to the God who created it at the time of death. Again it would be wise to remember that Adam did not imbibe the totality of the Holy Spirit.  Only the life giving energies alone were transmitter to him.  He did not become one of the Four adding to Trinity forming a fourth person.

Ecc. 12:7 says, “Our bodies will return to the dust of the earth, and the breath of life will go back to God, who gave it to us.”
"The body without the spirit ["breath"] is dead." James 2:26.

"The spirit of God ["the breath which God gave him,"] is in my nostrils." Job 27:3.

 If so Adam was also the part of the essence of God and is Son along with the Son of God within the Trinity.  Again was the Word that created the universe also part of the essence of God?  If so the whole creation was part of God in essence. We can see the absurdity of the argument. If we accept this interpretation we will arrive at the theology of Mormons. It is to avoid this error of making man part of the essence we consider the breath of God as energy that goes out from God which is not considered as the essence of God.  The energies - the word - the breath are not part of the essence but emanations from the essence of God.  I have used the concept of dimension within the Divine realm instead.


God’s essence is Who He is in Himself.
The word essence comes from the Latin
esse which means “to be.” In Greek, the word is ousia. So we can also say that it means “being.”  God’s essence is God in His very nature. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all of this one essence. Jesus, the Son of God is “of one essence” with the Father.  This is what the Nicean Creed declares.  But then Adam, the Son of God is not considered one in essence with the father who breathed him into existence.  What made the difference is the breathing which is absent in the creation of Jesus.  Jesus is considered as the Word itself.

"The earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light;' and there was light." At the very beginning of Genesis, you have Gods Word, Jesus; you have God the Father; and you have the Holy Spirit: the Trinity all represented in creation. But there is no transference of essence of God into the creation. What is the process of creation?  What is the material out of which creation came into existence. The process evidently is the “Word” spoken.

The Scripture witnesses to this with passages such as John 1:18, which says, “No one has seen God at any time.” God’s essence is beyond us. We cannot look at it. We can see the incarnate Lord Jesus, because he was in the flesh - material that was created initially which obviously is not the essence of Jesus - we cannot see the divine essence.  

1 John 4:12, which says, “No one has seen God at any time, but if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us” .  

Matt. 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”  - a confusion

To avoid the confusion we propose a non-essential part of God called energeia.

The word energy—in Greek, energeia—literally means “working in.” That is, God’s energies are His working in this created world, His activity, His operation. God’s energies are His presence among us and in us. The Energies are what we can see God - through his activity - God in action.   His energies are sometimes identified with His glory, His grace, the uncreated light. The Energies are God’s actions of doing things like healing, miracles, forgiveness of sins etc.  We know God only through his activity within the creation. They are the witness and the evidence.

Both God’s Essence and Energies are uncreated. They existed before creation.   God is His Essence, and God is His Energies. And both Essence and Energies are common to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When it comes to the three divine Persons, there is one Essence and one Energy of God. God is thus both transcendent—that is, He is beyond us—and immanent—that is, He is within the creation especially in us.

We participate with the energies of God, within the energies of God and are being transformed into the likeness of His Son in exact replication of the resurrected Jesus who appeared to his disciples and still live in the Heavens and sits at the right hand of God, His Father —this is called theosis or deification—which is possible through our adoption as sons and daughters of the Most High because of our incorporation into Christ.  The difference still remain.  Jesus is Son who shares the essence of the Father.  The sons of God are joined with God - identified with God in his energies still a creation as it was originally intended.

So when we say that God is both Essence and Energies, we are in fact describing in summary why it is that the Christian life works at all. The God Who is beyond us and totally unlike us in His essence is nevertheless close to us and available to us in His energies.

This was the main contribution of St. Gregory Palamas  

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

“Theosis may be defined
as the act of the Trinity whereby God,
through His grace,
moves upon humanity to draw and redeem him from his lost state,
changing the divine image inherent within man I
nto the divine likeness inherent within God
without changing man’s nature. 
Man becomes god in the sense
being transformed from the state of corruptibility to incorruptibility,
from perishable to imperishable,
from the state of loss to the state of redemption.”

Theosis ("deification," "divinization") is
the process of a worshiper becoming free of
hamartía ("missing the mark"),
being united with God,
beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection.
Théōsis (see 2 Pet. 1:4) is salvation.
Théōsis assumes that humans from the beginning are made to share in the Life or Nature of the all-Holy Trinity. Therefore,  ..worshiper is saved from the state of unholiness
hamartía — which is not to be confused with hamártēma “sin”)
for participation in the Life (
zōé, not simply bíos) of the Trinity — which is everlasting.”

This is not to be confused with the heretical (apothéōsis) -
Deification in God’s Essence",
which is imparticipable.

Theosis is
“total participation in Jesus Christ.”  
 “All that God is, except for an identity in being,
being deified by grace.”

St. Maximos the Confessor,