Protopresbyter John Romanides’s Teaching on Creation

By James L. Kelley


This essay opens with a sketch of the Christological and Trinitarian aspects of Father John Romanides’ presentation of Orthodox spirituality, all in an effort to grasp more fully the relevance of Father John Romanides’ formulation of Orthodox creationism.  First, we will consider the problem of understanding creation as it existed before the Fall from our fallen present; it is this problem that union with Christ in His Church solves.  What is the fall of man, and what is within man that makes possible his redemption from corruption? We will close out our study by outlining the Orthodox view of the relation of the created to the uncreated.

Excerpts from this Article:

The core of this [Orthodox] Tradition, for Father John, is the healing of man’s dissipated noetic energy through the “way free of error”: the threefold path of purification, illumination, and glorification.

. . . God created all things, not from His essence, but out of non-existence by His will and energy. [. . .] The origin of created beings from nothingness is not to be taken as a basis for analogy with an imagined process or composition inside the divine essence. Only God is perfect and immutable; all other beings have as their natural mode of existence the property of constantly changing. However, this does not mean that created beings are inherently sinful since man is free to cooperate with God in choosing an unending sequence of goods that correspond to the inexhaustible divine energies. God creates all that is out of “things that were not,” (“ἐκ οὐκ ὄντων,” II Maccabees 7.28 LXX) in the sense that all beings are dependent on God’s uncreated and sustaining grace, not only for their very existence but also for the possibility of salvation through union with Him. Indeed, God designed creation to be changeable so that it could be united to Him through a movement “from glory to glory” (II Cor. 3.18 KJV) in the ascended human nature of Christ, the latter being bearer of the Trinitarian energies.”

“. . . The Orthodox dogma of creation avoids these errors because it is based on the correct doctrine about Christ: God brought all things into existence freely, and God’s freedom in creation means that He is not limited or constrained by forms or patterns in His mind. God loves the world he created, and so He sent His Son that all of creation might be united by experiencing His Trinitarian glory both in this world and in the age to come. God’s willed creation is completely free and is thus a wholly positive and self-originated movement.3 Though God’s decision to create is not precipitated by any force, reason or consideration aside from His good pleasure, the Orthodox do not hesitate to affirm also that God is moved toward His creation. His purpose in creating the world is that all created beings be united to him through His Son in His Spirit. Distinct but not separate from God’s creating energy and His sustaining energy is His saving, deifying energy, which meets man in his contingency and calls him from within to share in His love for all of creation. This eternal salvific purpose of creation is the context for the Incarnation and the divination of man in Christ. Mortal man becomes immortal by grace through Christ the Lord of Glory who enters into man’s purified heart by the Holy Spirit and makes of him a Son of God the Father by adoption.”

§2 “For the Orthodox, there are two completely different types of knowledge available to man: natural knowledge is centered in the brain and the nervous system; noetic knowledge is proper to man’s nous, and is centered in the heart. As Father John explains, “the [faculty of] reason can only know material phenomena. (…). [I]t cannot know anything uncreated.” Man’s nous, on the other hand, is his unique organ of communion with God. Only God is uncreated; the gulf is so complete between God’s essence and created essences that not only is there no similarity between them, but neither is there any dissimilarity or opposition between them that could serve as a basis for comparing them. In a sense, there is no gulf because there is no conceivable material or immaterial interval between the created and the uncreated.”

“The prime implication for man is that his reason is not capable of forming or is covering concepts about God, there being (as we have said) no collection of forms, species, or universals between the created and the uncreated that can serve as a bridge between man and God. If and when man acquires knowledge of God, it is not of the divine essence, but rather of the uncreated divine energies, which man can know not according to concepts of discursive reason, but only by becoming an “eye” that sees divinity by means of the selfsame divine glory. Indeed, if and when God grants theoria or vision of His energy, the illumined seeker’s conscious knowledge of the Trinitarian energy active in his heart is surpassed by an unknowing of the uncreated energies, the experience of which is non-discursive and supra-rational. It bears repeating: in glorification one knows the non-self-seeking love of God through God Himself, through the uncreated energy of the Holy Trinity.”

“The fall of man in the Garden was the disconnection of Adam’s nous from the state of illumination. Adam’s fall, in this sense, was the first time that a human being’s unceasing memory of God was interrupted. As St. Symeon the New Theologian avers, only God is unchangeable and unalterable. God created Adam and commanded him not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This commandment was God’s revelation that Adam was changeable and alterable, but that, being in a state of illumination, it was within his power to remain free from harmful change and alteration by preserving his grace centeredness. However, Adam was deceived by Satan; his noetic energy became confused and mixed with the energies and concepts from his rational faculty. From then until today, both man and his environment typically have existed in what can best be described as a survival mode.

The selfless love made possible by the inner man’s unbroken communion with the Creator is replaced with a diseased love for self that, if not combated through returning to God’s grace, leads men to believe that they are becoming slowly and subtly imbued with divine attributes when in actuality they are leeching the life out of those around them. The natural world mirrors this catastrophe as it “travails and groans” (Rom. 8:22) in anticipation of being restored to grace.

When Adam fell, he died spiritually, his nous being flooded with thoughts not proper to itself, thoughts from his rational center.  Adam’s body began to sweat, to suffer, to long no more for the spiritual Manna that is life in God, but rather began anxiously seeking material food.

Henceforth, the human mode of existence was altered; a new economy sprang into being, one geared toward the avoidance of the inevitable death of the body. Living in accord with God now became more difficult, since man, who found himself possessed suddenly by anxiety over the future, responded by developing social and technological buffers.

Man’s key existential mode became fear – fear of beasts and other men, fear of “going to the ancestors,” of passing over into another world, or even of reverting to his original nothingness.  In order to alleviate the fear of death, man fashioned rites and beliefs based around the idea that man can achieve eudaemonia (a state of complete self-sufficiency and dispassionate equilibrium) either in this life or in a spectral world of tribal ancestors.

Man’s fall did not plunge him into non-existence outside of God’s love, however. Man, along with the cosmos as a whole, continues to be preserved by divine energies. As Father John explains:

The “uncreated glory (…) is everywhere present saturating all of creation. Like the rest of creation all humans are already in communion with this glory’s creating, providential, ruling and even purifying energy at various levels.”

The Orthodox teach that the Church of Christ is founded upon the exact experience of the Holy Trinity shared in by the Prophets, only now the Angel of Great Council has become Incarnate and has established an even more intimate

communion through the Church’s Sacraments. Holy Sacraments such as Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist—far from being magical operations—bestow the level of grace that corresponds to the communicant’s effort at inner purification.

In the final analysis, however, man cannot “earn” his salvation, he can only co-operate with God’s grace to purify the nous’s spiritual, perichoretic energy from the influence of the materially-directed energy centered in gray matter and in

nerves. But the sensory energy of the rational faculty is neither evil nor bad per sé. When the nous or noetic energy is free of all thoughts, the Holy Spirit prays within it continuously. The worshiper goes about his daily tasks, working and interacting with others via his rational faculty.

Parallel with this brain functioning, which is geared to the outside world, the Holy Spirit prays within the heart, even while the body sleeps. This is the state of illumination according to Orthodox Church Fathers, which can be followed by glorification of short or long duration for the salvation of others, as we have stressed. In this highest state of glorification, the uninterrupted prayer of the heart ceases, since the Holy Trinity Itself grants its own uncreated Light or grace to man’s heart (“In Your light we shall see the light,”13); the glorified human being’s “blameless passions” of hunger, sleep and fear are suspended, and the believer sees the all of creation bathed in the ineffable glory of God.

§3 God and the World. According to Orthodox Fathers, the key distinction is between uncreated and created. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are uncreated—there was no time when the Holy Trinity did not exist, and there is no essence or Abyss out of which the Holy Trinity sprang. The angels and all other material beings are created—they have their origin, not in God per sé, but in God’s goodness.

As we noted above, God creates all beings out of non-existence, not out of the divine essence and not out of some pre-existent, ingenerate void or ungrund. As Father John elaborates:

“Creation is unique as a construction in itself, just as what is uncreated is unique in itself.”

A significant influence on Father John, Father Georges Florovsky, emphasizes that the Holy Trinity’s acts of creation are always free and are always acts of the divine will and not of the divine essence.

The Creator was not constrained to create the world in order to claim for Himself the title of Creator: “The true reality of the Universe is secured, in a startling way, precisely by its being unnecessary to God’s own being. Otherwise, it would have been but a shadow.”  In response to Origen’s notion that creation must be eternal in order to truly exist as being from God, Father Georges notes that “The omnipotence of God must be defined not only as the supreme power to create but also as an absolute power not to create at all.”

However, how was this difference between created and uncreated revealed to man? Christ granted to his followers noetic illumination at Pentecost, an event recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (2.1-31).

Each person heard the Holy Spirit praying in his heart in their own language; each was conscious that their heart was filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and they knew that this glory or Light was from three Lights: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When St. Paul was taken up to the third heaven, he heard “ineffable words that are unlawful for man to utter” (II Cor. 12:4).

This means that St. Paul was granted direct experience of the uncreated glory of the Holy Trinity. St. Paul is describing glorification, by which one knows that the Holy Trinity is uncreated because he sees God’s energies or Light by means of this Light, or to put it more precisely, “it is the uncreated glory which sees itself by means of the glorified”23; as we mentioned in the previous section, the grace-filled one becomes uncreated by grace, with an “uncreated eye.”

The saint knows from within his heart that the glory is uncreated; it follows that his purified nous is not fooled by created energies or forces that pretend to be from God. Such knowledge is what allows one to, in St. Paul’s words, “stand

against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). What do we conclude? That “Created truth cannot be the means by which we know the uncreated truth. The only ‘reconciliation’ between the two truths is the one who is glorified, who (…) through glorification knows the uncreated truth.”

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Source: International Journal of Orthodox Theology
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