Down through the centuries the glorified have been described as saints, because they are united in the Holy Spirit with Christ and through Him they know the Father, by means of His uncreated glorifying energy. The saints are “recipients, guardians and transmitters of the deposit of the Holy Tradition” and are divided into “the spiritually knowledgeable and the faithful”. The spiritually knowledgeable are those who have acquired personal knowledge of God. They have come to know “the glory and energy of God” and have been “eye witnesses of the divinity of Christ”. These are the Prophets, Apostles and saints. The faithful are those who, in the Holy Spirit, accept “with childlike simplicity, the testimony and the teaching of the saints who see God.”
The Prophets, Apostles and saints are “at the centre of the Holy Tradition”. They are “friends and eye-witnesses of the divinity of Christ”, because “they have participated and participate in the mystery of His Cross and Resurrection”, which changed them from enemies into servants and hired workers, and subsequently into friends of God.
The glorified saints “see and hear and converse with the uncreated energies of God, that is, with the glory, the bright cloud, the pillar of fire, the divinity, the glory and rule (vasileia) and the grace of God, by means of the vision that surpasses vision, the hearing that surpasses hearing, the taste that surpasses taste, the sense of touch that surpasses touch, the sense of smell that surpasses smell, the knowledge that surpasses knowledge, the understanding that surpasses understanding” and so on. That is to say, they participate in the uncreated glorifying energy of God with their body as well, which has, however, been previously transformed by the grace of God, since, as Holy Scripture says, “In Your light we shall see light”.
Everyone speaks about God, even philosophers. But when someone uses his reason and imagination to understand God, then that god is imaginary and consequently non- existent. The only God Who exists is the God of the Prophets, Apostles and saints.
“Which God exists? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For the Fathers the only God who exists is the God Who appeared to the Prophets, Apostles and saints of the Church.”
The only way of obtaining real knowledge of God is through glorification in the Holy Spirit.
“Glorification is the foundation of the knowledge of God possessed by the Prophets, Apostles and saints of the Church.”
For that reason, if we are going to speak about God and do not have personal experience of our own, we use the experience of the saints who have seen God.
“The only source of knowledge of God is the glorified, who know God directly by experience. The experience of these glorified people is the foundation of correct faith concerning God. The glorified saint knows God directly. Subsequently he passes on to us things about God, so we know about God from him.
The Prophets, Apostles and saints of the Church are our authority with regard to God. We have faith in God through these people. We cannot have direct experience concerning God, unless we have reached the stage of illumination and union or glorification in our spiritual life.”
In order for the saints to reach the vision of God, they must, of course, first pass through the experience of purification and illumination, as “the exact knowledge of God that we have as Orthodox originates from the experience of purification, illumination and glorification of the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers of the Church. We have no other source.”
Participation in the purifying and illuminating grace of God, which culminates in glorifying grace, is the fruit of the hesychastic life. For that reason all the Prophets, Apostles and saints were hesychasts.
“On account of Symeon the New Theologian biblical anthropology was preserved and passed on to future generations. It was continued by the so-called hesychasts, who are certainly not a phenomenon of the 13th and 14th centuries, because Holy Scripture itself, the Prophets of the Old Testament are hesychasts, the whole apostolic period is hesychasm, and this tradition continues through all the Fathers of the Church.”
When the Prophets, Apostles and saints attained to the vision of God, they acquired knowledge of the distinction between essence and energy in God. To be sure, during the vision of God no voice was heard telling them that this is the essence and this is the energy. They understood the distinction, however, because at that moment they shared in the energy of God and not in His essence. Thus the distinction between God’s essence and His energy is not philosophical but empirical. Some people discuss the distinction between essence and energy in God in a philosophical and speculative way. Such an approach is not Orthodox; it is the method used by heretics.
“Apart from the philosophical distinction between essence and energy in God, there is another distinction between essence and energy in God in history. There is the Orthodox distinction, which is based on the experience of glorification. This is the distinction made by the Prophets, Apostles and saints. This is the distinction that forms part of the Tradition. Apart from this distinction, there was also a distinction between essence and energy made by heretics in the early Church.”
What sets the Fathers of the Church apart from philosophers and heretics is their empirical knowledge of the distinction between God’s essence and His energy. Then the God-seers and witnesses of God’s divinity theologise in order to direct the faithful to glorification and personal experience, and in this way theology is produced. So this shared experience of the Prophets, Apostles, Fathers and saints is the foundation of Orthodox theology.
“Theology springs from the vision of God granted to the Prophets, Apostles, saints and so on: to all those who have reached the state of being glorified.”
“This experience that the Prophets, Apostles and saints of the Church possess is the foundation of theology and it is the only secure and real bridge between God and man.”
Infallibility, divine inspiration and glorification depend on this experience in both the Old and New Testaments.
“Infallibility, divine inspiration and glorification in the Old and New Testaments and in the Church do not belong indiscriminately to the whole people of God, but reach the people and dwell in them by the energy of the Holy Spirit through those who are glorified, the Prophets, Apostles and saints, as well as through the clergy, who have the apostolic succession through ordination and the true teaching of the glorified in Christ.”
Anyone who does not have his own experience of the vision of God and does not rely on the experience of the God-seeing saints, who represent authority within the Church, is deluded, because he is forced to philosophise and imagine God, with terrible consequences.
We shall look separately in the following sections at the Prophets, Apostles, Fathers and saints.
—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
(Protopresbyter John S. Romanides, Empirical Dogmatics, Volume 1)