THE DIVINE NAMES - Orthodox Catechism

THE DIVINE NAMES

‘How can we speak of the Divine names? How can we do this if the Transcendent surpasses all discourse and all knowledge..? How can we enter upon this undertaking if the Godhead is superior to being and is unspeakable and unnameable?’, says Dionysius the Areopagite. At the same time, God, being totally transcendent, is present in the created world and revealed through it. All creation longs for God, and more especially, we humans crave for knowledge of Him. Therefore God is to be praised both ‘by every name’ and ‘as the Nameless One’. Nameless in His essence, God is variously named by humanity when He reveals Himself to us.

Some of the names attributed to God emphasize His superiority over the visible world; His power, dominion and kingly dignity. The name Lord (Greek, Kyrios) signifies the supreme dominion of God not only over His chosen people, but also over the whole world. The name of Almighty (Greek, Pantokrator) signifies that God holds all things in His hand; He upholds the world and its order.

The names Holy, ‘Holy Place’, Holiness, Sanctification, Good and Goodness indicate that God not only contains within Himself the whole plenitude of goodness and holiness, but He also pours out this goodness onto all of His creatures, sanctifying them.

In Holy Scripture there are other attributions to God: Wisdom, Truth, Light, Life, Salvation, Atonement, Deliverance, Resurrection, Righteousness, Love. There are in Scripture a number of names for God taken from nature. These do not attempt to define either His characteristics or His attributes, but are rather symbols and analogies. God is compared with the sun, the stars, fire, wind, water, dew, cloud, stone, cliff and fragrance. Christ Himself is spoken of as Shepherd, Lamb, Way, Door. All of these epithets, simple and concrete, are borrowed from everyday reality and life. But, as in Christ’s parables of the pearl, tree, leaven and seeds, we discern a hidden meaning that is infinitely greater and more significant.

Holy Scripture speaks of God as a being with human form having a face, eyes, ears, hands, shoulders, wings, legs and breath. It is said that God turns around and turns away, recollects and forgets, becomes angry and calms down, is surprised, sorrows, hates, walks and hears. Fundamental to this anthropomorphism is the experience of a personal encounter with God as a living being. In order to express this experience we have come to use earthly words and images.