Uncreated Light: Experiencing the Transcendent
What is Uncreated Light and why is it an experience of the Transcendent? Why do I capitalize the word “Transcendent?” It is because by experiencing the Transcendent I mean experiencing God, a personal God, a Divine Person, who is beyond our comprehension, yet who relates to us and loves us personally in a way we can comprehend by experiencing Him our hearts; not some sort of impersonal, abstract being or phenomenon. Too often today people think of the Transcendent as something other than a personal God.
As Christians, we often need to go deeper in our understanding and practice of our faith. Frankly, we also need to deeper in the way we share our faith with others when those situations and opportunities arise. This notion of going deeper, of living Christianity in-depth as it was meant to be lived, and as a result, our thought, speech, and actions exuding this depth, has been on my mind quite a bit lately. This article is really about this deeper understanding and is the result of some recent experiences of mine that made me reflect.
I was away in a remote place on our most recent Feast Day of the Transfiguration. Though I couldn’t be in Church for that day, one of my favorite Feast Days of the Church, I was in one of the most beautiful natural places I have ever been and I had some experiences and thoughts I want to share. However, before I describe them, I want to explain about Uncreated Light, what we mean by it in Orthodoxy, and walk through some parts of the Bible that speak to it.
When Orthodox theologians, clergy, teachers, or others talk or write about Uncreated Light they are referring to God’s divine energy, or presence, present in our world. It’s the energy of the Holy Spirit who permeates everything. St. Paul says in Acts 17:28: “For in Him [God] we live, move and have our being.”
God’s Uncreated Light, the Light within Himself that He has chosen to share with us, is all around us but we don’t often see or experience it, or, better said, Him. Or if we do, in what measure we do, we don’t perceive it or understand it as such, or attribute it to something else. Father George Papademetriou in his excellent article, Introduction to Orthodox Spirituality, writes that: "The divine energies are "within everything and outside everything." All creation is the manifestation of God's energies.” [i] He quotes the theologian Vladimir Lossky who says in his work the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church: "These divine rays penetrate the whole created universe and are the cause of its existence." [ii]Father George goes on to explain: “The uncreated Light and the knowledge of God in Orthodox tradition "illuminates every man that cometh into this world.” It is the same light that the apostles saw on Mount Tabor that penetrates all of creation and transforms it, creating it anew.” [iii]
In addition to the experience of the apostles on Mount Tabor, there are other key Scriptures that teach us about Uncreated Light. The Scriptures are the basis of why believe in God’s Uncreated Light. It’s because of what we find in Scripture that both informs us, but also speaks to the intuitive, noetic experience we have that confirms this truth. In Genesis 1:3 God says: “Let there be light”; and there was light.” It’s not until verse 16 that He creates the greater and lesser lights, the sun, and the moon, so this light is something other than the sun, moon, and stars. It is God Himself. God is the Light by which we experience this light.
Psalm 35:10 says: “For with You is the fountain of life; In Your Light we shall see light.” (This is Psalm 36:9 in the Protestant Bible). Just as the Bible begins with light it ends with a reaffirmation of this truth that God is the Light and that we need no other light. Revelation 21:23 reads when referring to the new Heaven, new earth and specifically new Jerusalem: “The city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The lamb is its light.” The Orthodox Study Bible note to this passage reminds us of what I have been attempting to communicate. It reads: “Created light is unnecessary. For the everlasting Uncreated Light will illumine all (Ps 35:10) with true and clear vision to see things as they really are. The true Light, the Light of the world (Jn 8:12), was incarnate (Jn 1:9), and even while on earth He shone with Uncreated Light (Mk 9:2–8; 2Pt 1:16–18).” [iv]
The Book of Revelation reminds us one more time before it ends regarding the Light. Revelation 22:5 reads: “There shall be no light there; They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.” Peter, James, and John, experienced a foretaste of this Light in the Transfiguration. Matthew 17:2 reads: “and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” In addition to these experiences and accounts of the uncreated Light of God, we also have clear teachings about this Light from Christ. In John 8:12 Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
When Christ says this, the Feast of the Tabernacles is concluding with great lamps being lit. One can imagine many of the dutiful religious faithful celebrating the lighting these lamps yet the true light is not in the lamps. Christ is drawing attention from those symbolic lights to His true light. It’s in the person of God who those religious faithful should have been turning their attention to. This represents a common mistake we, as Christians, are surrounded with and which I explain more below.
Now in Matthew 5:14 Jesus says something remarkable, especially when you consider it in the context of what He says in John 8:12 and the experience of the Transfiguration. He says: “You are the light of the world.” The “you” is us, human begins. In its corresponding notes to this Scripture, the Orthodox Study Bible reminds us that “God is the true and Uncreated Light.”[v]
So Christ who is God, who is uncreated, who is the Light, is telling us, created beings who God created out of love, that we are the light as well affirming that we are indeed created in His image and likeness. That is the depth of God’s love for us that He gives us His Light and wills for us to also be the light. Just as Peter, James, and John – and many of the Holy Fathers if you read about them and some of their experiences – experienced a foretaste of the Uncreated Light, we too can experience it, even if it is a lesser measure than the experience of these Saints. St. John of Krondstadt reminds us: “We can raise our nature to communion with the Divine Nature; and God is the Light uncreated, surpassing every light that has been created.”
As Orthodox Christians, we believe whether we realize it or not, all of us, Christian and non-Christians, yearn for this Light, yearn for the beauty of the Light, yearn for God. But first, we have to be attuned to it, attuned to God, which comes through our sincere participation in the Sacramental life of the Church. How much we are attuned to God determines how much we experience Him, to the measure of how He created us and according to His will. What I mean by this is with God things are not formulaic according to human understanding. We are all different and unique in our persons, and God grants us His experience of Him both based on our desire for Him and also per His will for us as individual persons.
Christ reminded Peter or this at the end of the Gospel of John when Peter was comparing himself to John and Christ essentially said to Peter it doesn’t matter to you Peter, what my will is for John, you Peter, need to follow Me according to how I have called you. And of course, we can never confuse what points to the Light, for the Light Himself. This is where a lot or the world is. They confuse the pointers to the Light with the real thing, mistaking the experience of these pointers with the experience of the Light Himself.
But how do we, who are not Saints as we commonly understand the meaning of the word, but are saints, that is believers, as in the New Testament use of the word. How do we, ordinary believers who are not Saints, experience God’s light? There are myriad ways and I am going to suggest a few based on my personal experience which I am going to assume are a shared experience for many of you. Experiencing God’s Light was described as something not so much we see, but that we sense and feel intuitively in the depth of being, in our nous, that deep part of us, commonly referred to as the heart, where we know and connect with God.
First, we have the Church to experience God’s Light. Ask yourself how often you come out of Church after a beautiful service where you received the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and you feel such a sense of peace and contentment and joy. That’s experiencing God’s divine energy or God’s Light through your union with Him.
Have you ever encountered a person who just seemed to have a light about them? I see it a lot in the faces of devoted and committed clergy and laity who just seem to have something about them that comes through in their faces. I also experience it in nature and that is why I love to take country and forest walks and hikes or be in the mountains or beaches in solitude.
That’s what happened to me on the Feast Day of the Transfiguration when I couldn’t be in Church. I was on this beautiful mountain and forest hike with sunlight, running waterfalls and it was so beautiful I just felt God’s presence all around me. I found my thoughts constantly going to God and thanking Him for His creation and being able to experience the beauty and peace and joy that came with it.
But here is what I didn’t do. I didn’t for a moment mistake the created for the Creator. Nor did I experience nature impersonally. I experienced it as an experience of communion because in those moments I was participating in the life of Christ through the beauty of His creation. To me, all of it led my mind and heart to our Personal God. I am making this point because I was with a naturalist who was leading the hike. He was a great guy and he was explaining and appreciating the hike from a spiritual perspective but not in a personal way. When he spoke reverently about nature, he never went beyond nature itself and Who it pointed to. He stopped short of this and simply revered creation.
My intent is not to denigrate him in any way because He was wonderful person who taught me a lot that day from a naturalist perspective. It was just that this encounter and experience brought some things to mind because they are close to my heart. Too often I have heard people over the years say things like, “Let go and let the universe guide you” as if the Universe were some sort of deity or personal force as opposed to a created thing. Or I have heard people say after a great natural experience “I felt at one with nature.” Of course, I completely understand what they felt and meant, but this oneness is closeness with God whose creation and the beauty of it draws us to Him, draws us to experience Him, but not in some detached nominalist way in which we are more present in the observation of the experience than in the experience itself.
When people believe that the universe, or nature, has this power within itself apart from God it’s a form of pantheism. Fr. George Morelli explains: “As Father of the created world, God creates from without. In other words, creation exists apart from Him. Creation is not equivalent to Him. God as Father is transcendent to what He creates. There is no room for pantheism.”[vi]
It gets back to St. Gregory Palamas’s distinction between God’s essence and His energies. Another saint, St. Athanasius, describes God’s essence and energies like this: “He [God that is] is outside all things according to His essence but He is in all things through His acts of power.” Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes that God’s essence is His nature or inner being and His energies are His operations or acts of power.[vii]
I get concerned today with it plurality or beliefs to include new age thought systems and competing spiritualties, and secular atheist thought that diminishes everything beyond human rationale to superstition, that our children and grandchildren will get exposed and potentially enamored with this type of pantheistic thought. We often convey and teach our faith in a legalistic way where dutiful obligation to a set of rules and requirements because you believe in God is what makes your Christian. We don’t often teach enough about the depth and beautify of our sacramental understanding of reality that celebrates all of reality, all of creation, as a way of communion with our loving God. One of the reasons that people gravitate toward new age and eastern spiritual practices is because of its celebration and appreciation of the spiritual beauty of natural world and its transcendent nature. But it’s lacking in the end because it is missing something or, to be more accurate someone.
We have all of this appreciation for the same things in Orthodox Christianity but with one huge difference. It all points to a personal God who loves us, and further, beyond just pointing, it allows us to experience Him in an intimate loving way. That’s what we need to make sure our children, grandchildren, and fellow believers never lose sight of. We need to do our best, to measure we have this understanding and experience, to help them understand and experience our faith knowing it is all about leading us to ever deepening understanding and experience with the Transcendent, that is a loving personal God, not adhering to a set of rules and regulations. The latter is nothing more than a cold understanding that will create a natural dichotomy, or divide, in their thoughts and hearts that will lead them to understand Christ and His Church and God’s natural world as two separate unrelated realities.
This will only lead them to seek to fulfill their deep spiritual need, whether they recognize this need consciously or not, someplace else. And we care about this not because we are trying to win converts over to the Christian faith, but because we know our faith is the true reality, and the only reality that exists is God, and we can only find our real and true growth and fulfillment in Him.
[iv] Orthodox Study Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2008,
[v] Orthodox Study Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2008
[vi] Father George Morelli, The Power of the Name: Implications for Orthodox Psycho-Theology, http://www.antiochian.org/node/21250
[vii] Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, SVS Press, 1999,