I ruminated on this teaching of the Christian East for some yesterday. For myself, I have always had great difficulty in understanding St. Gregory and the whole essence/energies issue, though I have poured over the theologians famous work entitled The Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts several times. However, as I thought about it all, I was reminded of the paradoxical nature of both his teaching and of Christianity as a whole. Christianity, unlike pretty much every other religion I have ever encountered, seems to have always been highly paradoxical.
C.S. Lewis writes about the Christian teaching on God that "It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits so well with all things we know already."2 Though the teaching of the East on God's essence and His qualities/energies/attributes etc. is hard to understand, once it has been encountered, it gradually makes sense. I began to think how paradoxical the other great doctrines on the Holy Trinity throughout the history of the Church have been - not only that there is one God in three Persons, but that Jesus was both man and God, that Jesus had two wills not one, and all the rest. When one really sits down to think upon these things, one immediately encounters their paradoxical nature.
But just because they appear as paradox does not mean that they are non-sense, as though they were merely oxymorons. Faith is not always defined by what seems most reasonable to us, or fits in a rational box. It is precisely because of this paradoxical nature that I think they speak to such Truth. "If Christianity was something that we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact."3 (C.S. Lewis)
1 - qtd. in Palamas, The Triads, pg. 147
2 - Mere Christianity, IV:2
3 - ibid.