Generally, grace simply means “kindness” or “favor” in English as it does in the Greek. For those trying to learn Orthodox doctrine, the treatment of grace is much different. Even though grace can also have its obvious meaning, it often has a different, very loaded meaning. That is, grace is understood to mean a participation in God’s energies.
This presupposes many things are understood from the Scriptures and Church tradition, including the energies-essence distinction and a doctrine of Theosis (which is that salvation is an experience of literal union with God via His energies). And so, being that such a definition of grace presupposes a justification paradigm totally different than Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, it should be no surprise that such a pregnant meaning for the word “grace” would elicit skepticism from the heterodox.
However, one can demonstrate that the preceding paradigm is found in Greek in the New Testament. One can turn to Eph 3 to see it in plain sight:
[Y]ou have heard of the stewardship of the grace of God which was given to me for you…of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working [ἐνέργειαν] of His power [δυνάμεως, lit. “potential [energy]”]. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace [the energies of God] was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Eph 3:2, 7-8)
In the above, Saint Paul states something simple. He is a “steward” of God’s grace. This would be highly metaphorical if preaching is the sole means in which Paul imparts grace. Stewardship is much more literal if Paul is imparting literal grace through sacraments or something tangible. In any event, Paul tells us what this grace is. “The gift of grace of God” was “given to me by the effective working,” the Greek using the term energy, “of His power” or “potential [energies].” Saint Paul likely has in mind Wis 7:25, where Christ is called the “Power of God” and “the unspotted mirror of God’s energies” using the same Greek terminology.
And so, what Paul has in mind is that his gift of grace was given by Christ, who for all intents and purposes is the “effective working of His,” God the Father’s, “power” (or potential energies). The preceding presupposes that every essence has an energy, an idea that comes from Aristotelian metaphysics. These are contemporary philosophical terms which must be understood within their context.
To put it more simply and address the relevant question at hand, Paul is asserting he receives grace via God’s energies (in the Person of Christ, see Gal 2:20). And so, in Eph 3 there is a very clear, and unequivocal, discussion of grace within the Orthodox paradigm.
If one can perceive the preceding as a legitimate Scriptural meaning for grace, it makes sense of many passing passages. One that particularly comes to mind is 2 Tim 2:1–
You therefore, my son, be strong in the [τῇ] grace that is in [ἐν] Christ Jesus.
“The grace” is not “from” Christ, but “in” Christ. While one can infer that union with Christ (“in Christ”) permits the Christian to attain to divine favor, such and interpretation is a restrictive reading of grace. Further, the definite article would make such a reading awkward (“be strong in the divine favor…”). However, a reading which presupposes that “the grace” is “the participation in divine energies in Christ” would make perfect sense. Hence, the Orthodox paradigm, because it is Scriptural, can be read into other passages and improve the reader’s exegesis.
One last passage is relevant to the conversation at hand:
[B]eing confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work [ἔργον] in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. (Phil 1:6-7)
Here, Paul speaks of the Philippians of all being “partakers with me of grace” (cf 2 Pet 1:3-4), something which he describes as God having “begun a good work in you.” God’s working (a derivative of “energy” in the Greek) is the grace Paul is speaking of. Grace is not merely reduced to being a kind disposition from God, but literally something God is doing in (or imparting to) man. This paradigm of grace is implicit later in the epistle:
[W]ork out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Phil 2:12-13)
As one can see, grace is God doing something in man and man uses this grace by responding to it and working with it (i.e. synergy). This is why when Paul aspires to attain to God’s righteousness, and not his own, he is not invoking a forensic imputation of righteousness, but an actual participation in grace:
…I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. (Phil 3:8-9)
And so, I will conclude the article on this note: Though grace’s most common meaning in the Scriptures pertains to God’s favor or kindly disposition towards mankind, it is not its exclusive meaning. The Orthodox inference that grace is ultimately a term that pertains to a participation in God’s energies is in fact Scriptural.