Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Worshiping the Undivided Trinity


Dear Parish Faithful,



We have seen the true Light! We have received the heavenly Spirit! We have found the true Faith! Worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us. (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)


This past Sunday was Pentecost, but it is also referred to as the Day of the Holy Trinity, and the Monday that follows is known as the Day of the Holy Spirit. That is because on Pentecost Sunday, the full revelation of God's nature is manifest to the world. And that revelation is of the Three Persons of the Trinity - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, into whose name we are baptized, according to the commandment of Christ. (MATT. 28:19) The coming of the Holy Spirit has completed this revelation to the world once and for all. The One, living God that we know as Orthodox Christians is the Father, together with His co-eternal Son and lifegiving Spirit. This worship of the "undivided Trinity" is the "true Faith" concerning God. And we know this because we have "received the heavenly Spirit" whose descent into the world we continue to celebrate this week, the importance of which is marked by it being a "fast-free week."

From all eternity the Son of God is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The three Persons share the identical divine nature and exist in an eternal communion of love. But this was revealed over and through time to us and to the world. This has been termed a "progressive revelation" that God in His wisdom has prepared for His creatures, so that we could slowly assimilate and "absorb" this ultimate truth. St. Gregory the Theologian (this title was given to him because of his brilliant treatises on the Trinity) explained it in a very influential passage:

The Old Testament preached the Father clearly, but the Son only in an obscure manner. The New Testament revealed the Son, but did no more than hint at the godhead of the Holy Spirit. Today the Spirit dwells among us, manifesting himself to us more and more clearly. For it was not safe, when the divinity of the Father had not yet been acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor, when that of the Son had not yet been accepted, to burden us further - if I may use a somewhat bold expression - with the Holy Spirit.

So, by gradual additions and ascents, advancing from glory to glory, the splendour of the Holy Trinity shines upon the more enlightened. You see illuminations breaking upon us gradually; while the order of theology, which it is better for us to observe, prevents us both from proclaiming everything at once and from keeping it all hidden to the end. (Oration 31, 26-7.)


As Orthodox Christians, we must know the God that we worship, for we do not worship an "unknown God" (ACTS 17:22-34). We are not "deists" or "unitarians." Neither are we monotheists in the same manner as Jews and Muslims. We are trinitarian monotheists. "We have seen the true Light!" It does not help to simply say, "We all believe in the same God." For if we do all believe in the "same God," then we need to explore the nature of God to the extent that we are able. If we have been taught, and then teach our own children, to make the sign of the Cross "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," then we need to understand what we are proclaiming by this simple but profound gesture. As we pray, we need also to study. No Orthodox Christian should be "intimidated" by the dogma of the Holy Trinity, protesting ignorance or a false humility as a cover-up for intellectual or spiritual laziness. There is clarity to be found in Truth. A profound mystery is not an obscure riddle. If your neighbor were to ask you what you meant by the Holy Trinity, then you must be prepared to say something simple and to the point - but accurate. The saints have suffered and died for their belief in the Holy Trinity. We honor them by our own commitment to receive this "true Faith" in a spirit of worship, prayer, humility, and the burning desire to illuminate our minds and hearts with the triune presence of God.

At home and at church we and our children continuously praise the Holy Trinity through the simple prayer we know as the "Trisagion" (from the Gk. meaning "thrice-holy"): "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!" This is not a prayer to God "in general," but one that is meant to raise our minds and hearts to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit on a daily basis, both communal and personal. At the Vespers of Pentecost served this last Sunday, one of the hymns - especially the latter half - offered a beautiful and profound explanation of the Trisagion, a hymn that both praises and teaches simultaneously, as the best of our hymnography does. Here is a short piece of theology that everyone can "meditate" upon with care, seeking to understand the deep trinitarian teaching embedded in the hymn; thus illuminating our experience of prayer so that familiarity does not breed indifference, but an ever-growing relationship with the God that we worship as the source and salvation of our lives - the holy, consubstantial, life-creating and undivided Trinity:

Come, let us worship the Tri-Personal
Godhead,
The Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit,
The Father timelessly begets the co-
reigning and coeternal Son.
The Holy Spirit was in the Father,
glorified equally with the Son,
One Power, One Substance, One Godhead!

In worshiping Him, let us all say:
Holy God: who made all things through
the Son,
With the cooperation of the Spirit.
Holy Mighty: through whom we know
the Father,
Through Whom the Holy Spirit came
into the world!
Holy Immortal: the comforting Spirit,
Proceeding from the Father and resting
in the Son.

O Holy Trinity: glory to Thee!



Fr. Steven

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