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Δευτέρα, 16 Δεκεμβρίου 2013

The Orthodox Way

We are going to use the book, The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware. It’s a brilliant text that gets at the heart and essence of Orthodox Christianity. His other book, The Orthodox Church, focuses on the history and doctrinal theology. Perhaps we will study that in the future. Last week we covered the Prologue called “Signposts on the Way” and Chapter One titled “God as Mystery.” Today we will cover chapter two.

Chapter Two: God as Trinity, p.33

God as Mutual Love

What is this one God that we believe in? He is one God but known in three persons: Father, Son & Holy Spirit. A diversity in unity, and more than a unity—a community. God is a triunity: three equal persons, each one dwelling in the other two by virtue of an unceasing movement of mutual love. What do we mean by this? The Latin phrase, “Amo ergo sum” or “I love therefore I am” can serve as a motto for the Holy Trinity. The final end of the spiritual Way is that we humans should also become part of this Trinitarian coinherence (Greek ‘perichoresis’). Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His passion, “May they all be one as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, so may they also be one in us” (John 17:21).

Why is it important for us to believe in God as Trinity? For one, it is the manner in which God has revealed Himself but perhaps more importantly, it is as Vladimir Lossky says, “a cross for human ways of thought.” Thus it requires a radical act of metanoia, not merely a gesture of formal assent, but a true change of mind and heart. In addition, the two most important ways to enter into the divine mystery is to affirm that God is personal and that God is love. Love cannot exist in isolation but presupposes the other. Selflove is the negation of genuine love. As Charles Williams has shown in his novel ‘Descent into Hell’, self-love signifies the end of all joy and all meaning. Hell is not other people. Hell is myself, cut off from others in self-centeredness.

One helpful analogy to understand God as Trinity is three torches burning with a single flame. Three Persons in One Essence, p.36 Christ said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). What did He mean? The answer can be found in the decrees, especially the Creed, of the first two ecumenical councils (Nicaea 325; Constantinople 381). The central and decisive affirmation is that Jesus Christ is ‘true God from true God’, ‘one essence’ and ‘consubstantial’ (Greek – ‘homoousios’) with God the Father. In God there is eternally true unity combined with genuinely personal differentiation: the term ‘essence/substance/being’ (Grk. ‘ousia’) indicates unity, and the term ‘person’ (Grk. ‘hypostosis’ & ‘prosopon’) indicates differentiation. There is distinction, but not separation, between the three persons. This distinction is regarded as eternal, existing within the nature of God Himself. The Father, Son & Holy Spirit are not modes, moods or masks of the Divinity. Each person possesses not one third of the Godhead but each has the entire Godhead in its totality. 

St. Gregory of Nyssa says, “There is between the three a sharing and a differentiation that are beyond words and understanding. He emphasizes that the doctrine of the Trinity is ‘paradoxical’ and lies ‘beyond words and understanding’. It is something revealed to us by God, not demonstrated to us by our own reason. The Trinity is not a philosophical theory but the living God whom we worship. Personal Characteristics, p.39

The first person of the Trinity, God the Father, is the ‘fountain’ of the Godhead, the source, the cause or principle of origin for the other two persons. He is the bond of unity between the three. The Son of God is ‘begotten’ of the Father and the Spirit ‘proceeds’ from the Father.

The second person of the Trinity is the Son of God, his ‘Word’ or Logos. To speak of God as Father and Son emphasizes the movement of mutual love mentioned earlier. He was incarnate and born on earth as a man by the Holy Spirit, taking His humanity from the Virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem. Being the eternal Word and Son of God, He was at work before His incarnation. Logos means He is the principle of order and purpose that permeates all things because He is the Creator of everything. In addition, He has imparted to each created thing its own indwelling logos or inner principle which makes it distinct from all other creatures.

The third person is the Holy Spirit, the ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ of God. We can say that the Spirit is God within us, the Son is God with us and the Father is God above or beyond us. Just as the Son shows us the Father, so it is the Spirit who shows us the Son, making Him present to us Why speak of God as Father and Son, and not as Mother and Daughter? Why are the symbols used to refer to God masculince and not feminine? 

For one, the symbols are not chosen by us but they are revealed and given to us by God Himself. These symbols can be verified, lived, prayed but cannot be proved logically. These symbols are not given arbitrarily but reach deep into the hidden roots of our being. Thus, they cannot be altered without momentous consequences. Thus, just as we accept the revelation of the one God as three persons, we also accept the revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Even the saints and Fathers of the Church acknowledged the difficulty of understanding these revelations. Referring to the different ways the Son and Spirit emanate from the Father, St. John of Damascus says, “We have been told that there is a difference between generation and procession, but what is the nature of this difference, we do not understand at all.” St. Basil the Great says, “Our reasoning brain is weak and our tongue is weaker still. It is easier to measure the entire sea with a tiny cup than to grasp God’s ineffable greatness with the human mind.”

The Two Hands of God, p.44

St. Irenaeus speaks of the Son and the Spirit as the ‘two hands’ of God the Father; and in every creative and sanctifying act the Father is using both ‘hands’ at once. The scripture and worship of the Church provide repeated examples of this:

1. Creation- “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Breath of His mouth” (Psalm 33:6). 1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3)

2. Incarnation- At the Annunciation (March 25th) the Father sends the Holy Spirit upon the Blessed Virgin Mary and she conceives the eternal Son of God (Luke 1:35). The Incarnation is not only the work of the Trinity but also the work of Mary’s free will as she says, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Your word” (Luke 1:38).

3. Baptism of Christ- In the Orthodox Tradition this is seen as a revelation of the Trinity. The Father’s voice from heave bears witness to the Son, saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” At the same moment the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descends from the Father and rests upon the Son (Mt.3:16-17). The Feast is called ‘Theophany’ because it is a revelation of God. The Apolytikion reflects the Trinitarian epiphany: “When You, O Lord, were baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest. For the voice of the Father bore witness to You, calling you His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the Word as sure and steadfast.”

4. Transfiguration of Christ- This is also a Trinitarian epiphany. The Father again testifies as a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him” (Mt.17:5), while the Spirit descends upon the Son in the form of a cloud of light (Lk.9:34).

5. Eucharistic Epiklesis- When we invoke the Holy Trinity during the Divine Liturgy, the words are addressed to God the Father as the priest prays: “We offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood. And we pray and beseech and implore You: Send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and these gifts here presented. And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ; And that which is in this cup to be the precious Blood of Your Christ; transforming them by Your Holy Spirit.” So, like the Annunciation, in the Eucharist the Son is incarnate in the gifts of bread and wine by the power of the Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Holy Trinity are always working together.

Praying the Trinity, p.46

The prayers to God in the Church are Trinitarian in nature. The daily prayers said each morning begin with a glorification of the Trinity as we make the sign of the Cross with these words, “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Then we pray to the Holy Spirit, “O heavenly King…”, then “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal have mercy on us” (3 times) recalling the hymn sung by the angelic seraphim recorded in Isaiah’s vision (Is.6:3) and by the four apocalyptic beasts in Revelation (Rev.4:8). Then we pray the most frequent of all liturgical phrases, “Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…” And then another prayer, “All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord forgive our sins. Master pardon our transgressions. Holy One visit and heal our infirmities for Your name’s sake.” This is all done before we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Even the Jesus Prayer, the prayer we should continually pray throughout the day, is Trinitarian. “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The phrase “Son of God” of course points to God the Father but the prayer also invokes the Holy spirit because “no one can say ‘Lord Jesus’ except by the Holy Spirit’ (1Cor.12:3). Living the Trinity, p.48

“Prayer is action” said Tito Colliander. “What is pure prayer? Prayer which is brief in words but abundant in actions. For if your actions do not exceed your petitions, then your prayers are mere words, and the seed of the hands is not in them” (Sayings of the Desert Fathers).

Before the Creed, the priest exclaims, “Let us love one another so that with one mind we may confess.” The people respond by singing, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the Trinity one in essence and inseparable.” Thus, a genuine confession of faith in the Triune God can be made only by those who, after the likeness of the Trinity, show love mutually towards each other. Each social unit—the family, the school, the business, the parish, the Church universal—is to be made in an icon of the Trinity. St. John Chrysostom says, “I cannot believe that it is possible for a man to be saved if he does not labor for the salvation of his neighbor.” 

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