ORTHODOX CATECHISM TOPICS
God in Trinity
A Communion of Persons
By: Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos
PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy
We Orthodox Christians believe in a Trinitarian God. God is not an isolated being, but communion and love. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; He is not one Person but three. Between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit there exists a pre-eternal communion of love. This does not imply, however, that we Christians believe in three Gods, but in One. There is but one divine essence and it is indivisible. This is why we speak of one God in Trinity. The unique source of the one divine essence is the Father. He it is who transmits pre-eternally, (icpoai-ωρίως) i.e. without beginning, existence to the Son through pre-eternal generation, and to the Holy Spirit, through pre-eternal procession.
Here we must note that in the Orthodox Church "procession" is contrasted to "sending". The Holy Spirit proceeds pre-eternally from the Father alone. "In time" (temporally) He is sent from the Son for the salvation of man. In other words a distinction is made between the pre-eternal transmission of the divine essence from the Father, and the Divine Economy, i.e. the mystery of man's salvation (John 15,26). The Orthodox Church does not accept the so-called "Filioque", the teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds "and from the Son".
Our faith in the Triune God is not a man-made discovery, but revelation from God. He who is unapproachable for man, reveals Himself to man and becomes approachable.
Already in the Old Testament the Triune God appears as the Creator of man and the entire world. He is created not by the Father alone, but from the Father through the Son and is perfected "in the Holy Spirit", with one will and one energy. "In the beginning God created the Heaven and the earth...and the spirit of God was moving over the face of the water", the Old Testament tells us characteristically, using in Hebrew the word Elohim for God, which is a plural form. And for the creation of man God spoke and said: "let us make man according to our image and likeness" (Gen. 1,26).
We confess that there is only one will and one energy for the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Father wills and acts those things which the Son and the Holy Spirit will and act. Many passages in Holy Scripture manifest the unity of will and energy of the divine Persons which make up the One and Trinitarian God. That is why they are characterized as "Lord" (Kyrios), "The Lord God" or even " The Lord Pantocrator" (Almighty). These characteristics are at times attributed to the Father, at other times to the Son and at other times to the Holy Spirit. Thus, the "Lord" whom Isaiah saw (Isaiah 6,1-10) is, according to John 12,36-41, the Son, while according to Acts 28,25-27, the Holy Spirit.
This Trinitarian faith is expressed by Orthodox Christians by the manner in which they baptize and in the way they glorify God: they are baptized "in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (Mtth. 28,19) and they glorify the Triune God: "glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit". Orthodox Christians then are baptized in the way that they believe and glorify God: in harmony with their Trinitarian faith. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity are not separated, neither are they confused; they exist one in the other (perichoresis); i.e. each one of the divine persons is always within each of the other two. There where the Father is, is also the Son and the Holy Spirit. And wherever the Son is, there also is the Father and the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son.
As we have mentioned, there is only one source which pre-eternally provides the divine essence: the Father. That which has been revealed to us concerning the distinction of the divine persons is the manner in which the divine essence is imparted: to the Son: through pre-eternal generation; the Father pre-eternally begets the Son; to the Holy Spirit: through pre-eternal procession; the Holy Spirit pre-eternally proceeds from the Father.
This divine revelation of the Triune God was given for man's salvation and not in order to satisfy his curiosity. According to the Christian teaching, man was created according to God's image. Knowing therefore that God is a communion of persons, man delves into the knowledge of his own nature; he realizes that he also is not condemned to isolation, but created for communion and love. If God, who is man's archetype, were not Triune, then man could never realize that which he so deeply desires: communion and love. His entire life would be without any release. This is why we declare that our faith in the Holy Trinity constitutes man's only hope: "we have found true faith in worshipping the Trinity undivided; for the Trinity has saved us" epigrammatically states one of the hymns of the Divine Liturgy.
In regard to this faith, the Orthodox Christian does not try to convince others with logical arguments so that they will accept it. For should he do so, he is obliged to move about in the field of purely human searching and not on the level of God's revelation.
Addressing himself to the Corinthians, St. Paul underlines: "God has revealed [these things] to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God...So also no one comprehends God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed upon us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one." (I Cor. 2, 10-15).
In unity with the Trinitarian faith the Orthodox Church chants:
"Come, Ο ye peoples, let us worship the Godhead of three Hypostases:
the Son in the Father, with the Holy Spirit; for the Father timelessly begat the Son,
Who is co-eternal and of one throne; and the Holy Spirit was in the Father, glorified with the Son; one Might, one Essence, one Godhead, which we all worship saying:
Who didst create all things through the Son, with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit.
through Whom we have known the Father,
and through Whom the Holy Spirit came to the world.
Holy Immortal, the Comforting Spirit,
Who proceedest from the Father and resteth in the Son. Ο Holy Trinity, glory be to Thee
(the Doxastikon of Pentecost Vespers).
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
Its Faith, Worship and Life
Rev. Antonios Alevisopoulos, Th. D. Ph. D
Translated by Rev. Stephen Avramides