God in Communion
The Hospitality of Abraham by Andrei Rublev
Key Facts and Ideas
If you have worked through the first three Units on this web site you will have realised by now that the Orthodox Christian revelation and experience of God is expressed by the doctrine of the Trinity. This dogma is necessary to do justice both to Trinitarian experience and Christian insistence on there being one and only one God.
Of all the things the Orthodox Church is well known by, its adherence to the Trinitarian nature of God is perhaps the most remarkable. Knowing this it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that the Orthodox Church does not have a special feast day for the Trinity; rather this is celebrated with the Holy Spirit during the week of Pentecost, (the third day). This is because it is only with the gift of the Holy Spirit that the Trinity becomes a necessary doctrine to defend the unity of God in creation, salvation and sanctification.
It would be a mistake to think that the Trinity somehow "defines" God. Such a rationalistic, analytical, approach to God is entirely foreign to Orthodoxy. The Trinity fundamentally derives from encounter and worship in communion with God revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Such understanding as the Orthodox Church has received through revelation in Tradition is as follows.
The three hypostases ("persons") share one Godhead in Being but each hypostasis is distinct. In every action of God all three hypostases work together as one.
God’s actual nature, however, is forever and completely unknowable by us. This lies completely beyond all human ideas, thoughts and language in mystery, (Isaiah 55:11). We do not, therefore, think about the Trinity, we worship the Trinity and it is in worship that we know and understand in a language deeper than the words that are used. Our language about the Trinity is, therefore, measured and humble before the great mystery that is the God of love.
The Trinity has in some ways been better appreciated in visual iconic symbolism than words. The famous 14th century icon of the hospitality of Abraham by the Russian master Andrei Rublev refers historically to the angelic visitation to Abraham and Sarah at Mamre [Genesis 18:1-15]. The symbolic interpretation of the icon, however, belongs to the Blessed Trinity. The unity, harmony and authority of the three figures speaks volumes to the heart, more so than any dry systematic thesis lying unloved and unlived on a dusty library bookshelf. (See Resources section for an explanation).
Finally we should remark that the Trinity is a communion of persons (hypostases) not a solitary being. This communion is one of relational love, not a monolithic ‘block’ of unyielding divinity. The Christian insistence that "God is Love" [1 John 4:7-8] shows that God Himself is the perfect expression of Love and Love is of essence and action, relational. What He is in Himself, He is also toward us, an open communion of relational covenant love. Truly, there is no Christianity without the Trinity.
God is Trinity as the Word and the Spirit ever make the Love of the Father known and active.
What happens to Christianity without belief in the Holy Trinity?
1. The Holy Trinity by Fr. Thomas Hopko
2. Rublev's Icon of the Trinity
3.St. Basil the Great's Letter 38 to St. Gregory of Nyssa concerning "The Difference between 'Ousia' and 'Hypostasis.'" (CCEL Library)
4. St. Gregory of Nyssa to Ablabius on "Not Three Gods." (CCEL Library)
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