Monthly Archives: May 2018

The Orthodox Faith – The Holy Trinity (2)

As we have seen, the two fundamental dogmas of the Orthodox Church are the Trinity and the Incarnation. The dogma of the Trinity is that God is one in essence or substance and He is three in persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Incarnation is that Jesus Christ is true God and true man. We will look at the Incarnation later and continue our discussion of the Trinity now.

Christianity is a monotheistic religion; we believe in one God. This is a belief that we share with Judaism and Islam. However, there is a major difference between Christianity and the other two, which is the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God is a Trinity of persons. For Jews and Moslems this belief in the Trinity is at best a grave error and at worst a blasphemy against God. However, let us remember that the dogma is not based on any kind of speculation, but rather is based on the experience of the Apostles that Jesus was the Son of God. Despite this, the Church asserts her believe in the One God.

When we look at the doctrine of the Holy Trinity we see it primarily in the New Testament. The Old Testament Jews were not in a position to see that God had a son. In the Old Testament we see the Jewish people worshipping false gods, any gods. Over the centuries God sent prophets to strengthen their faith in the one God. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity would simply have misled them.

Nevertheless, there are hints which point to the Trinity.   For example, one of the most common names for God in the Old Testament is Elohim one of its variants. We see this right at the beginning of the Bible in Genesis (Gen 1:1)

In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth.

The word Elohim, with its variant is found even in the pagan religions in the Middle Ages. However, this word originally had a plural meaning, gods. In the Old Testament the word is used with a singular meaning. Knowing that the Hebrews were tempted by false gods why should this plural word be used to apply to the one God? First, it can be a plural of majesty. For example, in the Roman Papacy and the English monarchy, popes and monarchs often used the word “we” to refer to themselves. In other words, the King or Pope man say “It is our command…” This is old fashioned but this is one explanation of Elohim in the Bible. For Christians, the use of a plural noun for a singular subject is a hint of the Trinity. In other words, it points forward to the Triune God revealed in the New Testament. The word Elohim is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the one God.

An important example of this is in Genesis 1:26:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….

The Father teaches us that the plural Elohim used here in the creation of man shows that human beings are made in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity, which is indeed one and three.

Another such example of the Trinity of God is in Psalm 33:6

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.

In other words, God the Father is creating the world together with His Word (Jesus Christ) and His breath (the Holy Spirit). When Christians read this passage we see it pointing to the Holy Trinity.

For Christians, the Old Testament is a collection of books which have the purpose of pointing to Jesus Christ, whom we see as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. Jews did not see it that way and have other explanations of the above-mentioned words and passages. But for us, they point to Jesus who fulfilled all the hope of the Old Testament.

In the next article we will continue looking at the Trinity in the Old Testament.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The Holy Trinity (1)

After looking at the Symbol of Faith (the Creed), we now begin to look at one of the most important dogmas of the faith, the Holy Trinity (the other fundamental doctrine, the Incarnation, will be covered at a later date).  In modern society, dogma is considered a negative thing. It is said that a dogma is something which restricts freedom of thought, that an authority imposes on people to bind them. However, this is not the case. A dogma is a teaching which originates in the life experience of the Church. This is not the experience of church leaders who impose this teaching on everyone else. No, the Holy Spirit leads the entire people of God to express in words this fundamental experience.

The doctrine of the Trinity proclaims that God is one in substance or essence and three in persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that there are three gods or that the divine essence is divided into three parts, or that sometimes God wears the mask of Father or Son or the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity is completely and always God.

We might ask ourselves how this teaching arose. In the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible, we see God sending prophets to the Jewish people to teach them that there is only one, true God and one should worship only Him. As we see in the Old Testament, the Jewish people were tempted to fall into polytheism, the worship of many (false) gods. This is what the pagans who surrounded the Israelites did and the Jews frequently fell into this error. It took centuries for the prophets sent by God to teach the Jewish people that there ws only one God.

By the time Jesus Christ appeared, the Jews were finally set on a belief in the one, true God. The Jews maintained this teaching even in the face of persecution and martyrdom. Jesus, of course, believed in the one God whom he called Abba, or dear father and the apostles did also.

So how did this idea that God was one and also three arise? It is from the experience of the Apostles. For example, we see that Jesus Christ said he had the authority to forgive sins, a divine authority. Jesus demonstrated His possession of this right though his miracles and healings. We see that Jesus calmed storms at sea, worked many healings and even raised people from the dead. Jesus regularly addressed God as Abba. Abba is an Aramaic word meaning something like dear father. It was a term that Aramaic speakers used to express their love and closeness to their own fathers. The Jews never used this world to address God because they felt it wasn’t respectful enough. This is the word that Jesus used to pray to the Father, showing that He was claiming a sonship unique to Himself. And of course, Christ rose form the dead.

All of the above-mentioned things shows that Jesus Christ had a unique relationship to God.

Of course, the Apostles were devout Jews, ready to die for their belief in the one God so it took a while for them to truly recognize who Christ really was.

At first they called Jesus teacher or rabbi or prophet. They began to realize that these title were not adequate to express their experience of Jesus Christ. They began to call him Son of God. But even then they didn’t fully realize what this meant. The Apostles finally recognized who Jesus was after the Resurrection when we see St. Thomas address Jesus as “my Lord and my God”. Even at that, it took the Church centuries to learn how to express the belief that God is one, but also three. But this dogma is rooted in the Church’s experience of God.

Fr. John