|Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes - Orthodox Spirituality - Orthodox Teachings on the Most Holy Trinity|
Orthodox Teachings on the Most Holy Trinity
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
When we open up our prayer books, or listen to any opening prayer in the Holy Orthodox Church what is directed is to the Holy Spirit, who can be described as the “Paraclete” and the “Spirit of Truth,” while the creed speaks of the “Giver of Life.” Therefore we have the question what is the Holy Spirit? He is the third person of the Holy Trinity, one person of the same essence with the other two persons of the one Christian God. All of pious and faithful of the Orthodox Church whole purpose of their Christian life on earth is to acquire (the acquisition) the Holy Spirit. Now we know that the true aim or the spiritual podvig (the inner struggle) is acquisition of the Holy Spirit. The fasts, vigils, (attending the Liturgical cycle of the Church, and praying at home) charities, and other good works done in the name of Christ are the means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.
In order to learn about the Orthodox teachings about the Most Holy Trinity, I would like to humbly share with you first the fundamental dogmas of the Orthodox Church are briefly stated in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, i.e., in the confession of faith proclaimed by the two Ecumenical Councils held in Nicea. (Translated from the Greek by His Eminence, Metropolitan Isaiah, and Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver).
1. I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
2. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things were made.
3. Who for us and for our salvation came down from the heavens and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man;
4. Crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, He suffered and was buried.
5. Rising on the third day according to the Scriptures.
6. And ascending into the heavens, He is seated at the right hand of the Father;
7. And coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead, His kingdom shall have no end;
8. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets.
9. In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church;
10. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
11. I expect the resurrection of the dead;
12. And the life of the age to come. Amen.
In the first article of the Creed we said: I believe in one God the Father.
In the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh articles of the Creed we said we believe: In one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In the eighth article of the Creed we said we believe: In the Holy Spirit.
These three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all make up the One God, whom we call the Holy Trinity. They are not three gods, but one: Divine Trinity. This is the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.
We believe that the Father God is uncreated. No one made Him. The Father is unborn, because He always existed. He was not born.
Christ the Son is uncreated. God the Father did not create, did not construct, and did not make Him. Christ was born of God the Father before all the ages. We said this in our Creed number two: And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things were made.
We also say that the Most Holy Spirit is uncreated. No one created Him. The Holy Spirit precedes from God the Father.
These then are the three persons of the Holy Trinity. They are three distinctive persons, but one God.
The Father is God, but the Father is neither Son nor Holy Spirit. The Son is God, but the Son is neither Father nor the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, but the Holy Spirit is neither Father, nor Son.
The Father is no different than the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son is no different than the Father and the Son. There is One God in three persons.
For this reason we offer the same honor to each person of the Holy Trinity. We believe in, honor and worship God the Father in the same manner as we believe in, honor and worship the Son and the Holy Spirit.“God is a Holy Trinity. A Trinity Consubstantial and indivisible. Consubstantial, i.e., one essence, one nature. A Trinity indivisible: the Son has never been divided from the Father, nor the Holy Spirit from the Father or the Son, and never will be divided.”
St. John (Maximovitch) of San Francisco
Let me humbly share with you also what St. John of San Francisco wrote about “The Holy Trinity.”“FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT
have One Nature, One Essence.
Thus the Three Persons are the Trinity, One in Essence.
“Men have also one nature. But whereas God is a Trinty One in Essence, in men there constantly occur divisions.
In Father, Son, and Holy Spirit there are One Thought, One Will, One Activity.
What the Father desires, that also the Son desires, and that the Holy Spirit desires. What the Son loves, that also the Father loves, and the Holy Spirit. What is pleasing to the Holy Spirit, is pleasing also to the Father and to the Son.
Their Activity is likewise one, everything is done jointly and harmoniously.”
Such is the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.
We have to keep in mind that when speak of the Old and New Testament we are speaking about Jesus Christ who existed in both Testaments. Christ our Lord as Pre-Incarnate Lord of Glory.
I would like to share with you a few teachings from the saints of our Orthodox Church about the Most Holy Trinity, as we begin realize that the grace of the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church, and everything the Church does is ever blessed through this grace. St. Cosmas of Aitolos (commemorated on August 24) wrote: “The Holy Spirit illumined firstly the holy Prophets, and they wrote the Divine Scriptures; secondly, He illumined the holy Apostles; and thirdly, He has illumined the holy Fathers, and thy have explained the books of our Church, in order that we may know to conduct ourselves.” Listen to what else St. Cosmas writes: “Our Faith has been made secure by wise and learned Saints, who both explained the Holy Scriptures precisely and have enlightened us through their divine inspired discourses.”
Let us read the beautiful prayer that St. Basil the Great wrote the Prayer of the Third Hour about the gift of the Holy Spirit, since it was the grace of the Holy Spirit who guided the Apostles and Disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ:“O Lord our God.
Who has given Your peace unto mankind,
and Who did send down the gift of the Holy Spirit
upon Your disciples and apostles,
and in your might did open their lips with the tongues of fire.
Open also the lips of us sinners and teach us how
and for what we must pray.
Be the Helmsman of our life,
O calm haven of tempest-tossed.
Make known to us the way in which we should walk.
Renew a right spirit within us,
and with Your governing Spirit establish our unstable mind,
that, being guided daily by Your good Spirit unto that which
is for our benefit, we may be counted worthy to do
Your commandments and always to keep in
remembrance Your glorious coming which shall
search out the deeds done by man.
Strengthen us that we might not be deceived by the
corruptible delights of this world,
but that we might desire the enjoyment of the treasures to come.
For You are blessed and praised in all Your Saints unto ages of ages.
We can now say that the Holy Trinity that is the Most Holy Spirit is what led the Holy Prophets, the Saints, as this well includes the Holy Fathers of our Church, as well as Holy Apostles and Disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, which all helped us in leading us all on the path towards our salvation.
We can now say also that the grace of the Holy Spirit that is the fullness of the Holy Trinity was a part of Creation. This is also the situation with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in salvation, as well as that guides our Holy Orthodox Church with sanctification, especially through the Holy Mysteries, also known as the Holy Sacraments. This is also true that the grace of the Holy Spirit also guides us in any action we take as we call upon the Holy Trinity as our comfort and guide. As Orthodox Christians our lives should be filled with prayer, and the prayer life of the faithful starts with the invocation of the Holy Spirit. Every morning the Orthodox places them under the protection of the Holy Spirit when they recite the beautiful prayer:Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of truth,
Who are everywhere present and Who fill all things,
Treasury of good things and Giver of life:
come and dwell in us and cleanse us all impurity;
And save our souls, O good One.
The Holy Spirit guides us all also in our Christian life, and helps us on the path towards eternal life, theosis, or deification, of human nature, a notion very dear to the Orthodox. Theosis means life in God, the transformation of a human being into a little god within God. (St. John 10:34; Psalm 82:6). Thus our Lord Jesus Christ calls man a little god. This teaching has been taken over by the Holy Fathers and tradition of the Church. St. Athanasios, as is well known, has expressed it in the classic words: “God became man that man might become god.” (Cf. Psalm 82:6: & St. John 10:34). All of this constitutes an important element of the eschatological teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church.
The grace of the Holy Spirit is also a part of our daily prayer life, and in our Liturgical worship. During these Sacred and Holy Services we call upon the Grace of the Holy Spirit and that is God the Father, and feels the presence of our Lord God is with us, and hears our constant prayers, and supplications. This is also true in guiding our Church the Holy Orthodox Faith we all love, since Christ our Lord promised that the Holy Spirit would teach the Church in all things necessary for man’s salvation. To the end of time the grace of the Holy Spirit will be leading the faithful and the Church into deeper and deeper understanding of the truth of God.“It is truly meet to praise the super-divine Trinity,
the all-creating, beginning less Father, the co-eternal Word
Begotten of Him before the ages with emanation,
and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father.”
-Sunday Midnight Service- 6th Tone
The Holy Spirit even guides our local communities, within diocese of the local bishop, in understanding the meaning of Jesus’ teachings, and his church. Through the bishop we are guided on the path towards our salvation, who instructs the local parish priest and its faithful that are spiritually inspired and to learn that the Ecclesia will never be left in desolation. “I will not leave you desolate,” Jesus promised His disciples (St. John 14:18). It is the Spirit, the grace of the Holy Spirit, then, who gives purpose in life and who remains with the Church forever as “the Lord, the Giver of Life.”
The grace of the Holy Spirit not only guides the bishop, the priest, and the deacon, but also its spiritual father the Patriarch, the Archbishop, and diocesan the Metropolitans, as well as its Auxiliary bishops (all bishops). This also goes for when the Patriarch meets with its Synod of Bishops, the Holy Spirit is called upon to direct them with their good works and words. Within the Church, standing on Her foundation on earth and headed by the Son of God seated at the right hand of the Father, is mysteriously guided by the Holy Spirit. She internally links all of Her children and unites them with God. We learn also that through the Church our God bestows gifts of grace and poured out on those who strive to follow the way of Christ our Lord, sanctify and fortify all good in them, cleanse them from sin and all impurity, making them able to become receptacles of the radiance of the glory and power of God.
It is from the Church itself that man becomes a partaker of the divine nature, as he enters into the closes relationship with the Holy Trinity. Where God is present there is peace, love, joy, hope, and salvation, as well as faith renewed, and where the Son is present, our God is present, as well as where the Holy Spirit is present God is with us. Most Holy Trinity Glory To Thee!
The Differences between the Christian Churches
Concerning the Dogma of the Trinity
“All the Christian Churches accept this dogma. In other words, they all believe (1) that God is one, and (2) that there are three Persons in God. Who are different from each other, but are the one God.
The Roman Catholic Church, however, has partly broken the dogma of the Trinity by having introduced in the article of the Creed “and in the Holy Spirit… Who proceeded from the Father,” the words “and from the Son,” in Latin Filioque, after the words “from the Father.”
The addition appeared first in Spain, during the seventh century. In the eighth century it penetrated into France, where, however, it was fervently opposed.
At the beginning of the ninth century, Charlemagne asked Pope Leo III to confirm this addition, but the Pope refused to do so. Nevertheless, a considerable number of Churches accepted it, influenced by Charlemagne, who reigned over the greater part of Central Europe. The Eastern Church rose up against this innovation, but its voice was not heeded. During the eleventh century the Roman Church, at the request of Emperor Henry I, accepted the addition. Since then it has come to be accepted by all the Western Churches.
In the sixteenth century both the Anglican and the Protestant Churches overlooked this addition and the former kept both the Creed and the addition after is separation from the Roman Church.
The Anglican Church as well as the Roman tried to prove the justice of this addition, and to this end there were two means: namely, either the Son was given the importance of a secondary cause in the Holy Trinity, or else separate passages from the writings of the Fathers of the Church were quoted, which seemingly confirmed the perfect accord between this addition and the teachings of the tradition.
The Eastern Orthodox Church had no difficulty in proving that no part of the Holy Trinity can be of secondary importance, and that the characteristic of being the cause is the personal characteristic of the Father exclusively and could not be ascribed to the Son without the personal qualities of the Father also being ascribed to Him in some degree, and, therefore, without the dogma of the Trinity being broken. The East quoted in confirmation of the addition are either an entire invention, or distorted and incomplete; and that the quotations which are exact with the authentic sayings of the Fathers of the Church refer to the sending of the Holy Spirit, and not by any means to His procession before all time.
Consequently, the addition to the Creed, accepted by the West, is not only an unlawful and irregular action of a local Church, but it also contains an evident error, contradictory to the ecumenical belief.
Instead of trying to find an interpretation to the words “and from the Son” (Filioque) which would not interfere with the dogma of the Trinity, it would be better to sincerely acknowledge that the interpretation is not Orthodox and to leave out of the Creed the dangerous words which disagree with the word of the God and the true tradition of the Church
To God, our Creator and Savior, be the glory, honor, and worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.“And God appeared to him by the oak of Mamre, as Abraham sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and beholds three men stood before him. When he saw them, he ran from the door of the tent to meet them. He bowed himself down to the earth and said, ‘Lord (sing.), if I have found favor in Thy (sing.) sight, do not pass by Thy (sing.) servant”
Some Holy Scripture references on the Most Holy Trinity” Whom Abraham addressed in the Old Testament among the three angels symbolize the Trinity, and that is whom Abraham was talking to was God the Son, the God of the Old Testament. Read Genesis 1:27. Read first Psalm 32:6 and then read Job 33:4. Daniel 3:8-30. As God as the consuming fire read Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29. We see our God as ‘Holy’ read: Isa. 6:1-3. Christ as the Son of Man read Daniel 7: 13, 14. also read St. Matthew 25:31. “Take not the Holy Spirit from me.” Read Ps. 51:3. Read also Numbers 11:16-17 as the Hebrew elders where calling upon the grace of the Holy Spirit to come upon them all. “Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Doctrines of the Holy Trinity: “Word became flesh” (John 1:11). In addition read Acts 2:17. The Holy Trinity in Salvation: “to the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). The Holy Trinity in the Church: “For as many as been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). The Holy Trinity in the Sacraments “For we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba! Father! The Spirit itself bears witness that we are children of God…for we know not what we should pray for, as we ought; but the Spirit itself intercedes for us (Romans 8:15-16, 26). The Holy Trinity in Christian Life: “to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (St. Matthew 5:48). And also read: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (St. Mark 10:27). In addition read: “For with God all things are possible.” (St. Mark 10:27). The Holy Trinity in Eternal Life: “And I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (Christ) is the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun… for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb (Christ) is the light thereof… ‘And the throne of God and the Lamb (Christ) shall be in it, and his servants shall see him…and they shall see his face… ‘And the Spirit of the Bride (the Church) says Come!" Revelation 21:22; 22:3, 17. Also read: “And this is eternal life that they may know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.” (St. John 17:3). In addition read: “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:23; 2:22).
References to the teachings of the Holy Fathers: St. Ambrose of Milan “On the Holy Spirit” –Books 1-3. Augustine of Hippo "On the Holy Trinity.”; St. Cyril of Jerusalem “Catechical Lectures.”; St. Gregory of Nyssa “On the Holy Trinity, and the Godhead of the Holy Spirit (To Eustathius).”; St. Hilary of Poitiers “On the Holy Trinity.”; St. John Damascus “Exposition of the Faith. Also Treatise Concerning the Trinity.”; St. Basil the Great “On the Spirit” Books 1-30. Also the writings of St. Gregory Nazianzus the Theologian, and the writings of St. Athanasios the Great, bishop of Alexandria, and finally St. John Chrysostom.
Read also the teachings of St. Seraphim of Sarov on the: “The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.”
Excerpts from: “The Creed”, by Rev. Christos Pappas, Greek Archdiocese of America. 1958. PP. 55-56.
Translation of the prayer of the Third Hour by St. Basil the Great is from Praxis.
Excerpts also from the writings of Demetrios Constantelos on “The Holy Spirit”. Magazine, Vol. 3 Special Edition. 2002, -back inside cover-Department of Religious Education, Brookline, MA.
On the article: “The Difference between the Christian Churches Concerning the Dogma of the Trinity.” By Vladimir Rene Francis Goatee. Dogmatical Doctrine of The Orthodox Church, Orthodox Life, Holy Trinity Monastery, No. 5, 1988. PP. 31-32
Excerpts from St. John of San Francisco are from Orthodox Word published by St. Herman Brotherhood, Platina, CA.
Most Holy Theotokos,
Glory Be To God For All Things!
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(c) Reverend Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes