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THE DOGMAS OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
THE HOLY TRINITY
According to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the faith of the Orthodox Church, the one True God is triune, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This does not mean that there are three gods; there is but one God, one God in three persons or hypostases. One God who is discerned in three persons and in each person, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are wholly and entirely God and not part of the one Godhead. The Father is totally God. The Son is totally God. The Holy Spirit is totally God. A monad according to His unique and indivisible essence and a trinity according to His hypostases which are distinguished one from another, but inseparably united and indivisible, and the three possessing one essence, one will, and one energy. The Three Persons of the Holy trinity have the same opinion, make the same decision, and put forth the same energy and action.
The dogma of the Holy Trinity is the “fountainhead of our faith”, according to St. Gregory the Theologian. And the three Persons possess the same attributes and all the inexhaustible riches and treasures of the Divinity. But again each Person has his very own particular and distinguishing mark, his own hypostatic attribute or idioma: that is to say, the Father is unbeggoten, He is the “cause” or “source” of the Godhead, born of none and proceeding from none. He is the principle of unity among the three. The Son is begotten, that is, He was born of the Father from all eternity [before all ages]. This means that the Father begets the Son from His own essence eternally, timelessly and unexplainably. The Holy Spirit proceeds, that is, He proceeds from the father from all eternity and is sent into the world through the Son. All of God’s works, the works of creation, recreation and the salvation of man are brought about by all three Persons of the Godhead for the Father does all things through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.
The concept of One God in Three Persons has always been the most difficult to understand because man can only explain what he hears, sees and understands by other things in his life. What man knows about God is only what God Himself has revealed to him. The Church Fathers have tried to explain this concept by using things we can see e.g. the river and the sun.
The source of the river is the Father from whom proceeds the Holy Spirit.
The river is the Son, who sends the Holy Spirit after His voluntary sacrifice on the cross and His glorious Resurrection.
The water of the river that we drink is the Holy Spirit who distributes grace and gifts.
So the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are indivisible as this comparison shows: the source, the river, the water; all three are of the same essence, like the river’s water.
The sun is a great fiery star in the galaxy, and although scientist have a fairly good idea of what it is made of, no man can ever reach the surface of dig into its surface to discover its substance. Here on earth we see the sun as a round body in the sky, but more that just this, it gives out rays of light and heat. Here therefore we have three characters and at the same time one sun. We do not say we have three suns: we have only one sun of which its substance [essence] is beyond our reach. This same rule applies to God. We do not have three gods: we have only one God because the three Persons of God, while still keeping their individual characters, are consubstantial [identical or of one substance] in that they are united in the one nature [essence], which again is inaccessible to all creation.
Testimony from Holy Scripture that God is triune can be found in both the Old and New testaments. In the Book of Genesis, God is represented as speaking in the plural and carrying on dialogue with other persons: “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness” (Genesis 1: 26), “Behold the man is become as one of US” (Genesis 3: 22), “Let US go down and there confound their language” (Genesis 11: 7). The Prophet Moses, the great leader and lawgiver of Israel and author of the Book of Genesis, would not have made such a simple mistake, to attribute to God a plural character if he was not inspired by the Holy Spirit to do so. If on the other hand it was accidental, why didn’t the God-inspired prophets of Israel notice and rectify the mistake? Another testimony from the Old Testament is the Thrice-holy hymn of the Seraphim “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Sabaoth” (Isaiah 6: 3), which certainly indicates the triune character of the Godhead.
The New Testament speaks clearly about the Holy Trinity. The Lord after His Resurrection commanded His disciples to go and teach all nations “Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matth. 28: 19). St. Paul prays “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (II Cor. 13: 14). St. John the Evangelist confirms that “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (I John 5: 7).
There are also many more testimonies about the Holy Trinity in the New Testament which the devout reader will discover when he studies the New Testament with care and which he will understand through the illumination of the Holy Spirit when he seeks it with faith.
No single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the Supreme nature. That there is a God is clear, but what He is by essence and nature, this is altogether beyond our comprehension and knowledge. God is above and outside His creation, yet He also exists within it. As a much used Orthodox prayer puts it: “Thou art in all places and fillest all things”. Orthodoxy therefore distinguishes between God’s essence and His energies, thus safeguarding both divine transcendence and divine immanence: God’s essence remains unapproachable, but His energies come down to us. God’s energies, which are God Himself, permeate all His creation, and we experience them in the form of deifying grace and divine light.
The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, whom we call the Son of God, became a human being by taking flesh from the Virgin Mary and received as a man the Name Jesus Christ. Before the Son of God became man, He had only one nature: the divine nature of the Holy Trinity. Now in the flesh, He is still the same person, but with another nature: the nature of man. He does not lose by becoming a man His first nature, but remains what He was and becomes what He was not. Therefore He is both God and man: two natures: the divine and the human united without confusion or change in one person [hypostasis], Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Fourth Ecumenical Council [The Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D.] formulated the Christological dogma concerning the two natures in one hypostasis. The dogma reads as follows:
Following the holy Fathers we teach with one voice that the Son [of God] and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same [Person], that He is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and [human] body consisting, consubstantial with the Father as touching His Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching His manhood; made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; begotten of the Father before the worlds according to His Godhead, but in these last days for us men and for our salvation born [into the world] of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God according to His manhood. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and subsistence, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Prophets of old time have spoken concerning Him, and as the Lord Christ hath taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers hath delivered to us.
If Christ then has two natures, if follows that He also has two wills and two operations. In each act of Christ one can see two distinct operations, for Christ acts in conformity to both natures, and by both natures. Each nature acts according to its own properties: the human hand raises the young girl, the divine restores her to life; the human feet walk on the surface of the water, because the divinity has made it firm. “It is not the human nature that raises Lazarus, it is not the divine power which shed tears before the tomb,” said St. John of Damascus. The two wills proper to the two natures are different, but He who wills is one, though He wills in conformity with each of the two natures. The volition also has one object, because the two wills are united, the human will being freely subject to the divine will. According to St. John of Damascus the divine will permits the human will to will, and to manifest fully what is proper to humanity. It always “prevents” the human will, in such a way that the humanity of Christ wills “divinely” in accord with the divinity which allows it to expand. Thus His body experienced hunger or thirst, His soul loved, grieved [at the death of Lazarus], and was indignant; His human spirit had recourse to prayer, the nourishment of all created spirit. The two natural wills in the person of the God-Man could not enter into conflict. The prayer of Gethsemane was an expression of horror in face of death, a reaction proper to all human nature, especially to an incorrupt nature which should not submit to death, and for whom death could only be a voluntary rending contrary to nature. When His human will refused to accept death, and His divine will made way for this manifestation of His humility, the Lord in conformity with His human nature, submitted to struggle and fear, and prayed to be spared from death. But since His divine will desired that His human will should accept death, the humanity of Christ voluntarily accepted the Passion. The dogma of the two wills and two operations was formulated and defined by the Sixth Ecumenical Council [The Third of Constantinople 680-681 A.D.]. The dogma is as follows:
We declare that in Him (Christ) are two natural wills and two natural operations indivisibly, inconvertibly, inseparably, inconfusedly, according to the teaching of the holy fathers. And these two natural wills are not contrary the one to the other (God forbid!) as the impious heretics assert, but His human will follows and that not as resisting and reluctant, but rather as subject to His divine and omnipotent will. For it was right that the flesh should be moved, but subject to the divine will, according to the wise Athanasius. For as His flesh is called and is the flesh of God the Word, so also the natural will of His flesh is called and is the proper will of God the Word, as He Himself says: “I came down from heaven, not that I might do mine own will, but the will of the Father which sent me.” where He calls His own will the will of the flesh, inasmuch as His flesh was also His own. For as His most holy and immaculate animated flesh was not destroyed, because it was deified, but continued in its own state and nature, so also His human will, although deified, was not suppressed, but was rather preserved according to the saying of Gregory the Theologian: “His will [the Saviour’s] is not contrary to God but altogether deified”.
We glorify two natural operations indivisibly, immutably, inconfusedly, inseparably in the same our Lord Jesus Christ our true God, that is to say a divine operation and a human operation, according to the divine preacher Leo, who most distinctly asserts as follows: “For each form does in communion with the other what pertains to it, the Word, namely doing that which pertains to the Word, and the flesh that which pertains to the flesh”.
For we will not admit one natural operation in God and in the creature, as we will not exalt into the divine essence what is created, nor will we bring down the glory of the divine nature to the place suited to the creature.
We recognize the miracles and the sufferings as of one and the same [Person], but of one or the other nature of which He is and in which He exists, as Cyril admirably says. Preserving therefore the inconfusedness and indivisibility, we make briefly this whole confession, believing our Lord Jesus Christ to be one of the Trinity and after the incarnation our true God, we say that His two natures shone forth in His one subsistence in which He both performed the miracles and endured the sufferings through the whole of His economic association and that not in appearance only, but in very deed, and this by reason of the difference of nature which must be recognized in the same Person, for although joined together yet each nature wills and does the things proper to it and that indivisibly and inconfusedly. Wherefore we confess two wills and two operations, concurring most fitly in Him for the salvation of the human race.
Christ’s divinity is the foundation and the firm basis upon which the Christian religion and Christ’s entire redeeming work is based. The Lord Jesus Christ was not simply the perfect man, sinless, holy, and incomparably superior morally and spiritually to those whom He came to save; Jesus was the [Only-begotten Son of God who is in the bosom of the Father]. True God and perfect, consubstantial and of equal honour, co-enthroned and co-eternal with the Father. He is the Lord [the brilliant radiance of the Father’s glory].
In the New Testament there are many testimonies to the Lord’s Divinity and in many circumstances He is proclaimed Son of God, perfect God and true God.
“And they shall call His name Emmanuel which being interpreted is God with us” (Matth. 1: 23).
“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matth. 3:17).
“What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God” (Matth. 8:29)?
“All things are delivered unto me of the Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son” (Matth. 11:27).
“Of a truth thou art the Son of God” (Matth. 14: 33).
“And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven (Matth. 16: 16-17).
“For He said, I am the Son of God” (Matth. 27: 43).
“Truly this was the Son of God” (Matth. 27: 54).
“The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1: 1).
“I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1: 24).
“And unclean spirits, when they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God” (Mark 3: 11).
“What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 5: 7).
“What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the most high God?” (Mark 5: 7).
“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest” (Luke 1: 32).
“Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1: 35).
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2: 11).
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1: 1-3).
“He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not” (John 1: 10).
“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth” (John 1: 14).
“And I saw and bear that this is the Son of God” (John 1: 34).
“Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God: Thou art the King of Israel” (John 1: 49).
“And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3: 13).
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16).
“The woman saith unto Him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am He” (John 4: 25-26).
“He said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5: 18).
“That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him” (John 5: 23).
“For the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5: 36, 39).
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (John 6: 51).
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto Him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8: 56-58).
“I and my Father are one (John 10: 30).
“Jesus saith unto him, have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14: 9).
“I came forth from the father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world, and go to the Father” (John 16: 28).
“And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God” (John 20: 28).
As we believe that the Father is God, as we believe that the Son is God, so also we believe that the Holy Spirit is God. We call the Father Holy, we call the Son Holy, we call the Spirit Holy. We accept the Father as the Source of life, the Son as the Giver of life, and the Holy Spirit as the Instiller of life. The Holy Spirit has the same power and the same glory. This we proclaim during the Divine Liturgy: “The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided”.
The Holy Spirit holds the third place within the Godhead; this does not mean, however, that He is inferior to either the Father or the Son. The Father is mentioned first as the source of the Godhead, and as the principle of all creation. The Son is mentioned second because He is “God’s creative and cohesive wisdom and power of all things”. The Holy Spirit is mentioned third because He perfects and sanctifies all things. And as the great father of the Church, St. Basil, says, “One is the Principle of all things. This principle creates through the Son and perfects in the Holy Spirit”.
Many passages in Holy Scripture testify to the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Countless times, in the Old Testament He is called the Spirit of God or the Spirit of the Lord, yet, in spite of these testimonies, the personal character of the Holy Spirit has never been fully manifested and one might say that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit has the character of a secret, a partially revealed tradition. St. Gregory Nazianzen points to a mysterious economy in the knowledge of the truths, which concern the person of the Holy Spirit:
“The Old Testament”, he says, “manifested the Father plainly, the Son obscurely. The New Testament revealed the Son and hinted at the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Today the Spirit dwells among us and makes Himself more clearly known. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further [if I may use so bold an expression] with the Holy Spirit… but rather that by gradual addition, advances and progress from glory to glory, the light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated… Our Saviour had some things which, He said, could not be borne at that time by His disciples [though they were filled with many teachings]… and again He said that all things should be taught by the Spirit when He should come to dwell among us. Of these things one, I take it, was the Deity of the Spirit Himself, made clear later on when such knowledge should be opportune and capable of being received after our Saviour’s restoration when the knowledge of His own Deity should be established. The Godhead of the Son is established by the Church and preached throughout the whole universe. We confess, too, the Deity of the Holt Spirit in common with that of the Father and that of the Son: we confess the Holy Trinity, but the very Person of the Holy Spirit who reveals these truths to us and who renders them inwardly luminous, manifest, almost tangible to us, nevertheless remains Himself undisclosed and hidden, concealed by the deity He reveals to us, by the gift which He imparts”.
Even though the Person of the Holy Spirit has not been fully manifested, the New Testament clearly and expressively calls Him God: in the instance where Ananias lied to Peter about the price for which he and his wife Sapphira sold their property. Then Peter, censuring Ananias’ wilful sin, said to him: “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost? Thou hast not lied unto men but unto God” (Acts 5: 3,4).
During the first few centuries the Church was troubled with various heresies. These heresies were at first centred on the Person of Jesus Christ, but soon involved the Person of the Holy Spirit.
Most heresies fall under one of three groups: the Monophysites, the Monothelites and the Pneumatomachi. The Monophysites were heresies that had to do with Christ’ nature. Either Christ was made less than God or his manhood was so divided from his Godhead that he became two persons instead of one. The Monothelites argued that although Christ has two natures, yet since he is a single person then he only has one will. In other words Christ does not have a human will but only a divine will.
The Pneumatomachi meaning “Spirit fighters” were those who did not recognize the Holy Spirit as God, they did not recognize than he was one of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
Many of the heretic churches that exist today are not new heresies but revivals of the many heresies that developed in the first four centuries. One such church is the organization known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. They ascribe to the Macedonian heresy (a Pneumatomachi heresy) which denied that the Holy Spirit is a Person of the Holy Trinity and say that the Holy Spirit is just an energy and power of God which moves people to do his will. But Scripture clearly speaks of the Holy Spirit as a person. It would take too long to analyze every verse that testifies to this so we will just look at some of the verses where the person of the Holy Spirit is clearly manifested.
Christ said; “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13) The use of the masculine pronoun he is clear that Christ is talking of a person. If Christ meant just an energy he would have used the neutral pronoun it. Here it is clear that the Holy Spirit is a person who guides us into all truth.
He teaches: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things.” (John 14: 26)
He testifies: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” (John 15: 26-27)
He reproves sin: “But if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment,” (John 16: 7-8)
He speaks: “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” (Acts 8:29)
“While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.” (Acts 10:19)
“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)
That the Holy Spirit is a Person of the Holy Trinity and not just an energy can also be deduced by Christ’s words concerning blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.” (Matt. 12:31-32) Blasphemy is directed against a person and not an energy. How ridiculous to even think like the Jehovah’s Witnesses that blasphemy against the persons of the Father and the Son can be forgiven, but blasphemy against an energy or power of God cannot be forgiven.
Lastly we have the formula for Baptism: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. (Matt. 28:19) This comprises the very proof that the Holy Spirit is a person. If the Father and the Son are persons then so is the Holy Spirit. It would be ridiculous to baptise in the name of two persons and an energy. Or how more ridiculous to baptise in God the Father, the creature the Son and the energy Holy Spirit.