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CommunityChurchOrthodox Christians Believe in One God in Trinity

Orthodox Christians Believe in One God in Trinity

Fr. Konstantinos Koutroubas
Fr. Konstantinos Koutroubas
Father Konstantinos Koutroubas Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church

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With the feast of Theophany (Epiphany) on January 6, this gives an opportunity to say some things about what we believe about the Holy Trinity as Orthodox Christians.

 
We Orthodox Christians believe in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we say we believe in God, we mean that we believe in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- the Holy Trinity. The name of God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is why we bless ourselves whenever we hear/pray “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” in our liturgical worship and in our personal prayer.
 
We believe in 3 Persons (3 Hypostases, which is the proper theological term) yet 1 God, not 3 Gods. This is a mystery, yet this is how God has revealed Himself to us and this is the experience of the Church. This is the experience of the Saints of our Church. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not different masks or aspects of God, but three distinct Persons (Hypostases).

 
The Father is fully God. The Son is fully God. The Holy Spirit is fully God. The Fathers of the Church give the analogy, which they acknowledge is not a perfect analogy, from the created world, of the sun. The sun itself is the Father. The rays coming from the sun is the Son of God. The light from the sun is the Holy Spirit. Yet, they are all one. The purer in heart one becomes and the closer to God, the more one experiences this profound mystery, but nevertheless it is not fully comprehensible and will never be. If God were fully comprehensible, as Saint Athanasios the Great says, He would not be God. Yet, this does not mean that the Trinity is not real or is a figment of our imaginations. Even the mythology of ancient Egypt and India vaguely points to the reality of the Holy Trinity, but the full revelation comes with Jesus Christ.
 
The first public manifestation of the Holy Trinity comes on the day of Christ’s Baptism, on January 6, which is a reason why we call this feast Θεοφάνεια (Theophaneia), Theophany, in Greek. Θεοφάνεια (Theophaneia), Theophany, means “manifestation of God.” God in Trinity was manifested at Christ’s Baptism with the voice of God the Father over the Jordan River, the Son of God being baptized in the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit taking the form, the appearance (not an incarnation, not taking on the actual flesh), of a dove, hovering over and pointing to Christ. 
 
I say all this, as it is important as Orthodox Chrsitians that we remember that Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians do not worship the same God. We love everyone, but we also acknowledge our differences and thus we acknowledge that we do not worship the same God. This does not mean that we are calling for a Crusade or that we are rallying everyone with pitchforks. We are just saying that there is an important and significant difference for us that cannot allow us to even worship together, because our God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with the Son being fully God and fully man. Christ to us Orthodox Christians is not some kind of prophet, moral teacher, or philosopher. Christ is God Himself, God in the human flesh, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity that always existed and 2000 years, while still being God, became man. 
 
We are all created in the image of God, but from the Orthodox Christian lens, being created in the image of God means the image of Christ, as Christ is the Icon (Image) of God the Father, and man is the icon (Image) of Christ. How we treat others is a reflection of how we treat Christ.
 
As our God is the Holy Trinity, we must acknowledge that Muslims and Jews do not believe in the Holy Trinity, and neither do Hindus and Buddhists. Even though they are monotheistic, Muslims and Jews do not consider Jesus Christ as God.
 
From an Orthodox Christian perspective, we also cannot consider Christian those who do not believe in the divinity of Christ. Orthodox Christians, and anyone who considers himself or herself Christian, must consider Christ as God. We also cannot consider Christian those who do not believe in the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. Not acknowledging the divinity of the Son and the divinity of the Holy Spirit is why we cannot consider the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, the Unitarian Universalists, and the Scientologists as Christians. For us Orthodox Christians, it is extremely important what we believe about the Persons of the Holy Trinity. What we believe about the Holy Trinity has implications for our souls, for salvation, for our daily lives, even for our worship, how we worship, and with whom we worship.
 
 By the will of God the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Son, Jesus Christ, became man to save us from sin, from death, and from the devil. He became man to save us from the finality of physical death. He became man so that death might become a passage, a falling asleep, into eternal life. He became man so that He might save us through the Holy Spirit from spiritual death.  He became man to be present in our suffering, as the 20th century Romanian Father George Calciu of blessed memory tells us. He resurrected from the dead so that our bodies might resurrect from the dead at His Second Coming.  Christ ascended into heaven with His human nature so that we might, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, ascend into the Kingdom of Heaven at the Second Coming. Christ became man so that we might prepare ourselves, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, to taste of Paradise after our deaths. Christ was transfigured to the Apostles Peter, James, and John, showing the uncreated Light of His Divinity, so that we might be transfigured, through the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Christ was transfigured so that we might rise to the heavenly heights and experience real union with Him, and the Father, and the Spirit, and partake of His uncreated, joyful-beyond-words, Divine Light. Christ established the Church as the Spiritual Hospital to heal our brokenness and to bring us into union with Him. This original, ancient Church, through which and in which alone we worship as Orthodox Christians, we see as the Orthodox Church. 
 
For an Orthodox Christian, Christ must be fully God and fully man, 100 percent God, 100 percent man, with a human mind, body, and soul-without sin, without a fallen human nature. Jesus Christ is one Hypostasis (Person) with 2 natures-divine and human. 
 
There is not one Person who is the God Jesus and another Person who is the man Jesus, as espoused by the Nestorian heresy. There was, is, and always will be 1 Person (Hypostasis) of Jesus Christ, and within this 1 Person, the divine nature does not annihilate or swallow human nature. Christ assumes human nature so that He might heal human nature, for as Saint Gregorian the Theologian says, “what is not assumed is not healed.” This is important that we know this because officially the Monophysites (Non-Chalcedonians- Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian) have not accepted the Fourth Ecumenical Council of the Orthodox Church in Chalcedon from the year 451, and this is what the Fourth Ecumenical Council upholds.
 
When it comes to the Holy Spirit, unfortunately, even Roman Catholicism had also changed the Church’s teaching on the Holy Spirit and minimized the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. The Vatican had changed the original Nicene Creed when it came to the part regarding the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately as well, this helped feed into some parts of the Protestant and Catholic world what is called “Pentecostalism” that we cannot accept either as Orthodox. We cannot accept as from the Holy Spirit this “glossolalia,” this “speaking of tongues.” 
 
On the day of Pentecost, by the grace of God, the Holy Apostles spoke in human languages, languages that others could understand. They were not drunk. They were not confused. They were not incoherent. They were not speaking gibberish. I go back to Saint Basil the Great, whom we all love and trust in the Greek Orthodox and wider Orthodox world. Saint Ephraim the Syrian, who had not known Greek, communicated with Saint Basil the Great in Greek, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, in a miraculous manner. Greek is a known language.  That was in the 4th century. Fast-forward to the 20th century: Saint Porphyrios of Greece, who reposed in 1991, even though he spoke Greek, communicated with someone who only spoke German without the need of an interpreter.  This was done by the grace of the Holy Spirit. No confusion, no gibberish, no incoherence. Unfortunately as well, and I know these are strong words, but if this more modern phenomenon of “speaking in tongues” from the Pentecostal world is not from the Holy Spirit, the question Orthodox ask is: where is it from? I do not think everyone might like the answer…but we have to say these things for the protection of the souls of innocent people.
 
May the Lord enlighten us all and bless the whole world!

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