474. A Bizarre Doctrine

The doctrine to which I refer is:

The Holy Trinity

We whip it off so easily that we can forget how extremely peculiar this seems:

Christian: “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit…”

Muslim (for example): “So you worship three gods?”

Christian: “No! We worship one God.”

Muslim: “But, but, but… you just said…”

No group ot theologians would ever have sat down and invented this utterly confusing, seemingly contradictory belief: We believe in one God Who exists in Three Persons. * All Three Persons are One God. All Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are equal in divinity, in eternity, in might, in power, in love. However, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are subservient to God the Father. The Son is begotten of the Father, while the Spirit proceeds from the Father, though we do not understand exactly what the words “begotten” and “proceed” mean in this case.

  • To make it even more confusing, the English word “Person” is an inadequate translation of the Greek ὑπόστασις (hypostasis) which has no direct English equivalent. It refers to who God is, as opposed to what God is. The word “Person” is as close as we can come to it in English.

Such a perplexing doctrine certainly was not invented for evangelistic purposes.

I mean, if someone came to a Jew or a Muslim wanting to know what they believe, it would be very simple to explain: We believe in One God.

If someone comes to you wanting to know what Christians believe, please, please do not begin by trying to explain the Holy Trinity. It would only confuse them. (Indeed it mystifies us.) I think I’d say “Come and see… come to church on Sunday and find out.” And then slowly let the Mystery of the Holy Trinity begin to sink into them.

Why do we believe in the Holy Trinity? 

Is it Scriptural?

Some years ago, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses were standing on Washington Avenue, downtown in Cedarburg, passing out literature. God provided me with a parking place across the street, and I had a little time, so I decided to have a conversation with them. Somehow we got onto the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. They said they didn’t believe it, because “it’s not in the Bible”. I asked “Do you believe in one God?” “Yes” “Do you believe in God the Father?” “Yes.” “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” “Yes.” * “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” “Yes.” “Do you believe in the Holy Trinity?” “No. That word is not in the Bible.”  They couldn’t get past that. So I gave up.”

  • Actually I’m not sure exactly what the Witnesses believe about Him. They have altered the text of the New Testament somewhat, so maybe this wasn’t a fair fight.

They’re right, of course. Apparently the word “Trinity” was first used by Tertullian in the late Second Century. However, the doctrine has always been in the Scriptures, beginning with the command of Our Lord Jesus Christ to go forth and “Baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19

To take it deeper: If we believe in Jesus Christ (and we’ll come to that) then the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is an unavoidable “scientific deduction”, based on the given evidence.

One God

In Old Testament times, God revealed Himself to His chosen people the Jews. Deuteronomy 6:4:


“O Lord, You have been our refuge from generation to generation. You were there before the mountains came to be and the earth and the world were formed. You are from  eternity to eternity.” Psalm 90 (89):1-2

Question: How did the Jews come up with this idea of Monotheism?

Answer: They didn’t. They said God had revealed Himself to them.

The circumstantial evidence would certainly favor that explanation. The Jews were a small nation off in the corner of the Empire. They had no great philosophers. What they had were prophets – men (and one woman) who claimed to have personal contact with God, through whom He revealed Who He is. The Jews came to accept monotheism slowly. At the time of Moses, the rule was “Thou shalt have no other gods but me”, as if there might be others. However, while the nations around them where still worshiping many gods – and long before the great Greek philosophers were beginning to suspect that there was one god, a unifying spirit within the universe – all the Jews knew there is one God, the Creator of the universe. Even if some of them didn’t always like it.

As early as the Eighth Century B.C.: “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and His Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last. Besides Me there is no God.'”  Isaiah 44:6

God the Father

In a way we should begin by talking about Jesus Christ, for it was only through Him that we came to know God as Father. In the entire Old Testament, God is referred to as “father” or “like a father” a total of fifteen times. I read that in the New Testament God is called and addressed as Father over 250 times. You get the point.

It was Jesus Christ Who taught us to pray “Our Father who art in Heaven…”, that God is our Father who loves us – the father of the prodigal son -Who forgives, Who wants us to “grow up”, who helps us to become holy and good and happy. (It’s hard to explain why so many Christians over the years have related to Him chiefly as if He were “Our Judge who art in Heaven”. )

God the Son


At the beginning of the First Century A.D. * there was born into the world the most amazing Man who ever lived. I can claim that safely, simply because there has never been a Man who said He was God and “made it stick”, so to speak. There have been a few others who made the claim, but they all were done away with, were put away somewhere or just disappeared into the woodwork. But Jesus Christ today is worshiped by well over two billion people

  • “Anno Domini”, Latin for “Year of Our Lord”. Some more secular people now list it as C.E. (meaning “Christian Era” or even “Common Era”). No matter what they call it, they can’t escape that they count years beginning with the birth of Jesus Christ.

How did this happen?

Let me quote C.S. Lewis, from his book Mere Christianity:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Was he a charlatan? a fraud? Do charlatans die for their fakery? His closest disciples believed in His “Reality” so firmly that they also died for Him. His followers, looking back, could see no fault in Him. They called Him “sinless”.

Was He insane, the kind of person whom today we would put away somewhere? But Jesus Christ was in no way like a madman. His brilliant teachings have guided billions of people, have turned countless lives from despair to hope, from evil to good. He has been the inspiration for innumerable social changes for the better. Let me attest personally: Jesus knows I haven’t followed Him well, but I have learned so much from Him. His teachings have kept me out of so much trouble!

Beginning when He was only twelve years old and then throughout His short ministry, Jesus said God was His Father, that He was the Son of God. What did that mean? Just as human sons are human like their fathers, so Jesus said He was divine just as His Father was divine. It was an astounding claim, blasphemous if not true. That was why they crucified Him: “He claimed to be the Son of God.” John 19:7 And then He rose from death to prove the point.

Let’s come at Him another way. Of all the great religious leaders and masters in history, how many of them do their followers pray to? Mohammed forbade devotion to himself. Buddha came to show people “The Way”, not to draw attention to himself. But Christians have prayed to Jesus Christ as to God without sensing any contradiction. Only about three years after Christ’s Resurrection, the Deacon Stephen, the first Christian martyr, died praying “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:57

I’ve spent much time on this, because the divinity of Jesus is the key to the doctrine of the Trinity. Believe in Him, and then there is a “complexity” within God that was not understood before. How to explain it? We can’t. But that’s the evidence as given.

One more thing to add to the complexity: It was clear throughout His ministry that Christ did the will of His Father. This was made most plain in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before He died: “Father, take this cup from Me. Nevertheless, let not My will but Yours be done.” He obeyed God His Father, Who is pre-eminent.

God the Holy Spirit

But there’s more.

Without being clearly defined, there are references to the Holy Spirit / the Spirit of God throughout the Old Testament.

At Creation in the Book of Genesis “the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters…” Genesis 1:2

The Spirit is present everywhere: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? Psalm 139:7
Yer rhe Spirit seems to come and go, taking away or giving life in the natural order: “You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath *, they die and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the earth.” Psalm 103/104:29, 30)
       * In Hebrew and Greek “spirit” and “breath” and “wind”
          are the same word.

The Holy Spirit “inspired” the prophets: “…the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me…”  Ezekiel 2:2

None of this was clarified till the coming of the Son of God. On the night before His crucifixion, He spoke of  “…the Helper *, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” John 14:26

  • “Comforter”, “Stengthener”, “Advocate”

Note how He spoke of the Spirit as “He”, “Who”. Here we see the Son of God, praying to God His Father, and speaking of the Holy Spirit in personal terms, as yet a third distinct Person.

I omit a lot, lest this Post go on indefinitely.

But there we have it (or rather Him or rather Them): the Holy Trinity, one God in three Persons, united eternally in one will, in love.

God as Trinity

God in a way is like a Family. Or rather families are like God. God is the image for all human families, for all human community. This is why the Church has always emphasized community. With very rare exceptions, Christians need to live in community: the parish church, the Christian family, Christian marriage, the Christian monastery. This is the pattern: persons, each distinct, each with a different “function”, yet all united in love.

Indeed, the Holy Trinity provides the pattern for what all human community should be, from the book club at the library to the United States House of Representatives. *

  • and good luck to us all with that one

When an Orthodox parish is united in truth, united in love, what do we have? An image of the Holy Trinity.

And (I’ve got to say this) what do we have when an Orthodox Church and country is perfectly united in the Orthodox Faith and belief in the Holy Trinity, but which makes war another Orthodox country? – or any country for that matter – killing thousands, creating millions of refugees. We have a denial of the Holy Trinity Who are united in love.

That’s a terrible place to end, so let’s finish with iconography.

Icons of the Holy Trinity

There is, of course, no way to produce an accurate image of the Trinity, inasmuch as only One of Them has taken form which can be portrayed. Therefore icons of the Trinity must be symbolic.

Over the years there have been two icons of the Holy Trinity, one correct, one incorrect. Here’s an example of the latter:

Courtesy of classicalchristianity.com

Incorrect Icon of the Holy Trinity

Well, it’s correct inasmuch as there are Three of Them, but that’s about it. (Actually it looks here like there are about 2.1.)

Why incorrect?

Because the Father is depicted in human form. He never took human form.

Because the Father is depicted as older than the Son. That’s the Arian heresy. Both are the same “age”: eternal.

Because the Spirit is depicted as a little-bitty insignificant bird hovering between the two, while the Spirit is actually co-equal and “co-important” and is a Person.

Because the Spirit has no permanent form. He appeared “in the form of a dove” once, at Christ’s Baptism.

Because His placement suggests the very odd Western heresy that the Holy Spirit is only the “love” between the Father and the Son.

If you have an icon of the Trinity like this in your church, please make an effort not to look at it.


Rublev, 1425 (available at saintpaulsmonastryicons.com)


Correct Icon of the Holy Trinity

Why correct?

Because symbolism is used, taken from the three angels (also referred to as “The Lord”) who visited Abraham and Sarah. The One who is more “visible” is the middle one, Christ.

Because all three are the same size, indicating equal significance. and are of the same “age” – eternal.

Because the Son (center) and the Spirit (right) both incline towards (are subservient to) the Father on the left.

There is much more symbolism in this Icon. Go to: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/whos-who-in-the-trinity-icon/

We’ll close with a Prayer from our daily Trisagion Prayers:

“Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our transgressions. Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Your name’s sake.”

Next Week: SS. Cosmas and Damian: science and religion

Week after Next: Christian Nationalism







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