About one hundred years before the Reformation, an artist named Andrei Rublev painted a depiction of the Trinity. Rublev’s icon is a depiction of part of the Book of Genesis, Chapter 18 when three angelic beings visit Abraham and Abraham presents them with a feast at a table. The icon shows three angelic figures who appear to be in conversation while seated in an equilateral triangle: one at the head of the table, one at the right and one at the left. Throughout the years, theologians have used this icon to explain or understand something about the nature of the Holy Trinity.
The Bible clearly teaches the truth of the existence of the Trinity and while we may not fully understand the mystery - we believe by faith that what God has revealed to us in His word is truth.
The Trinity, the Triune nature of God, is difficult for us to comprehend. It is a mystery. So here is the question: If the Trinity is such a big mystery, why is belief in the Trinity foundational to our faith? Why can we not just believe in “God” and leave it at that? Why do we need to know that God is Three in One? The simple answer is that without the Trinity, we lose the truth and power of the Gospel.
We know the Bible teaches us that by our nature, we are sinful. We know we deserve the wrath of God rather than His compassion, mercy, and love. We know that Jesus, the Son, came to earth to take the punishment for our sins upon Himself. We know that because of Jesus’ death on the Cross, reconciliation with Father was made possible. We know that when Jesus ascended into Heaven after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit came and now empowers the disciples of Jesus to live for God’s honor and glory. We know that each person of the Trinity plays His own role in our redemption. No Trinity, no salvation and no possibility of a restored relationship with God.
So, how can God exist as three distinct persons simultaneously and yet still be One God?
It is the mystery of mysteries. The word, “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, but the Triune Nature of God is taught and demonstrated. The Hospitality of Abraham is one of those demonstrative images.
Last Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In his Gospel, St. Matthew tells us: “After His baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove upon and settling upon Him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). Here we see the manifestation of the Holy Trinity to men. Each person of the Holy Trinity interacting with each other: God the Father speaks. God the Son is being baptized in the River Jordan. And the Holy Spirit descends like a dove from heaven. All three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together at the Baptism of Jesus.
The opening verses of the Gospel of St. John say: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:1-5). This opening paragraph tells us that Jesus already existed, that He is co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit.
The Church’s dogmatic theology proceeds in stages, as “we are able to bear it,” to grasp the deeper meaning of Christ’s person and His revelation. The roots of Trinitarian theology are found in the initial act of creation, where God brings forth all things by His Word and brings order and beauty out of chaos by His Spirit.
More and more information about the Triune nature of the Eternal Living God is revealed by the Holy Spirit as mankind matures spiritually and intellectually over the centuries. God did not reveal everything about Himself at once. For example, sections of Sacred Scripture that were written later in time contain a fuller revelation of God compared to the earlier sections. In other words, God revealed knowledge in a progressive and increasing way throughout Sacred Scripture from the earliest writings to the later writings. This does not mean that the earlier writings of the Bible are inferior or less inspired than the later writings.
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work.
The Holy Spirit has revealed more about the Nature of God with increasing clarity over the centuries. This progressive revelation of the Triune God finally reaches its completion with the Spirit-inspired Ecumenical Councils, whose dogmatic affirmations elaborate, in perfect continuity, revelation contained in the Holy Scriptures.
Even with the canon of Scripture complete, there are still things about God that have not been revealed to us. There are things about God that our finite minds simply cannot understand. But there will be no more public revelations until such time as Christ comes again at the Second Coming to judge the living and the dead. There will always be private revelations, but such revelations cannot contradict or change “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
We believe in the Holy Trinity by faith because there are things about the nature and existence of God we will never be able to fully grasp while remaining alive on this earth. Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. By faith, we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.
For now, we trust God’s Word is true. We cannot completely explain the mystery of the Trinity but by faith, we believe in the Triune Nature of God. By faith, we are confident of things we do not see. By faith, we believe in the Triune God. By faith we know we are loved by our heavenly Father. By faith, we know Jesus is our Lord and Savior. By faith, we know the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. By faith, we are disciples of Christ.
When Jesus returns and we, His disciples, are changed and transformed into His likeness when we are in Heaven in the presence of God; then and only then will the mystery of mysteries, the triune nature of God no longer be a mystery to us. What was hinted at in the Old Testament and demonstrated in the New Testament will be fully revealed to us when we stand in glory with our Lord.
Over the centuries, bishops, theologians, and biblical scholars have attempted to understand the Mystery of the Trinity. People have used various examples and illustrations to try and explain the nature of the Trinity. Some have said that the Trinity is like water, three phases of one substance: steam, liquid, and ice. Some use the analogy of a three-leaf clover - one leaf three parts. Neither of those illustrations or analogies is really an adequate description of the Triune Nature of God.
There is a story told that St. Augustine of Hippo was struggling to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. So, he decided to go for a walk on the beach, where he saw a little boy digging a hole in the sand with a seashell. The boy then ran off to the ocean, filling the shell, and rushed back to pour it into the hole he had made. “What are you doing” St. Augustine asked. “I’m trying to put the ocean into this hole,” the boy replied. Augustine suddenly realized that this was precisely what he was trying to do…to fit the great mysteries of God into his mind.
Friends, I am thankful that although the Trinity is central to our Orthodox Catholic faith, we do not have to fully understand the mystery of the Trinity to believe in God and be in a relationship with Him. It will remain for us a mystery until we are perfected in Christ in the Day of Judgment.
Have you ever tried to solve a mystery? A mystery, in theological terms, is not an enigma, a puzzle or something unknown. A mystery is a truth which was at one time unknown or unrecognized, but which, at some point, is revealed. Let us not deny the mystery, but rather hold it close to our hearts and treasure it, looking forward to the day when it will be fully and completely revealed to us.