Wednesday, February 07, 2007


As I have begun researching for a few articles on the Church and Orthodox ecclesiology, I have come to one over riding conclusion - the absolute necessitty of an Orthodox understanding of the mystery of the Holy Trinity is the very foundation of Orthodox ecclesiology.

Lossky wrote:

The Trinity is, for the Orthodox Church, the unshakable foundation of all religious thought, all piety, of all spiritual life, of all experience. It is the Trinity that we seek in seeking after God, when we search for the fullness of being, for the end and meaning of existence. . . . If we reject the Trinity as the sole ground of all reality and of all thought, we are committed to a road that leads nowhere; we end in aporia, in folly, in the disintegration of our being, in spiritual death. Between the Trinity and hell, there lies no other choice. . . . The revelation of the Trinity shines out in the Church as a purely religious gift, as the catholic truth above all others.

So, the revelation of the Holy Trinity is absolutely essential if we are going to understand the Orthodox teaching of ecclesiology. In fact, Orthodox presupposes an Orthodox view of the Holy Trinity as the foundation of all theological discussion.

What do we mean when we say "the mystery of the Holy Trinity?" Well, it isn't a puzzle to be solved, or a riddle to be deciphered. When we say mystery, we are saying "the more we know, the more we recognize that there is more to know."2 God will always be beyond us, but we can know Him in a personal way. An ancient Orthodox saint (St. Isaac the Syrian, 4th century) said, "By love, God can be held, but by thinking, never!"

Does this mean there nothing we can reasonably know or understand about God? Of course there is.

There is an understanding we can receive when it comes to the great mysteries of our faith. But it is not based on or limited to our rational faculties. It includes our powers of reasoning ("Be transformed by the renewing of your mind"—Romans 12:2), but it far transcends them. It is an "understanding," a "knowing" that comes from love and trust, from a living communion with God, Who alone is Truth, the creator and sustainer of our minds and reasonings.

Don't be scared by the use of the word mystery. It is used to humbly proclaim that we don't (and can't) know every thing about God. Some mysteries have been revealed (Eph. 3:2-6), and some will be revealed. God can never be completely known and understood by human minds; we will be learning about him unto the “ages of ages.” A little-known Christian layman, Minucius Felix, wrote in A.D. 218:

He cannot be seen, for He is too bright for sight; nor can he be grasped, for He is too pure to touch; nor can He be measured, for He is too great for the senses. He is infinite and cannot be measured; and how great He is, is known to Himself alone. Our heart is too narrow to understand Him; and therefore we take His measure worthily by saying that He is immeasurable.

Although God is mysterious, He has revealed Himself to us. In theological terms, we say God is transcendent and immanent—He is both far away and near. Bishop Kallistos Ware sums it up best:

These, then, are the two "poles" in man's experience of the Divine. God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than anything else. And we find, paradoxically, that these two poles do not cancel one another out: on the contrary, the more we are attracted to the one "pole," the more vividly we become aware of the other at the same time. Advancing on the Way, each finds that God grows ever more intimate and ever more distant, well known and yet unknown—well known to the smallest child, incomprehensible to the most brilliant theologian. God dwells in "light unapproachable," yet man stands in His presence with loving confidence and addresses Him as friend.

That is why the mystery of the Holy Trinity is said to be the model of conversion (metanoia) and a cross for humanity. No one can come face to face with this blessed Truth and not fall down in worship. It is like Isaiah when he saw the Lord high and lifted up. The only proper reaction is awe-struck adoration. This Great Mystery forces prideful man to repent (to change his mind). We are called, when confronted with this Great Mystery, to change our minds, change our habitual ways of thinking, and be converted.

Here is the foundation of ecclesiology. The Church as the Body of Christ is directly related to how we view the Holy Trinity.

More to come.

1 comment:

David Bryan said...

Looking forward to this.