The Most Holy Trinity

Antiphon: Blessed be God the Father and His only-begotten Son and the Holy Spirit: for He has shown that He loves us.

Scripture excerpt: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes (πιστεύων, pisteuon) in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes (πιστεύων) in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe (μὴ πιστεύων) has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:16-18).”

What comes to mind when you hear, "Holy Trinity"? For a sizable number of Christians, the word mystery is synonymous with Holy Trinity. Mystery is an excellent word in the theological vocabulary and certainly a necessary word when speaking about the Most Holy Trinity. The difficulty is how we in western culture understand the word mystery. Mystery is often regarded as “unknowable” or “can't be figured out.” Further complication arises with these (and others) descriptions of mystery because the pragmatic and utilitarian approach of western culture then says in the face of mystery, why bother? If I am not going to be able to figure out the Holy Trinity, I won't waste time. I'll simply take ‘it’ on faith and believe, even though I feel some emptiness with this approach to faith living. Is believing just about accepting and mindlessness?

Andrei Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity in Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Along with ‘taking the Holy Trinity on faith,’ Christians often try to engage theological algebra: how can 3 be 1, how can 1 be 3? We attempt an explanation with Saint Patrick's shamrock, or water (ice, liquid, steam) or a candle (wax, wick, flame). Early Christianity had its struggles with articulating an acceptable expression of the Incomprehensible. In fourth-century Constantinople, Saint Gregory of Nyssa quipped, "The whole city is full of it, the squares, the marketplaces, the crossroads, the alleyways; rag dealers, money-changers, food-sellers, they are all busy arguing. If you ask someone to give you change, he philosophizes about the Begotten and the Unbegotten; if you inquire about the price of a loaf, you are told by way of reply that the Father is greater and the Son inferior; if you ask, “Is my bath ready?” the attendant answers that the Son was made out of nothing."

With all of these thoughts swirling about, what guidance does the Word of God offer us this Sunday? The Gospel proclamation is a mere 2 verses, popular verses whose citation is often found on placards at sporting events. In these 2 verses, the verb (well, OK a participle) πιστεύω (pisteuo) is used in some form 3 times. πιστεύω is properly translated "to believe," yet even with this information the question arises: what does it mean to believe? For many, believing - like faith - is often relegated and limited to mere mental activity or mental assent that involves all of 2 nanoseconds. While believing and faith do have transcendent realities associate with each, the fact that a human believes or that a human professes faith means, by definition, that such an action is an act of the whole person: soul AND body.

This point is intensified when looking at the meaning of πιστεύω in the biblical era. πιστεύω expressed a claim that one made on another for direction in life. When I or we believed in another, I or we gave over control of the journey's direction to the person leading the expedition. Naturally, one would have known something about the leading before embarking on the trip, but the full knowledge of who this person is comes only as the journey unfolds and one experiences the skill, the knowledge, the resources to bring a journey to its proper completion. No wonder πιστεύω practically became a synonym for trust.

Consequently, on this solemn festival of the Most Holy Trinity we celebrate the Spirit's gift to all of πιστεύω. Such permits us to commit the entirety of our lives to the Person Jesus as the Leader of life's journey. Following Him involves more than knowledge and mental assent; it requires a change of heart visible in the way each thinks, speaks and acts. Following him requires docility and humility of spirit that utters with each step of the journey, “not my will, but Your Will be done.”

Alternative Opening Prayer:
God, we praise You:
Father all-powerful, Christ Lord and Savior,
Spirit of love.
You reveal Yourself in the depths of
our being,
drawing us to share in Your life and Your love.
One God, Three Persons,
be near to the people formed in Your image,
close to the world Your love brings to life.
We ask you this, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
one God, true and living, for ever and ever.

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