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#63 The Holy Trinity

Summary:

How can God be both 3 and 1?  Christians are monotheists, we believe in one God, but many people don't understand how the Holy Trinity fits in with that.  The Holy Trinity is One God, three divine Persons who express one divine Nature.

Questions: 

As you watch the episode, consider:

1. We are monotheists which means we believe in one God. So does the Holy Trinity make sense to us? How can 3 be 1 and 1 be 3? 

2. What is the difference between person and nature? How does this relate to us as humans?

3. The perfect unity of the Trinity is one made perfect only through perfect love. Can love unite us with our fellow brethren? How?

Check out these model lesson plans / retreat sessions for JOY and GOYA!

Links:

And here are some articles you may find to be helpful:

1. Bible Gateway, 2 Corinthians 13:14

2. Saint John Damascene, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith available on St Nicholas Orthodox Church

3. Plato, Euthyphro available on MIT Classics

4. Orthodox Wiki, The Holy Trinity

Script:

Hey everybody this is Steve, and if you've ever been confused by the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity, you're definitely not alone. After all, how can God be both 3 and 1? This confusion comes from the tension between two basic beliefs about God, Monotheism and Polytheism. Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God while Polytheism is the belief that there are many Gods. Criticisms of Polytheism go all the way back to Ancient times. In Plato's, Euthyphro for example, written back when people believed in the twelve Olympian Gods, you can read about how Socrates identified some of the confusion that results from Polytheism. If Zeus and Apollo are arguing for example, who are we supposed to follow? What is good if different Gods are taking different sides? Christians, like Jews and Muslims and others, are Monotheists. We believe in one God. But non-Christians, and even lots of Christians don't understand how belief in a Holy Trinity is belief in one God.

To answer that question, we need to first understand the difference between nature and person. Nature, or essence, is what something is. So when we're talking about human nature we're talking about what it means to be human. Persons, on the other hand, are how or who something is. So when we're talking about a particular human person we're not talking about humanity in the abstract, what it means to be human, we're talking about human nature as it's expressed in particular people. Though there may be billions of human persons walking around at this very moment, there's only one human nature. And what makes me a human rather than a tree, or a teakettle, or a top hat, is that I express that human nature. What I am is human. How I am, or who I am is Steve, a particular person. Like we talked about last week, who I am is found in my relationship with others, with family, with friends, with total strangers. And most important of all, who I am is found in my relationship with God.

However, we need to be careful. Human nature and human persons can be a nice starting point for thinking about the Holy Trinity but like any comparison it's not perfect. For instance, you and I are distinct and unique human persons. You are not me, I am not you and that distinction is what allows us to be who we are and not just abstract humanity. But in our lives that distinction usually deepens into something else. So instead of just being separate and unique we become divided. We disagree, we argue, we fight, we even kill. My will becomes opposed to your will. The line between us that marks our uniqueness becomes a border that marks our conflict. This is the result of our sin, of our failure to love completely, and unconditionally.

Things are different with the Holy Trinity. God the father is unique, He is not the Son, and He is not the Holy Spirit. There is a distinction, but that distinction isn't corrupted into division. The three Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity share everything and are perfectly united in love. That's why our prayer is always Trinitarian, always directed at Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together. Pay attention the next time you participate in the Divine Liturgy. For instance, sometimes we address prayers to the Holy Trinity in generally. "For you are holy, our God, and to You we give glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages." Even when we speak primarily to one Person we never forget the other two. "For you Christ, our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory, together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages." The three Persons of the Holy Trinity are united in their divinity, in what they are, their nature. The father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God.

Yet the Three are unique, not in what they are but in how or who they are. The Father is God unbegotten; the Son is God begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit is God who proceeds from the Father. If you don't fully understand what begotten of and proceeds from mean don't worry, Saint John of Damascus calls them both incomprehensible and unknowable. What's important is that these words show the distinction of the three divine persons of the Holy Trinity. Though They remain perfectly united in Their perfect love. Love is a really important thing to keep in mind whenever we're talking about God. As Saint John the Evangelist tells us in his first epistle, God is love. Love exists in our connection and relationship with others. It's not something self-directed, it's other-directed. When we say that God is love, we're not saying that God loves Himself, we're saying that the one God we worship is a community of three divine persons. Perfectly united in Their perfect love. We're saying that we believe in our Father who is without beginning, in His only begotten Son, and in His all-holy good and life-giving Spirit. So let's be the bee, and pray to the Holy Trinity. Be the bee and live Orthodoxy. Remember to like and subscribe. I'll see you all, next week.

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