THE MYSTERY OF THE HOLY TRINITY EXPLAINED

One of the simplest ways of explaining the mystery of the Trinity is that reportedly given by St. Spyridon of Trimithund at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). According to tradition, when asked how it is that Three can simultaneously be One, St. Spyridon responded by taking up a brick and squeezing it. From the soft clay in his hands a flame showed up while simultaneously water flowed downwards. ‘As there is fire and water in this brick’, said St. Spyridon, ‘in the same way there are three Persons in the one Godhead’.

Another version of the same story (or it may be a different story) is found in the Acts of the Council of Nicaea. One philosopher argued long and hard with the Fathers of the Council, trying to prove logically that the Son cannot be consubstantial with the Father. Exhausted by long debates and eager to leave, the Fathers were suddenly confronted by a simple elderly shepherd (identified as St. Spyridon), who announced that he was prepared to argue with the philosopher and disprove his arguments. Turning to the philosopher, the shepherd looked at him severely, and said: ‘Listen, O philosopher, God is one, the Creator of heaven and earth, Who has created all things through the power of the Son and the operation of the Holy Spirit. This Son of God became incarnate, lived among people, died for us and rose again. Do not labor in vain to seek evidence for that which is comprehended by faith alone, but answer me: do you believe in the Son of God?’ Struck by these words, the philosopher could only say, ‘I do’. The shepherd said: ‘If you believe, then let us go to the church and there I will bring you into communion with this true faith’. The philosopher immediately stood up and went with the shepherd. On his way out, he said to those present: ‘When people tried to convince me with words, I countered words with words; but when a divine power came forth from the mouth of this old man, then words were no match for this power, as man cannot contend against God’.

We have already faced a very similar dilemma when discussing the doctrine of God: human words cannot convey the divine reality. God’s enlightenment and His grace are needed, for us to comprehend trinitarian theology. No terminology or formulation is adequate to communicate the mystery of the Trinity. Yet the Christian faith is above all trinitarian, and it is crucially important for every Christian to partake fully in this mystery. For an Orthodox Christian, the Trinity is not an abstract theological concept: it is a reality which is to be lived through. The Trinity is Someone to Whom we pray, but it is also Community, the Communion of three in one, the Family in Whose image we build up our own human community.

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