Παρασκευή, 9 Οκτωβρίου 2015

God the Holy Trinity: ‘The Lover of Mankind’ (& the "depiction of God" in Orthodox Church)


God in Trinity - A Communion of Persons
 
From here & here


The Orthodox Icon of Holy Trinity (st. Andrew_Rublev)
 
We Orthodox Christians believe in a Trinitarian God. God is not an isolated being, but communion and love. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; He is not one Person but three. Between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit there exists a pre-eternal communion of love. This does not imply, however, that we Christians believe in three Gods, but in One. There is but one divine essence and it is indivisible. This is why we speak of one God in Trinity. The unique source of the one divine essence is the Father. He it is who transmits pre-eternally, (icpoai-ωρίως) i.e. without beginning, existence to the Son through pre-eternal generation, and to the Holy Spirit, through pre-eternal procession.
Here we must note that in the Orthodox Church "procession" is contrasted to "sending". The Holy Spirit proceeds pre-eternally from the Father alone. "In time" (temporally) He is sent from the Son for the salvation of man. In other words a distinction is made between the pre-eternal transmission of the divine essence from the Father, and the Divine Economy, i.e. the mystery of man's salvation (John 15,26). The Orthodox Church does not accept the so-called "Filioque", the teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds "and from the Son".
Our faith in the Triune God is not a man-made discovery, but revelation from God. He who is unap­proachable for man, reveals Himself to man and becomes approachable.
Already in the Old Testament the Triune God appears as the Creator of man and the entire world. He is created not by the Father alone, but from the Father through the Son and is perfected "in the Holy Spirit", with one will and one energy. "In the beginning God created the Heaven and the earth...and the spirit of God was moving over the face of the water", the Old Testa­ment tells us characteristically, using in Hebrew the word Elohim for God, which is a plural form. And for the creation of man God spoke and said: "let us make man according to our image and likeness" (Gen. 1,26).
 
We confess that there is only one will and one energy for the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Father wills and acts those things which the Son and the Holy Spirit will and act. Many passages in Holy Scrip­ture manifest the unity of will and energy of the divine Persons which make up the One and Trinitarian God. That is why they are characterized as "Lord" (Kyrios), "The Lord God" or even " The Lord Pantocrator" (Almighty). These characteristics are at times attributed to the Father, at other times to the Son and at other times to the Holy Spirit. Thus, the "Lord" whom Isaiah saw (Isaiah 6,1-10) is, according to John 12,36-41, the Son, while according to Acts 28,25-27, the Holy Spirit.
This Trinitarian faith is expressed by Orthodox Christians by the manner in which they baptize and in the way they glorify God: they are baptized "in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (Mtth. 28,19) and they glorify the Triune God: "glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit". Orthodox Christians then are baptized in the way that they believe and glorify God: in harmony with their Trinitarian faith. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity are not separated, neither are they confused; they exist one in the other (perichoresis); i.e. each one of the divine persons is always within each of the other two. There where the Father is, is also the Son and the Holy Spirit. And wherever the Son is, there also is the Father and the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is, there also are the Father and the Son.
 
trinityAs we have mentioned, there is only one source which pre-eternally provides the divine essence: the Father. That which has been revealed to us concerning the distinction of the divine persons is the manner in which the divine essence is imparted: to the Son: through pre-eternal generation; the Father pre-eternally begets the Son; to the Holy Spirit: through pre-eternal procession; the Holy Spirit pre-eternally proceeds from the Father.
This divine revelation of the Triune God was given for man's salvation and not in order to satisfy his curiosity. According to the Christian teaching, man was created according to God's image. Knowing therefore that God is a communion of persons, man delves into the knowledge of his own nature; he realizes that he also is not condemned to isolation, but created for communion and love. If God, who is man's archetype, were not Triune, then man could never realize that which he so deeply desires: communion and love. His entire life would be without any release. This is why we declare that our faith in the Holy Trinity constitutes man's only hope: "we have found true faith in worshipping the Trinity undivided; for the Trinity has saved us" epigrammatically states one of the hymns of the Divine Liturgy.
 
In regard to this faith, the Orthodox Christian does not try to convince others with logical arguments so that they will accept it. For should he do so, he is obliged to move about in the field of purely human searching and not on the level of God's revelation.
Addressing himself to the Corinthians, St. Paul underlines: "God has revealed [these things] to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God...So also no one comprehends God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed upon us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one." (I Cor. 2, 10-15).
 
In unity with the Trinitarian faith the Orthodox Church chants:
"Come, Ο ye peoples, let us worship the Godhead of three Hypostases:
the Son in the Father, with the Holy Spirit; for the Father timelessly begat the Son,
Who is co-eternal and of one throne; and the Holy Spirit was in the Father, glorified with the Son; one Might, one Essence, one Godhead, which we all worship saying:
Holy God,
Who didst create all things through the Son, with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit.
Holy Mighty,
through Whom we have known the Father,
and through Whom the Holy Spirit came to the world.
Holy Immortal, the Comforting Spirit,
Who proceedest from the Father and resteth in the Son. Ο Holy Trinity, glory be to Thee
(the Doxastikon of Pentecost Vespers).

THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
Its Faith, Worship and Life
By: Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos
PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy
Translated by Rev. Stephen Avramides
ATHENS 2001

God the Holy Trinity: ‘The Lover of Mankind’

The second session of The Way that was held on 2 September focused on God the Holy Trinity as the ‘Lover of Mankind’. The talk was given by Father Demetrios Bathrellos who began by noting that the doctrine of the Trinity is often seen as confusing and difficult. Yet, the question of God is the single most important question that we can ask, and the answer that we give to it determines our present and our future. Believe in God is difficult for some people today. God does not impose His presence and we need eyes of faith to see Him. Moreover, people also have false ideas of God and so we also need to understand what the Christian Church understands when it speaks of God.
 

The Lord & the saints (click here)
 
We believe that there is one God. But God is not impersonal; rather, He is three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These persons are not part of God but are fully God; they are distinct, but never divided from one another.

Therefore from the beginning, in His very being, God is personal and relates in love. He is a God of love, a God of love and communion. It is this love that comes down to us, and in which we are called to share.
The Fathers of the Church and the Ecumenical Councils used the terms ‘nature’ and ‘essence’ to refer to the oneness of God and the terms ‘person’ and ‘hypostasis’ to refer to the persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The former signifies what somebody is, whereas the latter signifies who somebody is. This fact that the Christian God is a community of persons is just as important as the fact that He is one God.
We can know God because He has revealed Himself out of love. He reveals Himself through creation, through human rationality, and through our conscience. However, our alienation from God has obscured our spiritual vision so that we may find it difficult to ‘see’ God, or even to believe that He exists. 

Therefore God chose to reveal Himself to the people of Israel, even though this was still in a partial way. His final and complete revelation occurred when God the Father sent His Son in the Spirit to become man. We know God in Jesus Christ. No one has access to God the Father except through the Son [cf. John 14:6]. Great efforts have been made by religions and philosophers to conceive God and relate with Him. They are not always fully wrong, but they are at best incomplete, unsatisfactory, and misleading. They mainly represent man’s effort to reach the heavens. But even the most skilful and well-trained human being cannot jump that high.

We know God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ lives and acts in the Church, which Saint Paul call’s the Body of Christ. Through the Holy Spirit He removes our spiritual blindness so that we can see reality as it really is.

Having a reliable knowledge of God is of great importance, for our view of God shapes our own identity. Our knowledge of God is not simply theoretical, but is also a result of our communion and relationship with Him. However, our knowledge of God is not exhaustive and can never be fully expressed in language, and this stops us reducing God to an idol who we can fully understand.

We know that God is love, and this is true not only of the relationship of love that exists between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but it is also true of God’s relationship with us. God is the ‘Lover of Mankind’.
Father Bathrellos discussed several characteristics of God’s love. It is a free and creative love that respects our personhood and wants to give us life full of life, joy, peace and love. It is immeasurable and unconditional, totally unselfish and forgiving. He recalled the example of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) which shows us how God always treats us as His children. God’s love is personal, caring and providential, but it also respects our freedom and God does not impose His love on us. It is also a teaching and correcting love and is not devoid of justice. It is a loving justice that permits those who have rejected Him to be separated from Him.

God’s love is humble and sacrificial and we see this in the way He took on human flesh and became what we are in order to make us what He is.
He died on the cross out of love for His executioners too, whom He had forgiven. Yet His perfect and sacrificial love proved eventually victorious. It brought about life. It led to the resurrection and opened the doors of everlasting life to the whole world.

The question can be raised of where God is when we suffer. How can He allow suffering in the world.
Suffering came as a result of misused human freedom and much, although not all, suffering is the result of human freedom. For Christians, God’s involvement in our suffering is that
Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross. Although He alone was sinless, innocent and holy, He shared our suffering to the full. For our sins He paid the price.

We may experience much suffering, but God is with us when we suffer. We can endure the Cross because we know that God is with us, and ultimately we need to see the Cross in the light of the Resurrection. “Likewise, only in the Kingdom of God will the mystery of human pain and suffering be fully understood and answered.”


Icon of the Holy Trinity

The Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, Greek Orthodox Church in Greenville, South Carolina
The Teachings on the Holy Trinity is the basic theological theme of Pentecost.

How can God be shown in an icon? "God is Spirit" says John. Through the incarnation God " became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). The Father, whom none has seen, revealed himself in the Son. Jesus says, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14.9)
Humankind is capable of apprehending a vision of the image of the invisible God because he is created in the "Image of God." The Church Fathers saw the nature of our created image not as something static but as a living relationship. Any vision of God is a personal, immediate knowledge of God between creator and creature. It is of necessity the expression of a loving inward communion that is only possible for the Son and the Father. For us this perfect vision is not possible. The Church holds that the only possible image we have of the incarnate God, is the Son. But he is invisible in his divine nature without beginning even though he came to us as a mortal, born of a virgin mother. So even the image of the Son is only a limited view of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Any image or icon can only point us to what is not seen.

In the Old Testament we had prefiguations of God through the visions of the Prophets of Elias, Isaiah, and Daniel. Among these images that were given to us was the one given to Abraham and recorded by Moses. God appeared to Abraham at the oak of Mambre in the form of three men. This image which has become the main icon of the FrescoHoly Trinity is no manifestation of the infinite, but a prophetic vision of this mystery which has been revealed over time though the development of iconography.
The earliest depiction of this event found in Genesis 18 is a 4th century fresco found in the Via Latina Catacomb.It shows Abraham sitting under a tree greeting three youths standing in front of him on a raised platform with his raised hand. To his right is a calf suggesting his yet to come hospitality. The youth represent angels as early depictions of angels were as beardless youths. The three are similar in size and clothed alike. There is not real distinction among them. Clearly Mosaicthis image in an interpretation of this scene from the Old Testament.
We have from the 5th century a magnificent mosaic from the Saint Maria Maggiore in Rome. Abraham greets three youths on his knees. They now have halos or nimbi indicating a radiant light of glory around them. The one in the center is enclosed in a mandorla. Below they sit at a table and Abraham and Sarah are providing them hospitality. There is a bowl in front of the table for washing and on the table are three loaves of bread. Abraham is offering them a whole calf. Again an interpretation of the Biblical event.
Mosaiac 6th cAnother early mosaic is found in San Vitale, Ravenna. Here one angel is pointing to the calf that Abraham holds and the other points to the bread. The one on the left holds his hand in blessing. This shows a network of relationships. This form remained unchanged for many centuries.

In the Eastern church a new iconographic type appeared around the year 1000. The image contains Abraham and Sarah and the three angels seated at the table. The guests no longer sit side by side Psalter 11th cbut are group around a semicircular table. The middle angel is distinguished from the others and carries a scroll in his left hand while blessing with his right. The nimbus about his head has a cross clearly symbolizing Christ. This type is begun to be referred to as the Holy Trinity and was Christ centered. The image to the right is from a 11th century Greek psalter.
In the 14th century we have the well known iconographer Theophanes the Greek who painted many icons in Russia. He did the iconography in the church of the Transfiguration of Christ in Novgorod. This Fresco 15th cfresco of the trinity shows the familiar arrangement. The center angel appears more prominent. He bears a cross nimbus and carries along with his staff a large scroll. clearly symbolizing Christ.
14th cIn the late Byzantine period another interpretation appeared. An example comes from the Athonite Monastery of Vatopedi. It is more elaborate . The angels sit around a richly decorated table. The central angel has his head turned to the side with the head inclined slightly. His hand is no longer raised in blessing but now makes a gesture towards the vessel in front of him. He still has the cross nimbus. Abraham and Sarah are inserted between the angels with an attitude of reverence. The two side angels have clear gestures. One on the left blesses the table and the one on the right reaches for piece of bread. We also see in the background a house and a tree from the Biblical narrative.
This form is commonly seen in current iconography in the Greek Orthodox Churches. Shown below is a recent copy of this form of icon. Here there is no cross in the nimbus of the central angel and they appear equal in size. The table is clearly a dinning table fixed with food.

Saint Andrew Rublev Icon of the Holy Trinity

These series of icons shown above form the background for the development of one the most famous icons of the Trinity by the Russian iconographer Saint Andrew Rublev. There was no fixed form for the Trinity at the time of Rublev in the 15th century. This left painters freedom in their interpretation. He was aware of the transition from Christ centered icons of the Trinity toward a more theologically correct trinitarian view.
Trinity-RublevYear 1411 or 1425-27
Type Tempera
Dimensions 142 cm × 114 cm (56 in × 45 in)
Location Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Saint Andrew introduced definite changes to the pattern that immediately preceded him. The central angel no longer looks at the beholder but at an angle to the left. The angel on the left and the right cross each other so the center of gravity moves from the central angel to one on the left. The angels are of equal size. He give the central angel clothing characteristic of Christ and makes the clothing of the other two unique. The hand are no longer pointing to objects on the table which is smaller and there is now room only for a chalice in its middle containing the sacrificial lamb. Their gestures do not relate to food as in earlier icons but to one another. They represent three separate distinct persons who in intimate relation with each other.
The angel on the left is clothed in a pale pink cloak with brown and blue-green highlights. The one in the center is clothed in the customary colors of Christ. A dark red robe and blue cloak. The one on the right has a green cloak. The clear and precise colors of the central angel are contrasted with the soft hues of the other two. The colors seem to blend and harmonize unifying the three figures giving them a tranquil joyfulness. Just as in so many other icons, gold indicates the value of the image and draws us into the Kingdom of Heaven. It is as if the entire scene were suffused with light. Fitting because of the subject – no less than God himself – the same God who dwells in light unapproachable, the same God who dwells in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The table no longer looks like a dinning table but is a cube clearly recognizable as an altar with an opening for the relics. The hosts Abraham and Sarah are no longer in the picture. 

FatherHe uses the biblical background but relates it to the three figures. The angel on the left is coordinated with the house, the one in the middle with a tree and the one on the right with a rock. These relationships become symbolic.
Over the head of the Father who is on the left is the house of the Father. It is the goal of our journey. It is the beginning and end of our lives. Its roof is golden. Its door is always open for the traveler. It has a tower, and its window is always open so that the Father can incessantly scan the roads for a glimpse of a returning prodigal.
He is vested in a blue undergarment which depicts his divine celestial nature. His fatherly authority is seen in his entire appearance. His head is not bowed and he is looking at the other two angels. His whole demeanor - the expression on his face, the placement of his hands, the way he is sitting - all speaks of his fatherly dignity.

Behind the center angle who symbolizes christ is a great tree that spreads its shade in heat of the day. It is no ordinary tree. It stands above the SonSon in the picture, and stands above the altar-table where the lamb lies within the chalice. Because of the sacrifice this tree grows. The tree of death has been transformed into a tree of life for us.
The Son has the deepest colors; a thick heavy garment of the reddish-brown of blood earth and a cloak of the blue of heaven. In his person he unites heaven and earth, the two natures are present in him, and over his right shoulder (the Government shall be upon his shoulder) there is a band of gold shot through the earthly garment, as his divinity suffuses and transfigures his earthly being. He is inclined towards the first angel, as though deep in conversation.

SpiritThe angel on the right symbolizes the Holy Spirit. His green mantle of the Spirit, scintillating with light, is another of Rublev’s achievements. Green belongs to the Spirit because the Spirit is the source of life. On the Feast of Pentecost, Eastern Orthodox churches are decorated with greenery, boughs and branches, and worshippers will wear green clothing. The Orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit begins, "O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life…"
This sense of the Spirit as the source of life, everywhere present, filling all things, contributes to one of the distinct feaatures of Orthodox theology. That is, it is intimately bound up with daily life. There is no such thing as theology which is purely intellectual. If theology doesn't change you, if it doesn’t flood you with light, it’s not worth your time
This icon is appreciated for its simplicity. Saint Andrew was successful at advancing the iconographic tradition of the Church adding depth and bringing greater clarity to a doctrine that is forever mystically clothed.

Henry Nouwen, the great spiritual writer from Notre Dame, notes:
“Andrei Rublev painted this icon not only to share the fruits of his own meditation on the mystery of the Holy Trinity but also to offer his fellow monks a way to keep their hearts centered on God while living in the midst of political unrest. The more we look at this holy image with the eyes of faith, the more we come to realize that is painted not as a lovely decoration for a convent church, nor as a helpful explanation of a difficult doctrine, but as a holy place to enter and stay within. As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in an intimate table conversation that is taking place between the three divine angels and to join them at the table. The movement from the Father toward the Son and the movement of both Son and Spirit toward the Father become a movement in which the one who prays is lifted up and held secure. Through the contemplation of this icon we come to see with our own inner eyes that all the engagements in this world can bear fruit only when they take place within the divine circle. We can be involved in struggles for justice and actions for peace. We can be part of the ambiguities of family and community life. We can study, teach, write, and hold a regular job. We can do all of this without ever having to leave the house of love… Rublev's icon gives us a glimpse of the house of perfect love.”

Abraham and Sarah from Genesis 18:
"The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men/angels standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought and wash your feet. Rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah and said, Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate."

Primary reference for the above is The Rublev Trinity by Gabriel Bunge

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