I. He was walking by the seashore struggling to make sense of things. For the past several months, St. Augustine had set out to write a book on the Holy Trinity. God is one: God is three. One indivisible unity: three unique persons. Every analogy is flawed. Every exercise of reason falls short. Augustine was one of the greatest intellectuals of his time. He’d been to the best schools. He knew philosophy and theology unlike anyone. Two ecumenical councils have since declared him one of the greatest saints and doctors of Orthodoxy. Scholars everywhere tip their hats to his genius. Yet, this topic baffled him. How could he begin to explain the Trinity?
If you’ve ever been up all night working out a problem, you can probably imagine the way he felt. The coffee high had worn out. His head ached. There’s nothing like fresh air and an ocean breeze to clear the head, but it was to no avail. He paced back and forth despairing.
Then Augustine looked and saw a little child. The boy had dug a hole in the sand and stooped over it, pouring water from a tiny spoon. Next, he walked out to the seashore, scooped up more water and, again, poured it out in his hole. Back again to the sea and back again with more water. The boy was so earnest that Augustine couldn’t help but walk closer and ask, “My boy, what are you doing?” The boy looked up replying, “I’m trying to bring all of the ocean into my hole.” “But that’s impossible,” Augustine said, “the hole isn’t large enough to carry so much water.” To which the boy responded with a sweet smile, “it is no more impossible than what you’re trying to do, to comprehend the mystery of the Trinity with your tiny brain.”
II. There are few mysteries as baffling as the Holy Trinity.
Sometimes I think this mystery is the biggest proof that Christianity is true. If someone were to make up a religion, you can be sure they would never come up with the Trinity. They’d teach something far simpler. We can all grasp the idea of one God, or many gods. But the Trinity is both one and many. No one would come up with this unless it was revealed to us directly by God Himself.
And that is just what happened. We don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity because it makes sense to us. We believe the doctrine because the Trinity came to us and told us.
Isaac Newton discovered the principle of gravity because he encountered it. He didn’t lock himself behind closed doors, apply a little math and physics, and “Voilà, gravity exists!” He sat under an apple tree and when the wind blew an apple crashed down on his head. The experience came first, the philosophy second. Christianity works the same way. First, God appeared to us. Everything followed from that.
III. What difference, however, does the doctrine of the Trinity make in my life? Does it matter?
It matters more than anything you can fathom. But we lose sight of that.
A theologian once suggested that Christians, while professing a belief in the Trinity, live as practical monotheists. He went so far as to suggest that for most Christians, if you were to erase the whole confusing doctrine of Trinity, their lifestyles would go on without a notable difference. Do you agree with him? Can you think of why the Trinity matters? Can you imagine what difference it makes in your ‘real’ life – when you are not in your Sunday best, when you wake up in the morning, when you sit down in your car, when you greet a passerby? Today, is the Feast of the Holy Trinity, and we are forced to ask these questions.
God is Father, Son and Holy Ghost: one essence and three persons. This truth should influence, guide and permeate every decision and every action that you make from the minute you wake up to the minute you fall asleep.
IV. In the beginning, after creating the heavens and the earth, God spoke, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
The Church Fathers marvelled at this passage, because it shows God, in singular, speaking in plural. The very act of creating humanity was conciliar. It was a shared work of all three persons in the Trinity. Humanity didn’t pop into existence because a lonely God, somewhere far off, came up with the idea and snapped His fingers. We were created out of love shared between three persons. We were created from an overflowing of this love, and that love, that community, that sharing, is at the very core of who we are.
We all say, “God is love,” but we don’t always take in how profound that is. God really is love. He is the eternal love shared between three persons; love so real, so tangible and thick, that the persons are indivisible. They are utterly and inseparably one.
That love, that sharing, was stamped on our hearts.
V. What does that mean? It means that you and I are truly our selves while loving others.
“Now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in union with us, and his love is made perfect in us” (1 John 4:12-13).
The gospel commands us, above everything else, to love God and to love each other. This isn’t because love is cute and fuzzy. It isn’t because that’s nice and we Christians like being nice. We’re called to love because that is the very definition of life. Everything that is not loving is death. God is love, and the more you strive to mirror God the more you become a fully alive man or a fully alive woman.
St. Maximus taught that, “Love alone…represents true humanity in the image of the Creator.”
Bishop Kallistos Ware expounds, “I become truly a person only when I look into your eyes and allow you to look into mine.”
There are a hundred and more lessons from the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but this comes first and foremost. God is three persons and one being. Each is unique. Each has a separate identity and distinct role. Yet all three are one in perfect harmony and perfect love. So we too, in the act of loving one another maintain our unique personalities yet become complete in a solidarity and union that can only be called divine.
VI. What does that look like? Where does it begin?
It begins here, in the parish.
Christ warns us, in the Gospel of John, chapter 13, verse 35. He gives us a heads-up, and one that every Christian ought to write on his doorpost and repeat like a mantra: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Love isn’t a feeling. Love isn’t an emotion. Love isn’t being nice, and love isn’t an option.
The love, which we are obliged to share together, as Christians, as family, is the willingness to die to self daily, and to encourage, to help, to serve, to forgive and most of all, to sacrifice for the good of the other.
VII. If there was one thing that stood out the most to me, while living in Greece, it was this vision of Christian community.
They don’t go to church to say a couple private prayers and rush back to their private world. Church is equally about one another as it is about God. Church is an opportunity to break bread with God as well as to break bread with one’s brothers and sisters. If you don’t believe me read the bible, read church history, visit our sister parishes. This is Orthodoxy. This is Christianity.
A Texan friend once stumbled across an Orthodox community. They left one impression on him, which always makes me smile: “These Orthodox sure like to eat together.” That’s theologically profound. This is what we do. This is how Jesus Christ describes the heavenly paradise. This is how the Book of Acts and the Epistles portray the early Christians. This is how Orthodox Christians have walked out their lives in every century in every culture.
We like to eat together.
Why? Because we understand what it means that our God is the Holy Trinity.
I will conclude by praying a Collect from our Missal for the unity of a congregation:
POUR FORTH upon us, O Lord, the Spirit of thy charity: that as thou hast fulfilled us with one heavenly bread, so of thy goodness thou wouldest make us to be of one heart and mind. Through Christ our Lord who livest and reignest with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.