One of the many delights of the internet is the ease of access to sources which might otherwise be difficult to find; one of the great pleasures of modern theology is the revival of the Orthodox contribution to it; it is one reason I like Fr Aidan Kimel’s blog, Eclectic Orthodoxy, so much. There is, in Eastern Orthodoxy, a strain of thought which seems to my poor faculties lacking, or at least little emphasised in the Western Tradition, and that is to do with mysticism and feeling and mystery; I cannot quite find the words I want, but they come close. It was a particular pleasure to find a reflection from the very Rev. Fr. John Behr, the Dean of St Vladimir’s Seminary, on the blog, especially as it was on the Trinity, upon which we have had so much discussion here. [Today’s post is an equally excellent reflection by Metropolitan Kallistos].
Fr John begins:
To avoid the confusion into which explanations often fall, it is necessary to distinguish between: the one God; the one substance common to Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and the one-ness or unity of these Three
and then startles:
The Father alone is the one true God. This keeps to the structure of the New Testament language about God, where with only a few exceptions, the world “God” (theos) with an article (and so being used, in Greek, as a proper noun) is only applied to the one whom Jesus calls Father, the God spoken of in the scriptures. This same fact is preserved in all ancient creeds, which begin: “I believe in one God, the Father …”
Goodness me! Isn’t that cutting the Creed short to fit an argument, I wondered, after all it continues to include the Son and the Holy Spirit; is Fr John really suggesting they are not ‘God’? But I read it again and saw what he means:
So there is one God and Father, one Lord Jesus Christ, and one Holy Spirit, three “persons” (hypostases) who are the same or one in essence (ousia); three persons equally God, possessing the same natural properties, yet really God, possessing the same natural properties, yet really distinct, known by their personal characteristics. Besides being one in essence, these three persons also exist in total one-ness or unity.
The Son is begotten of the Father before all worlds, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father (through the Son), so there is, in Fr John’s words an ‘essential asymmetry of the relation’ between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with the Father being the ‘Monarch’.
This is not ‘modalism’, as Fr John emphasises. One of the features of the Divine Economy is the communion of love:
if they were simply different modes in which the one God appears, then such an act of communion would not be possible. The similar way of expressing the divine unity is in terms of “coinherence” (perichoresis): the Father, Son and Holy Spirit indwell in one another, totally transparent and interpenetrated by the other two. This idea clearly stems from Christ’s words in the Gospel of John: “I am in the Father and the Father in me” (14:11). Having the Father dwelling in Him in this way, Christ reveals to us the Father, He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).
The third way in which ‘the total unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is manifest is in their unity of work or activity.’
Fr John asks, as I think we all must, what is the point of such reflections, and answers what I think I would have, had I the wisdom – namely that it stems from the attempt to answer the question of who Christ is. But he offers another purpose which lifts the spirit:
it also indicates the destiny to which we are also called, the glorious destiny of those who suffer with Christ, who have been “conformed to the image of His Son, the first-born, of many brethren” (Rom 8:29). What Christ is as first-born, we too may enjoy, in Him, when we also enter into the communion of love: “The glory which though hast given me, I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22).
That, to me, on about the fifth prayerful reading, seems to me a wonderful motif for the New Year just begun.