Orthodox America

  A Trinity of Love

The American Revolution demonstrated the strong spirit of independence which inspired this country's early settlers and which is still accepted as a distinctive American trait.  The rugged individualism of the pioneers and the legendary exploits of the Wild West mavericks are an honored part of our national heritage. (As Orthodox Christians surrounded by a society that is foreign and even hostile to our way of life, we need to exert a certain independence ourselves as we try to follow the beat of a different drum.) In recent decades, however, this spirit of independence has manifested an unhealthy exaggeration.  Modern man has developed into a radically autonomous creature; he has become obsessed with his "self." And this has had an adverse effect on our capability to love.

In the Garden of Eden, the Evil One sowed the first seeds of division. Adam became infected by self-love-which is the love of one's own will and thoughts-and this led to his separation from God. In the same way, we are increasingly divided from one another.  "The devil has deceived us by guile," writes St. Maximus the Confessor.  "He has separated us in our wills from God and from each other; he has perverted straightforward truth and in this manner has divided humanity, cutting it up into many opinions and fantasies. . . For evil is by nature dispersive, unstable, multiform and divisive" (First Century on Various Texts).

In these last times, the success of the devil's wiles is grossly apparent. Deliberately tenuous marriage contracts have supplanted the sacred trust implicit in the mystery of two becoming one flesh.  Families have become fragmented; where once they gathered around the hearth or dinner table for conversation, the lifestyles of most families today do not allow for such interaction, which is further discouraged by the isolating effects of television. Children-encouraged by lawyers, teachers and absentee parents-are becoming separate, independent entities at an increasingly young age.  On the job, economic and social pressures force an intense competitiveness, discouraging cooperation and creating yet another source of fragmentation.  Computer technology, allowing one to work in isolation, also contributes to a separation from the whole, and a sense of personal autonomy.  We presume a uniqueness in an arrogant disregard of our common human nature.

We have become so accustomed to this individualistic identity that we accept it as "natural." This is not, however, our true nature; it is not the nature of God in Whose image we were created and Whose likeness we must restore within ourselves.

About the creation of man, we read in the book of Genesis: And God said, Let us make man according to our image. . . And God made man, according to the image of God He made him (1:26, 27).  Here we find one of the Old Testament indications of the Holy Trinity and it tells us that we were created in the image not of a single Person, but of a plurality of Persons. Blessed Augustine explains:

"Certainly our, which is a plural number, would not have been used correctly if man were made to the image of one Person, whether the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit. But he was made to the image of the Trinity, for which reason it was said, "to our image." (The Trinity). The Holy Trinity is a mystery which even the greatest theologians have not presumed to discuss in more than adequate terms.  We cannot conceive of "Three Persons, unconfused, each One having His own separate being, yet united and undivided in counsel and glory and Godhead" (Canon to the Holy Trinity, tone 2); Three Persons possessing such oneness of mind and will as to be addressed in the singular.  Nevertheless, we would do well to reflect upon this mystery, for here we see that love by which and for which we were created.

The Holy Trinity gives expression to the very nature of love. In his Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Fr. Michael Pomazansky writes:  "The dogma of the Three Persons indicates the fullness of the mystical inward life of God, for God is love, and the love of God cannot merely be extended to the world created by Him; in the Holy Trinity this love is directed within the Divine Life also."

The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are One God, because God is love, and love binds together.  We suffer from isolation and divisions because we are filled with self-love and do not have the love of God.  ". . . love unites those who have been divided and is able to create a single identity of will and purpose, free from faction, among many or among all; for the property of love is to produce a single will and purpose in those who seek what pertains to it" (St. Maximos the Confessor)

We must stop thinking of ourselves as independent beings, separate from those around us, and develop a greater appreciation for our shared human nature.  "Our brother is our life," Elder Silouan of Mt. Athos used to say. "Through Christ's love, all men are made an inseparable part of our own individual, eternal existence."  Standing in church, we should be conscious of praying as one body, one family in Christ.  And in our more immediate families, we should nurture a sense of unity, of shared responsibilities and concern, which can be carried over into the extended family of the Church-and beyond.

Christ prayed to the Father, That they may be one, as we are (John 17:11). This prayer can be fulfilled only if we aspire to love. - Editor