The Mystery of Trinity

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Introduction

The Mystery of Trinity is the first among the five pillars of mysteries at our oriental apostolic Orthodox Church. It is fundamental to the dogma of our church and hence one can hardly comprehend the rest of the mysteries without faith in the Mystery of Trinity. All the mysteries presuppose faith in Mystery of Trinity as well as proclaiming that faith through rituals.

The word ‘Trinity’ means a group of three things or people. It refers to the existence of one God in three Persons. Holy Trinity a special and unique form of Trinity and it means three in One, One in three. While the mystery of Trinity is extensively stated in various scriptures, the term “Trinity” was first coined by Theophilus of Antioch (169 AD) to explain an eternally existing reality. It should be emphasised that St Theophilus of Antioch did not re-write the scriptures. He just gave a fitting term to a notion that had already been in scriptures.

The Mystery of Trinity is the most fundamental of all Christian dogmas. It is the basis for our salvation. It is impossible to comprehend the fundamental teachings of the Holy Bible in the absence of a clear understanding about the Mystery of Trinity. This mystery is part and parcel of each and every spiritual life and service. We all are baptized in the name of Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). We always start our prayer or other spiritual services ‘in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.’ Similary, at the conclusion of all spiritual services, we wind it up by the clause “Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We proclaim our faith with the name of the Trinity, which is our powerful weapon against the devil.

Trinity: One in three, three in one

We believe in one God. God is one in essence/nature, divinity, power, action, and will (Deut 6:4, Isai 44:6, 43:1, John 10:30). We also believe in three Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God is three in Person (Hypostasis), Name, and Deed (Matt 28:19, 1 Cor 12:4-6, Romans 14:17). “Nature” is what God is. But what God is in His nature and essence is incomprehensible with human mind and that no human person has ever discovered or ever will discover. What we know about God is what the scriptures have told us. St John the evangelist stated that “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18) “Person” is who God is. St Gregory stated it as “When I say God, I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Deed/Relation: The Father eternally begets the Son, and eternally gives forth the Holy Spirit. He is the unbegotten and never proceeds. The Son is begotten of the Father. He never begets, never gives forth the Holy Spirit, and never proceeds from the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. He never begets, is unbegotten, and never gives forth. The three persons are co-equal, co-eternal and co-substantial.

Person: The Father has a perfect person, the Son has a perfect person, the Holy Spirit has a perfect person. They are three real, concrete and absolutely distinct Persons. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three entirely distinct modes of existence. The three are not parts of the same person, nor three ways of manifestation to the world. They are undivided, inseparable, and Perfectly united.

Name: The Father is described as the Heart and God above or beyond us. The Son is also called the Son of God, His ‘Word’, or ‘Logos’, and God with us. The Holy Spirit is called the ‘life’, or ‘breath’ of God, and God within us. But the three are one. As the Apostle Paul stated it clearly “There is no other God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4).

Holy Trinity in the Old Testament

Creation of Man: “And God said, Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” Genesis 1:26 The plural number here indicates that God is not one Person. 

Exile from Eden: “And the Lord God said, Behold, Adam is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” Genesis 3:22  The plural indicates that God is not one Person.

Confusion of tongues: Prior to the confusion of tongues at the building of the tower of Babylon, the Lord said, “Let us go down, and there confound their language.” Genesis 11:6-7. Again the description “let us” shows that God is not one person.

God’s appearance to Abraham: “And the Lord appeared unto him at the oak of Mamre . . . And he (Abraham) lifted up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by him. Genesis 18:1-3. This is a more definitive appearance of God in three persons. 

Isaiah’s Commission: And one cried to another and said: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” Isaiah 6:3. They said “Holy Holy Holy” as God is three persons.

King David’s Psalm: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” Psalm 33:6  In this verse, Lord is the Father, Word is the Son and Breath is the Holy Spirit. It clearly shows God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Holy Trinity in the New Testament

Annunciation: “Father sends the Holy Spirit upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she conceives of the eternal Son of God (Luke 1:35). The archangel Gabriel clearly mentioned the three persons: Father, Son of God and Holy Spirit. 

Baptism: The Father’s voice from heaven bears witness to the Son, saying, This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; and at the same moment the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descends from the Father and rests upon the Son (Matt. 3:16-17). Here the three persons of God were revealed to the world and John the Baptist other around him witnessed them. 

Transfiguration: The Father testifies from heaven, This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear Him (Matt. 17:5), while as before the Spirit descends upon the Son, this time in the form of a cloud of light (Luke 9:34). This is also another major event where God revealed Himself to the three Apostles, Moses and Elijah. 

Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matt. 28:19 The verse indicates God is three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The singular description ‘name’ shows God is one Person.

St Paul’s Benediction: In his Benediction to Corinthians, the Apostle Paul mentioned the three persons of God as “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” 2 Cor. 13:14

The Certainty of God’s Witness: John the Evangelist stated another more definitive description of Trinity as “For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.” 1 John 5:7 

The coming testimony: On his message about the Holy Spirit our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said “But when the Comforter comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me” John 15:26-27. Here He revealed not only the three persons of God but also the fact that the Holy Spirit Proceeds from the Father (and not  from the Son). 

Analogies of Trinity

Sun: It is written, “The Lord God is a sun…” (Ps 84:11). The sun has been used as an analogy for the Holy Trinity. The sun has ray and light. You cannot separate the light from the ray and you cannot separate either from the sun.

Man: Man who is created “in the image of God” (Gen 1:26) is one of the best analogies for the Truth of the Holy Trinity. Man is of one humanity possessing a mind and a spirit. Personality, mind, and spirit comprise just one human being.

Fire: It is written, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). Fire can be used as an analogy for the Holy Trinity for fire generates flame, light and heat. Nevertheless, the flame, its light and its heat are one entity. From the moment the flame begins, from that moment light and heat also begin.

The Spring of Water: “The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook” (Prov 18:4). The well (fountain), spring and stream (river) have been used as an analogy for the Holy Trinity. Just as the spring and the stream produced from a well are not separate. There are in fact three visible objects and three names. They all have the same water.

Trinitarian heresies

Modalism: This heresy states that there is but one God who simply reveals Himself through three different modes, or roles. Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not distinct personalities, but different modes of God’s self-revelation. There is only one God, but that this one God reveals himself in different ways and different forms – sometimes as Father, sometimes as Son, sometimes as Holy Spirit. The Trinity is like water because water comes in three forms – ice, water, steam. This is Modalism because these are three states or modes of the substance water.  But it’s written that “For I am the Lord, I do not change” Malachi 6:3.

Tri-theism: This heresy says that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three independent divine beings; three separate gods who are linked together in some special way. People often make this mistake because they misunderstand the use of the word “persons” in defining the Trinity. But Trinity does not mean that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate personalities. they are one God, but three Persons.

Partialism: This heresy states that Father, Son and Holy Spirit together make up God. This would suggest that each of the persons of the Trinity is only part God. The three only becoming fully God when they are together. But Trinity means there is exactly one God; There are three really distinct Persons -Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of the Persons is God.

Arianism: Arius taught that “There was a time when the Son of God was not.” He insisted that Son of God was not truly God. He added that the Son was merely the highest of created beings, and in that sense we could call him a god. This belief is virtually identical to the present day heresy of the Jehovah’s Witness. It has been denounced at Council of Nicea (325 AD). The Word was God. John 1:1

Mecedonianism: This is a heresy that denied the full personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. According to this heresy, the Holy Spirit was created by the Son and was thus subordinate to the Father and the Son. But God is one in essence but three in Person—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are distinct and equal. This heresy has been denounced at Council of Constantinople (381 AD). The Holy Spirit is God. John 3:5 Acts 5:5

Dual procession: This heresy is related to the Filioque clause: The Holy Spirit as proceeding from both the Father and the Son, (and not from the Father only). This was gradually inserted into the Nicene Creed so that it stated that the Holy Spirit proceeds not from the God the Father alone, but from both God the Father and God the Son. This idea detracts from the separate character of each person of the Trinity and confuses their relationships. The early church believes the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only.

Conclusion

Trinity is Three in one and One in Three. The Trinity is not three persons who together make one God. Trinity is not three Gods joined together. Trinity is not three properties of God. Our forefathers have stated this as “The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. They are called one God but not three Gods.” (Apostolic Athanasius Faith of the Fathers Ch. 24 Part 4 Verse 4). In addition, the Holy fathers stated the mystery of Trinity as “Even though we say the Trinity are three in name, in deed and in person; the three are one in essence, in divinity, in existence and in will; we do not mean three Gods but one God. While the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit exist in their own perfect person, they are one in existence” (Abulidis, Faith of the Fathers, Ch. 40 Verse 4:6). 

Introduction to the Five Pillars of Mysteries

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The five pillars of mysteries are the core elements of faith in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church. They define the doctrine of the church. These are the basis of all the preaching, sacraments and services of the church. This article will briefly introduce you to these five pillars of mysteries. We shall also have separate articles for each mystery.

Definition of terms

Let’s start by defining some key terms that would help us better understand the five the mysteries. These terms are God, Faith, Religion, Dogma, Canon, and Church.

God is Pantocrater – The creator and ruler of the whole universe (Gen 1:1). He is the Lover of all mankind. God is the Heavenly Father and source of all moral authority. He is the Supreme being. He is the Almighty. He is the truth. He is omnipresent (present everywhere), omniscient (know all), omnipotent (can do everything), eternal and merciful. We believe on this God.

Faith is our firm conviction to God. It means believing on God. Accordingly, faithfulness meaning believing God in heart, confessing our faith in mouth and manifesting it in action (Romans 10:9). Apostle Paul describes faith as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrew 11:1).”

Religion is a relatively different concept. It refers to an organized faith. It outlines the nature of our relationship with God. It describes how we worship God as an individual and as a congregation. It also shows the true way to eternal life based on the words of God as written in the holy scriptures. Implied within the term religion are the institutional arrangements and the services of various types at all levels.

Dogma refers to the anchors of faith. These are the five pillars of mysteries. Dogma articulates the basic principles at the heart of our faith. Dogmas are professed as essential by all the faithful. What is stated as Dogma is a set principles laid down as incontrovertibly true by the Holy Synod. Any deviation from the Dogmas of our religion is considered as a heresy.

Canon refers to the Ecclesiastical (church) laws/rules (1 Corr 14:40) that ‘govern’ the church. These are formulated by Holy Synod of the church. All churches are expected to obey canons. These legislations may be amended by Holy Synod when necessary. these include legislations related to liturgical services, priesthood, administration of the church etc.

Church/Ecclesia is interpreted in four ways. First, it refers to the congregation (1 corr 11:28) – the Unity of all Christians, including those in heaven, and the unity of Christians with Christ. Second, it refers to the the ‘system’ of worship (John 2:16) – the church building (place of worship) and the spiritual services within it. Third, the term refers to the spiritual life of individual Christians (1 Corr 3:16). Finally, the term can be used to describe the entire church as a religious institution (e.g. Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, Coptic Orthodox Church etc.).

The Pillars of Mysteries

A pillar is a vertical structure that emerges from a basement and supports the superstructure of a building. Similarly, the Pillar of Mysteries are the most important contents of faith and the basic principles belief. They are called ‘pillars’ as they are the anchors of faith.

Why do we call them ‘Mysteries?

We call these pillars of faith ‘mysteries’ for the following two main reasons. Firstly, they are religious beliefs based on divine revelation (1 Cor. 2፡7-8). It is difficult or impossible for a human mind to understand or explain them entirely (1 Cor. 2፡9). They cannot be fully and exhaustively conceptualized or understood. For example, the mystery of baptism may sound like taking a bath for a non-believer. The status of being son or daughter of God with grace is physically incomprehensible. That’s why Jesus Christ taught Nicodemus saying “the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

Secondly, we call them mysteries because they are for those who believe in God. As a human person reveal the details of a treasure to his/her heirs, God reveals the mysteries of faith for those who seek him with a pure heart. Hence, our apostolic church does not let a non-believer take part from the sacraments, which are manifestations of our faith in the five pillars of mysteries. One must first learn and profess the five pillars of mysteries before being a full-fledged member of God’s Kingdom on each: the Apostolic Orthodox Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ said “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6)

What are the Five Pillars of Mysteries?

The five pillars of mysteries of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church are Mystery of Holy Trinity, Mystery of Incarnation, Mystery of Baptism, Mystery of Holy Eucharist, and Mystery of Resurrection of (from) the dead.

What’s the basis for Pillars of Mysteries?

The five pillars of mysteries are sourced from the Holy Bible- the teachings of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and his disciples. The centre of the pillars of mysteries is the Creed of Faith which summarises the declarations from the three Ecumenical councils recognized by the oriental church. The are the councils of Nicea, Ephesus, Constantinople.

The Orthodox Creed of Faith

We believe in one God, God the Father the Pantocrator who created heaven and earth, and all things seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not created, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy spirit and the Virgin Mary and became Man.

And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried. And on the third day He rose from the dead, according to the scriptures, ascended to the heavens; He sits at the right hand of his Father, and He is coming again in His glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.

Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Life-Giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And in one holy, catholic and apostolic church. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the coming age. Amen.

Why should we learn about the Pillars of Mysteries?

Learning the pillars of mysteries would help us better understand our faith and religion. Better understanding of the pillars of mysteries would also enable us to protect ourselves and other Christian colleagues from different types of heretic thoughts. Knowledge of Pillars of mysteries would also pave the way for attaining  righteousness and getting eternal life.

You may be a wealthy, educated, or powerful person in your earthly life. You may have boundless authority on earth. Have you ever thought how long you will live on earth? How much do you know about your profession or any other aspect of earthly life? We believe you know a lot and you are constantly learning to know more every single day. But what do you know about your destiny after death?

As a Christian, we know we await eternal life after death. The five pillars of mysteries are the starting point of our spiritual knowledge, revealed through scriptures, about our faith which makes us eligible candidates for eternal life. If we rely on God to fulfil our dreams on earth, how much should we rely on him to help us understand the mysteries of our apostolic orthodox Christian faith? “If in this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Cor. 15፡19) Hence, we learn about the pillars of the mysteries so that we understand the basics of our Christian faith and look beyond this world to the Kingdom of God.

May God give us the wisdom to understand the mysteries! Amen.