Tag Archives: The Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity, Holy Spirit, Home

IMG_2466During the Kneeling Vespers this afternoon I did not kneel, because I was sitting on a bench along the wall of the nave, with my little goddaughter Mary on my lap, and she had just fallen asleep. When a child falls asleep on my chest I am always astounded, and consider it the greatest honor, as though she were speaking right to my heart, “I feel safe and at peace with you, so I will give my warm body with its quiet breathing into your care.”

Today is Pentecost, or Holy Trinity Sunday, because not only do we remember that the Holy Spirit was given to us, and fell on the disciples 50 days after Christ’s Resurrection, but He was sent from the Father, by the Son, confirming the unity and will of the Holy Trinity, God in Three Persons.

The photo of the framed icon above is reflecting the Pantocrator fresco in the dome above. If I squint hard enough I can see the face of Christ superimposed on the icon that depicts the Holy Spirit falling on the apostles.

The Holy Spirit is also remembered tomorrow, the day after this feast, on Holy Spirit Day. And today we had the Kneeling Vespers to prepare for that Liturgy; it’s the first time we have kneeled since Pascha, and the only time all year that we pray these particular prayers. I had brought a very little kneeling pad, cut from an old blue backpacking pad – our priest suggested we bring something like this – but as I didn’t need it, I offered it to a woman nearby and she was happy.

Because I had both arms around a dear baby, I wasn’t able to take a picture of her serene face, or to take out my notebook and write notes about the content of the seven long and poetical prayers, in three sets, or the hymns of that service….one normally wouldn’t want to do that anyway, but I felt that I missed so much that I would like to ruminate on further. We won’t hear these again until next year. I did look here just now and read a little about them:

Each set ends, sealed as it were with a lovely capstone, with one of the ancient vesperal prayers for light, from the Great Church of Holy Wisdom, in Constantinople. That much makes sense: praying for light as we re-enter the world from the heady days of Pascha-Pentecost, and enter “ordinary time” in our cycle of the church year. We need the light of Christ in the dark paths of this world, as our Gospel for the Feast proclaimed.

IMG_2465
St. Seraphim with olive and birch

It was a day full of sunlight, and perhaps that added to the calm joy I was feeling, along with a certain amazement at the huge blessing of being in the Orthodox Church. This recent heightening of my awareness began last Sunday, when we remembered The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council who in the 4th century labored body, soul, and spirit on behalf of the Body of Christ, to hold us fast to the Apostles’ teaching.

After the homily that day, I exchanged silent but knowing looks and hand-squeezes with a couple of people near me — we were all glad to be in this together, responding to the comforting words of our priest about how we don’t have to make up our faith as we go. If we also hold fast to the truth that has been given to us, we can give our energies not to intellectual debates, but to fulfilling the commandments of Christ.

Today’s feast is a celebration of the reality of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, helping us to do just that, giving us Christ and His love to share among ourselves and with everyone in our lives. Really, God’s plan of salvation is impossible to fully comprehend…. One important point was brought home to us in today’s homily: Our purpose is to acquire the Holy Spirit.FullSizeRender

A few months ago a lecturer asked a group of us, “What are the most fundamental doctrines of the Church?” How would you have answered? The answer was that the first doctrine is The Holy Trinity. So this feast is most important!

Lots of women and children were wearing green skirts or scarves. Some parishioners brought extra armfuls of birch branches into the church this morning, to hand out freely, or to prop up in corners here and there. I brought home a big blooming branch and stood it near my icon of The Holy Trinity.

In the Church, I live in a place where all the nourishment and medicine and support I need are available in the sacraments, and in the love and care of her saints poured into her over thousands of years now. They love and pray for us still.

FullSizeRender2Mary woke up just after Vespers was over. Her eyes opened and looked at my eyes, and then she sprang to life and was ready to go forth in her calling to grow in knowledge and grace, into the likeness of Christ. I want to rest in my Father’s arms in that childlike way, and be about my work in the strength that comes from His rest.

O Heavenly King, the Comforter,
The Spirit of Truth,
Who art everywhere present
and filleth all things;
Treasury of Blessings
and Giver of Life,
come and abide in us,
and cleanse us from every impurity,
and save our souls, O Good One.

We were made to be warmed and fed.

Romanós writes in his blog today about the Holy Trinity and the way the church fathers found instruction about God in the sun. Especially in the last week I appreciate this picture, because we haven’t yet shut the windows of our house against the coming winter, and it doesn’t warm up in here anymore. Until such time as we start building fires, I find myself going outdoors just to stand in the sunshine. Below are some snatches from the post.

The Orthodox fathers use the sun as an analogy to the Holy and Divine Triad. The sun itself is the Heavenly Father. The light of the sun is the Divine Word and Son of God. The heat of the sun is the Holy Spirit.
No one can see the sun, except by the light, which enters our eyes and shows it to us. We have no other way to be in contact with the sun or even know for sure that it is there, but for the light (and the heat). If you approached the sun to touch it, you would be incinerated long before you reached it. The Father, thus, is ever intangible and unreachable to us, in His essence.

This analogy also teaches about the relationship of the three Persons of the Trinity, which in its order lines up with the original Nicene Creed, not the altered western version. Romanos goes on to dwell on the primary aspect of this God on Whom we depend with our every fiber: Love. There is no coldness in Heaven; when we are truly with Him He is a radiant Fire that fills our entire being, and we sit as at a banquet.

There can be no love except ‘between’ and no pure love, impartial and selfless love, except between ‘three.’ Hence, the Divine Nature says, ‘Let us make man in Our image.’

….we take our places at the banquet of the Divine Nature, becoming by genuine adoption what Christ is by nature, sons and daughters of the Most-High.

See the Orthodox ikon of the Holy Trinity, the original written by Andrei Rublev, posted above. There you will see the three ‘angels’ seated around a table, with one place left open for another.

That one is you.

Read the whole post here.

Know this and let your heart dance for joy.

September 1st marks the beginning of the church calendar, and St. Nikolai in his Prologue of Ohrid explains:

The First Ecumenical Council [Nicaea, 325] decreed that the Church year should begin on September 1. The month of September was, for the Hebrews, the beginning of the civil year (Exodus 23:16), the month of gathering the harvest and of the offering of thanks to God. It was on this feast that the Lord Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21), opened the book of the Prophet Isaiah and read the words:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn (Isaiah 61:1-2).

In the Prologue the first entries for September contain themes of beginnings, including this homily that I find very heartening as I myself start over, as we are exhorted to do, as many million times as necessary. I want to put behind me my past failures, even those of the last few minutes, as distracting weights, and enjoy the liberty our Lord proclaims. It is just one of the rich gifts that Christ brought with his visiting of the earth.

HOMILY
on the Word of God
revealed in the flesh
And the Word was made flesh
(John 1:14).

Here, brethren, is a new, blessed and salvific beginning for us — the beginning of our salvation. Adam was in the flesh when he fell under the authority of sin and death. Now the Creator of Adam has appeared in the flesh, to deliver Adam and Adam’s posterity from the power of sin and death.

The Son of God — the Word, Wisdom, Light and Life — descended among men in human flesh and with a human soul. He was incarnate but not divided from His Divinity. He descended without being separated from His Father. He retained all that He had been and would be for all eternity, and yet He received something new: human nature.

His eternal attributes were not diminished by the Incarnation, neither was His relationship to the Father and the Spirit changed. Lo, the Father testified to this, both on the Jordan and on Mount Tabor: This is my beloved Son! He did not say: “This was my Son,” but “This is my Son.” The Holy Spirit was with Him at His bodily conception and throughout His mission on earth. The divine and human nature were united in Him, but not intermingled.

How? Do not ask, you who do not even know how to explain yourself to yourself, and cannot say how your soul and body are united in you. Only know this: God came to visit the earth, bringing unspeakably rich treasures for mankind — royal gifts, incorruptible, eternal, priceless and irreplaceable gifts.

Know this and let your heart dance for joy. Strive to cleanse your hands, purify your senses, wash your soul, whiten your heart, and set your mind straight, that you may receive the royal gifts. For they are not given to the unclean.

O Lord Jesus Christ, help us to cleanse and wash ourselves by Thy blood and Thy Spirit, that we may be made worthy of Thy royal gifts.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

The Theology of Beauty

I’m re-posting this part of book review from 2012 as a contribution to the discussion of The Hidden Art of Homemaking on the Ordo Amoris blog.

Possessing Beauty

No changing of place at a hundred miles an hour will make us the one whit stronger, happier, or wiser. There was always more in the world than men could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. The really precious things  are thought and sight, not pace. It does a bullet no good to go fast, and a man, if he be truly a man, no harm to go slow; for his glory is not at all in going, but in being.

      –John Ruskin, quoted in The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

John Ruskin

Ruskin is one of the “guides” the author takes as a teacher in his study of this art of travel; this particular guide yearns to give us his students the tools to understand and possess beauty. Ruskin believed that we can only understand beauty by paying close attention to it, and that attempting to describe nature through writing or drawing was the surest way to focus the mind sharply enough.

On the topic of drawing Ruskin published two books in the 1850’s and gave lectures in London, but the point of his instruction was never to produce students who could draw well. He wanted to teach people to notice, and to “direct people’s attention accurately to the beauty of God’s work in the material universe.”

Right here is a good place to propose that we who believe in God the Creator also take as our teacher John Ruskin, rather than Mr. de Botton, because I doubt that we can learn much directly on the subject of beauty, especially on how to possess it, from a man who doesn’t understand that beauty, and in fact all that he possesses, are gifts from his Father God.

De Botton’s most recent book is Religion for Atheists, which he wrote from the conviction that a disbelief in God should not prevent atheists such as himself from making use of various aspects of the major world religions to better their lives. No doubt many professing Christians have a similar pragmatic outlook, and are missing out on the essence of the faith, Who is Christ Himself, the Bread of Life, the Glory of God the Father.

In musing about the beauty of God, I came upon a website with that title, featuring quotes from Jonathan Edwards. Many people have caught a bad impression of Edwards from those who speak of what they know not, but long ago I learned that the most frequent word in the preacher’s sermons was “sweet,” in reference to God and fellowship with Him. It’s not surprising that he had something to say about beauty as well. (The following paragraphs from Edwards were taken from his writings “The Mind” and “True Virtue” and bundled on the webpage with the added headings.)

God is Beautiful: “For as God is infinitely the greatest Being, so he is allowed to be infinitely the most beautiful and excellent; and all the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation, is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being who hath an infinite fulness of brightness and glory.”

Jonathan Edwards

Beauty is a kind of consent or harmony: “[Beauty is] a mutual consent and agreement of different things, in form, manner, quantity and visible end or design; called by the various names of regularity, order, uniformity, symmetry, proportion, harmony, &c. . .”

“One alone, without any reference to any more, cannot be excellent; for in such case there can be no manner of relation no way, and therefore no such thing as Consent. Indeed what we call One, may be excellent because of a consent of parts, or some consent of those in that being, that are distinguished into a plurality in some way or other. But in a being that is absolutely without any plurality, there cannot be Excellency, for there can be no such thing as consent or agreement.”

Love is the highest kind of beauty: “The reason, or at least one reason, why God has made this kind of mutual agreement of things beautiful and grateful to those intelligent beings that perceive it, probably is, that there is in it some image of the true, spiritual, original beauty, which has been spoken of; consisting in being’s consent to being, or the union of spiritual beings in a mutual propensity and affection of heart. . . . And so [God] has constituted the external world in analogy to the spiritual world in numberless instances. . . . [He] makes an agreement of different things, in their form, manner, measure, &c. to appear beautiful, because here is some image of an higher kind of agreement and consent of spiritual beings.”

“When we spake of Excellence in Bodies, we were obliged to borrow the word Consent, from Spiritual things; but Excellence in and among Spirits is, in its prime and proper sense, Being’s consent to Being. There is no other proper consent but that of Minds, even of their Will; which, when it is of Minds towards Minds, it is Love, and when of Minds towards other things, it is Choice. Wherefore all the Primary and Original beauty or excellence, that is among Minds, is Love.”

God is beautiful because He is a Trinity: “As to God’s Excellence, it is evident it consists in the Love of himself; for he was as excellent before he created the Universe, as he is now. But if the Excellence of Spirits consists in their disposition and action, God could be excellent no other way at that time; for all the exertions of himself were towards himself. But he exerts himself towards himself, no other way, than in infinitely loving and delighting in himself; in the mutual love of the Father and the Son. This makes the Third, the Personal Holy Spirit, or the Holiness of God, which is his infinite Beauty; and this is God’s Infinite Consent to Being in general. And his love to the creature is his excellence, or the communication of himself, his complacency in them, according as they partake of more or less of Excellence and beauty, that is, of holiness (which consists in love); that is, according as he communicates more or less of his Holy Spirit.”

Jonathan Edwards did not have a perfect understanding of Trinitarian doctrine, but I am still very blessed by his giving glory to the Holy Trinity for Beauty, which of course can have its source and perfect demonstration no where else. For readings on the Holy Trinity I commend to you these pages.

Above a storefront in Carmel, California

Now, back to the subject of travel…I suppose no one wonders what all this beauty-talk has to do with our goings, because don’t we all like to look at beautiful things when we travel? And when we have to move on, we also like to keep something to take home with us. How to not lose everything of the experience of a new place?

De Botton suggests three ways that we often try: 1) Taking pictures with a camera, 2) imprinting ourselves physically, as in carving our names in a tree trunk and thereby leaving a bit of ourselves behind, 3) buying something, “to be reminded of what we have lost.” And none of these actions can have as much effect on the whole person as drawing.

In explaining his love of drawing (it was rare for him to travel anywhere without sketching something), Ruskin once remarked that it arose from a desire, “not for reputation, nor for the good of others, nor for my own advantage, but from a sort of instinct like that of eating or drinking.” What unites the three activities is that they all involve assimilations by the self of desirable elements from the world, a transfer of goodness from without to within. As a child, Ruskin had so loved the look of grass that he had frequently wanted to eat it, he said, but he had gradually discovered that it would be better to try to draw it: “I used to lie down on it and draw the blades as they grew — until every square foot of meadow, or mossy bank, became a possession to me.”

De Botton chronicles his own efforts to follow Ruskin’s advice, and when he attempts to draw a window frame in his hotel he finds that he had never actually looked at one before, in all its complexity of construction.

Many passages in the book also paint exemplary word-pictures, such as a paragraph on olive trees, of which the author at first “dismissed one example as a squat bush-like thing.” On closer consideration, with the help of Van Gogh’s art as well as Ruskin’s tools, he sees the trees in all their magnificence, telling us that “the taut silvery leaves give an impression of alertness and contained energy.”

There is another way that this description by de Botton follows Ruskin: in his anthropomorphizing of natural objects, attributing to them qualities that only humans or at least animals would actually have, and feeling that “they embody a value or mood of importance to us.”

In the Alps, he described pine trees and rocks in similarly psychological terms: “I can never stay long without awe under an Alpine cliff, looking up to its pines, as they stand on the inaccessible juts and perilous ledges of an enormous wall, in quiet multitudes, each like the shadow of the one beside it — upright, fixed, not knowing each other. You cannot reach them, cannot cry to them; — those trees never heard human voice; they are far above all sound but of the winds.”

My two-year-old grandson Scout is already a traveler following in Ruskin’s (and his mother’s) footsteps. He loves to hike and to stop and look at everything. On a recent outing he said, as he wandered off, “I’m going to climb up here, Mama, and the rocks will take care of me…”

That’s what I call the spirit of good old-fashioned traveling. Not the sort that Ruskin himself decried, in the 19th century: “Modern travelling is not travelling at all; it is merely being sent to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel.” 

When I am loaded on to a jet plane, I confess to feeling a bit like a parcel squeezed into a big crate of parcels. But Ruskin, and yes, even de Botton are helping me to be a more joyful and observant traveler, even if it’s only on a trip down the neighborhood footpath.

Before I had read just the small number of Ruskin’s words that are in The Art of Travel, I didn’t have the nerve to try my patience with drawing anything. But the man who wanted to teach me to notice has given me a vision of myself drawing a flower or a rock or a building. On my last car trip, I was even so bold as to pack into my bag a box of colored pencils.

(This post is part of a series on the book The Art of Travel.)