It is said by some that God has no boundaries regarding us, that He is God and may do with us (and to us) whatever He wills. This, of course, is true in an abstract sense. However, it is not true of God as He has made Himself known in Christ. Christ is a God who “asks.” He is the God who allows a freedom so great that it can kill Him.
-Fr. Stephen Freeman in “Love and Freedom.”
I had just returned from a talk on the Holy Trinity when I read Fr. Stephen’s article quoted above. Our lecturer told us that the Cappadocian fathers of the 4th century, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, developed the Trinitarian theology of the church from their answers to questions raised by their knowledge of Greek and Hebrew ideas of God. One idea, from the Greeks, was that God is forced by overflowing love to create man, and they did not believe that God is forced to do anything.
So why did He? Because He wanted to give humans the opportunity, the freedom to respond to His love, and by communion with the Holy Spirit to be transformed into true persons .
In another article Fr. Stephen wrote: The knowledge that comes through communion is not a fact to be considered, rather, it is a knowledge that in the very act of knowing becomes part of you. The knower and the known share some manner of common existence.
A last snippet from Love and Freedom: When I have written that Pascha is at the heart of everything (and I believe this faithfully represents the teaching of the Church) this weakness born of love is its consequence. It is the love of God that surrounds us and calls us to be His friends. It seeks us, face to face, even searching for us when we hide. But it is a love that stands weakly at the border of our freedom, and waits for our invitation.
During 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.
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.
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.
Mary 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.
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.
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.
on the Word of God
revealed in the flesh And the Word was made flesh
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.