Sunday, August 23, 2009

Greek Orthodoxy and the Holy Trinity

"God is not only the supreme, inconceivable reality, but also the principle of all realities.... he is the Oneness of all creation" --Greek philosopher, Plotinus born in 205 C.E. (A..D.)

The Orthodox Christian view of the Holy Trinity is essential to both Orthodox Christians, and to Roman Catholic Christians alike. Unlike newer, protestant Christian sects, the earliest church not only was a Jewish church in its foundations and practices, but also a church that developed with the idea of the "three in One," a common description for the mystery that is the Holy Trinity. The Greek philosopher, Plotinus, was another important influence in the development in monism, (the idea of the Oneness in the Christ) within Church thought.

Some early movements in Greek thought, after the sixth century B.C.E., "emphasized man's ability to work creatively upon his environment and to assert himself... material wealth, power, along with knowledge and intelligence were not considered a universal good," writes Demetrios Constantelos in his book, Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church. Rather it is primarily the realm of the divine that defines the limits of mankind. However human knowledge and power are limited; often humanity finds itself trapped into bondage of many types as a result. Thinkers like Socrates and Sophacles made distinctions between the natural world and the man-made world. A further distinction over the fullness of time developed in understanding between the everyday world and the eternal world, a division that Plotinus later addressed in his work.

For the most part, Greek thinkers rejected rationalism and abject materialism; some emphasized the greatness and fullness of created beings, man in particular. Long held in Greek intellectual tradition, it had been the case to consider both the physical and metaphysical aspects of creation as one and whole. This thought carried on into the Christian church. Thus to violate divine rule was, in the Greek mind, to insult and devalue the Creator. Life was to be lived with "progressive knowledge of things divine... on the whole, the dignity and infinite worth of the human person, as he who personifies the heavenly God on earth."

As Orthodoxy developed, and as the early Jewish Christians fell away from the synagogue into their newly formed communities, the ancient notion of monism (monotheism), developed further into a belief that saw no separation between the physical and the spiritual, the natural and certain truths divinely revealed to humanity. Thus, life, in the Orthodox view sees a balance, an equilibrium between the many forces of the world as both inherent and desirable.

In the realm of Christian mysticism, Greek influence is no less apparent. Her (the Church) teachings regarding the Oneness, the return to the deity through salvation are central to the mystical way. Saint Irenius said, "In his unfathomable love, God became what we are, that he might make us what he is." This personal God is therefore understood as one in essence, but three in persons.

This is the foundational understanding of the mystical workings of the Holy Trinity. God is the source; Spirit is the sanctifier, the blessing; the Son is the one living, who works on earth to bring the light of the father-source to all created beings. Intellectual efforts are often made to explain the Trinity; often these words are not helpful. God is the unfathomable; yet he may be known however, through his love, his spirit.

Orthodoxy accepts this mystery as beyond human reasoning. It is then a matter of both faith and experience in the life of a follower of this Way. So in the Orthodox Christian mind, we are all sons and daughters of the One God, The One Spirit, blessed and sanctified in the Anointed One, the Christ.

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