Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

THE HOLY TRINITY. Excerpt from a talk

10.11.1986, Kensington Church Council

… St Gregory of Nazianze had said that if we put together all that God has revealed about Himself in the Holy Scriptures, all that the men and women of God have known by experience about Him, if we try to make of this a cogent, complete, compact image, it is not God we will be faced with, but an idol, because God must remain, beyond the knowable which is revealed, the unknowable mystery which can be participated in; and also, in His ultimate being, unknowable to His creatures otherwise than by His manifestations, by what He does and by the way He reaches out to us.

This is a very important thing, because if we had to give an image of how we can conceive of Orthodox doctrinal statements, of the theology of the Orthodox Church, we should compare it to the vision we have of the sky at night when the sky is clear and when against the deep black darkness of the firmament we see the stars in their brilliance scintillating to us. If we could collect all these stars into a mass of fire, we would have the totality of the light there is in the sky, but there would be no sky left, and there would indeed be no constellation that can allow is to find our way on earth. It is because between each star, each constellation, there are vast spaces that seem to be empty, that we can discern the shapes of the constellations, name them, know them - and indeed very intimately - and find our way, thanks to their brilliance and to their position.

And this applies to every doctrinal statement, to everything which we can say about God, about Christ, about things divine, and indeed also even about the created world. There is a point beyond which we cannot understand or know the ultimate essence of any thing of the created, either ourselves or one another or the matter of which we are made and that surrounds us.

So that when we speak of ultimate mysteries like the Holy Trinity we must be aware of the fact that we can have a glimpse, perceive something, but that in the end we must face the mysteries with awe, in adoration and worship in deep silence, listening with all our being, our heart and our mind and our will and our very flesh, in order to hear and to perceive.

Turning more specifically to the teaching on the Holy Trinity, we must also realize that however great the mystery, however it is beyond our imagination - we could not have invented a God as the one whom we worship in the Christian faith; it is all that we are capable of perceiving. Beyond this there is an endless, infinite depth of what Gregory of Nyssa called the divine darkness. Not that there is darkness in God - the Gospel teaches us that there is no darkness in Him - but that the mystery is so deep, that the light (in the words of St Gregory) is so blinding that when we look at it we can see nothing.

<…> And God does not reveal either Himself or anything about Himself and the created world simply to satisfy our curiosity. If God reveals something to us, it is in order to teach us something about ourselves singly and ourselves as a body, humanity. And indeed the Russian writer Fedorov, who lived, died and wrote his most strange writings in the 19th century, said that the Holy Trinity is the only prototype of a perfect human society. And at this point he meets exactly what St Gregory of Nazianze had said centuries before him, when St Gregory says that it is because God is love that He is One in Three, and because God is One in Three that He is true and perfect, insuperable and triumphant love…

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