The Trinity In Worship And Sacraments

Immersed as they are in the ecclesial and sacramental experience of the trinitarian mystery, the Fathers and teachers of the Church have also tried through the ages to formulate this mystery in rational and conceptual language. They have defended it against trinitarian heresies by means of conciliar formulations, and they have expounded it in theological and dogmatic treatises - not without fear and reticence about approaching unfathomable depths with a human language which is always inadequate. But they have also celebrated it in song, in the totality of the Church's liturgy and hymnography. All language that speaks about God in the third person entails the mortal risk of objectifying him or of speaking of him merely in conceptual language: theological language must be 'doxo-logical', issuing out of and returning to prayer.

The primary source of trinitarian doctrine is scripture. Orthodox Christians therefore recognise the importance of studying the Bible and being 'nourished' thereby, as they perpetually rediscover the sacramental sense of the Word of God. And scripture is both interpreted and experienced, or relived, in the liturgical life of the Church. Liturgical and sacramental theology thus constitute jointly an essential guide for understanding the Holy Trinity and for entering into communion with it. Fr Alexander Schmemann demonstrates in his Introduction to Liturgical Theology that one may truly speak of liturgical theology, thus introducing a new concept into scholarship.5 He speaks firstly of the sanctification of time by the liturgical cycles of the day, week and year, showing that each of these divisions of time reveals the mystery of Christ and, in consequence, that of the Holy Trinity. Sacramental remembrance, carried out in the presence of the Holy Spirit, reminds Christians of the events of the past - and of the future.

In distinction from the liturgical cycles, the sacraments or mysteries of the Church break the closed and repetitive cycle of created temporality and introduce the faithful into the here and now of the redemptive sacrifice. Believers commune with this sacrifice both as contemporaries of the earthly life of Christ and as recipients of his heavenly intercession as he, the High Priest, intercedes for them at the right hand of the heavenly Father.

In the Orthodox understanding, it is not possible to comprehend the nature of liturgical action without constant reference to the trinitarian mystery into which worship introduces the Christian. All worship is an ecclesial, and personal, celebration addressed to the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit. Christian worship also expresses the gift of knowledge and of the new life that comes from the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit. St Basil of Caesarea (d. 379) expresses this concept in the following words: 'The way to divine knowledge ascends from one Spirit through the one Son to the one Father. Likewise, natural goodness, inherent holiness and royal dignity reaches from the Father through the Only-Begotten to the Spirit.'6

One image of the Trinity that appears frequently in Byzantine hymno-graphy is that of illumination by the trinitarian Light. The Midnight Office of Sunday contains eight canons addressed to the Holy Trinity. One stanza reads as follows: 'Only source of Lordship beyond understanding, and single triple source of Godhead, now count me worthy of your radiance that shines with threefold light, that I may sing your praise, who are praised without ceasing by the mouths of Angels with thrice-holy hymns.'7 We are here at the very heart of the liturgical inspiration of Byzantine Orthodoxy. Trinitarian mysticism is expressed in Christian worship in a comprehensive celebration of the Holy Trinity. At the same time, the divine persons do not lose their specificity in the common praise. The presence and the personal character of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are stated forcefully and clearly. We may call this the christological-pneumatological dimension of worship.

On the other hand, it is the person and the mystery of Christ, the incarnate Word, and Son of Mary exalted at the right hand of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit that allows us to define and clarify the specificity of Christian worship. The mystery of Christ represents the basis of Christian worship in its origin, nature and final goal. In its origin and nature, because the very life of Christ is 'liturgical': it is praise, intercession and perfect, unceasing communion with the Father. It is Jesus who leads to perfection humankind's relationship with the Father - a relationship of adoration, of praise, of thanksgiving, of knowledge, of communion, of love and of obedience. The final goal of Christian worship is christological because it actualises the living, active and sanctifying presence of Christ in the ecclesial community and in the world. Worship places the Church in a state of expectancy that is at once impatient and confident, steering it away from a desire to possess or become settled in the world.

Christian worship is also pneumatological. The proper function of the third person is actually to be the ability to praise and adore. It is the Holy Spirit who instils the desire for God in the faithful, who tears them away from their earthly ties, turning them towards the Lord Jesus, and thereby showing them the Father. Everything is given by the Holy Spirit; he is also the 'divine milieu', that is, the place of sanctification. There are certain defining moments of the hypostatic revelation of the Spirit: for example, in the 'farewell discourse' of Christ, the letters of the churches in the Apocalypse, and the 'sighing of the Spirit' in the Pauline epistles. The tension in the life of the Church as it awaits the heavenly City is possible through the action of the Spirit, who places it in a permanent epiclesis ('calling down').

It is the proper function of the Spirit, then, to be not the object of witness, but the power and the act of witnessing. But the revelation of the gospel also includes a reciprocal testimony in which it is the Lord Jesus who speaks to us of the other Comforter and reveals him to us. It is thus possible for Christians to bear witness to the presence of the Spirit in the Church and to his work of sanctification in the saints. Ecclesial worship clearly makes manifest this reciprocity of service of the incarnate Word and of the divine Spirit. The Holy Spirit permeates and gives life to liturgical language, validating theological language and upholding Christians' spiritual experience. Christian worship is thus worship in Spirit and in truth (Jn 4:23-4) and Christians may therefore become 'pneumatophores' or bearers of the Spirit. They can become transparent and obedient to the Spirit, transformed to the point of attaining the full stature of Christ (Eph 4:13), the form of Christ both abased and exalted (Phil 2:6-11).

If it is true that Christian worship integrates the faithful into the great movement of prayer, through the earthly and heavenly intercession of Jesus the High Priest, it must be added that the Holy Spirit is the sole content of Christ's epiclesis. All of Christian worship thus constitutes an unceasing epiclesis that culminates in a permanent Pentecost, that is, in the continuous presence of the Spirit in the Church.

The heavenly Father, on the other hand, represents the ultimate recipient of Christian prayer. He is the One to whom Jesus as High Priest

(Jn 14:16; Heb 7:25; i Jn 2:1) and the Spirit Comforter (Rom 8:26; Gal 4:6) intercede simultaneously, and to whom the whole Christ, the Head and the Body, raises up its prayer. In return, it is from him, the Father of Lights, that every perfect gift flows (cf. Jn 1:17): this includes sanctification, every blessing, and the gift of new life in the Church. In addition to this, the Lord's Prayer and the Divine Liturgy lead Christians into a relationship of intimacy with the Father, giving them the boldness to call on him as 'Abba' or 'Father'. This allows them to move, by an endeavour that is constantly renewed, from fear to love, from death and judgement to life, from the position of servant to that of friend and of son, or, in brief, to a state of fullness of life and of glory. The Lord's Prayer may thus not be recited except when one is inspired by the Spirit. This is why, in the Divine Liturgy, it is placed after the eucharistic epiclesis.

The relationship to the Father that is expressed in worship safeguards a fundamental Christian reality, which is typical of Orthodox spirituality: a sense of divine transcendence, of the mystery of the One who 'dwells in an unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see' (i Tim 6:i6). This tension or antinomy between filial intimacy and the unbridgeable abyss of the person of the Father is beneficial for the Church and for its worship. Creation and its crowning aspect, the human being, are, in this manner, marked irreducibly by a fundamental imbalance. Grace is present at the very core of the created being's nature, as its ultimate meaning (the Logos), and as its principle of life (the Spirit); also present is the abyss of non-being above which are held the divine, creative and loving Hands of the Father.

Although liturgical prayer may thus be addressed to the Father in specific instances, as in the eucharistic prayer 'Our Father', this is strictly limited. God the Father is not commemorated on his own in a liturgical context, nor are any liturgical feasts dedicated specifically to him. In addition, there can be no icons of the Father, in the strict sense of the term. Orthodox theology is very strict in its prohibition of representing the Father (and the Holy Spirit) in anthropomorphic form. We find instead typological forms of his manifestation, such as the three angels of the Hospitality of Abraham (Gen 18), or the right hand of the Father in the early iconography of the Resurrection or the Ascension.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Angel Ascendancy

Angel Ascendancy

Be Prepared To See Massive Changes In Your Destiny Guided By The Archangels. This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Guide To Communicate With Archangels For Life.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment