We the humans have not yet fully understood all the galaxies and stars in the outer space. Our understanding of the subatomic level is also limited. In this universe, there is energy and space beyond our comprehension according to even the latest scientific researches and tools. Such areas which cannot be measured or understood properly and form more than ninety percentage of the universe are known as dark matter and dark energy. If such is the case with this universe, God who is behind and beyond this cosmos is beyond our comprehension. Since God the ultimate source of everything is basically a mystery, we cannot claim that all our statements about God are perfectly right. However, we try to describe God based on His own self-communication or revelation to mankind. The ultimate mystery has revealed himself as a Triune God.
1. Incomprehensible God reveals out of His love
By human reasoning alone we cannot prove or disprove the truth of God. But our faith is based on God‟s own self-revelation. By knowing the limitation of our reason and search for the ultimate meaning of life, God out of love to his creation has revealed himself. In addition to the general revelation, and revealing through religious gurus and prophets, God humbled himself to be known to us through Jesus Christ. We came to know about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and their unity through Christ. As St. John beautifully described, nobody has seen God and the only begotten Son revealed God by becoming flesh (John 1:14, 18). Jesus unambiguously says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9). Jesus Christ the incarnate Son of God manifests the eternal Father which is further clarified by the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Through this self-communication of God or self-disclosure we do not merely know God but are also enabled to participate in the deifying energy of God. This revelation was an invitation for submission to God and to enjoy communion with the Triune God for becoming like Him.
Baptism of Jesus Christ was a unique moment in history which witnessed the glorious revelation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Jesus Christ the incarnated Son of God was present in the river Jordan and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. Suddenly a voice came from the Heavenly Father saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The church is commemorating this event every year through the celebration of the feast of Epiphany or Denaha which literally means „rising up‟ or „manifestation‟.
Christ has also described the revealing nature of the Holy Spirit who is a Spirit of truth against the spirit of deception. The Holy Spirit helped the church to realize this ultimate truth slowly. Divine revelation in Christ is further deepened and elaborated by the Holy Spirit, the serene link between the Father and the Son in eternity. St.Irenaeus has written in second century in his famous Against Heresies about God the Father as creating the world with His two Hands – the Son and the Holy Spirit and he goes on to say that the same two Hands are used to repair the world when it was damaged. By knowing and experiencing the salvation prepared by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit we are enabled to have a glimpse of the eternal Triune God. Even if we cannot grasp the depth of this mystery, we can understand that the ultimate Source of everything is a loving „Being in communion'.
2. Gradual Revelation to the Apostles
The experience of the apostles can be compared to the learning or eating habit of small children. Understanding the psychology of the children, the content of the teaching to small children is maintained very light and slowly more profound lessons are introduced. For babies, only milk is given in the beginning and slowly solid foods are given to them. Likewise Jesus Christ was revealing himself slowly and gradually to the disciples. Their initial impression about Him was as a good friend and at the same as a special Guru. Even if He had no extreme spiritual practices like the members of Essene community near Dead Sea, He was highly spiritual. Even if He was not like Jewish priests whose life was centred around the temple always, Jesus was a man of deep prayers and worship. Though He was not a member of zealots or warriors who fight for the freedom of the Jewish community, He was a zealot for the Kingdom of God and thus a spiritual warrior. Even if He was not a Pharisee of his time with regard to the religious laws, he wanted to uphold and fulfil the true intention of the laws of God recorded in the Jewish scripture. Apostles felt Him as any other human being who had hunger, thirst, pain, tiredness etc. Through His miracles and profound teachings, they came to recognize His special charisma. Through special events in Christ‟s life like Transfiguration, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension, the apostles were further realizing His uniqueness. Slowly they were fully convinced that He was not merely a human being. Likewise there was a gradual revelation and experience of the Holy Spirit who further clarified the eternal Triune nature of Godhead. Apostles' experience is the foundation of our faith.
3. Important Biblical References
The seeds of the Trinitarian understanding of God are seen in the account of self-revelation as given in the Bible. (Matt 28:19, 2 Cor 13:14, Matt 3:13-17, Eph 4:4-6) By the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was being unfolded and the fourth century CE (Common Era or AD) witnessed the classical development of it by the contribution of the
Cappadocian Fathers. When we go back in the light of this classical doctrine, we will be able
to give Trinitarian interpretation to even a few Old Testament passages. Thus, the plurality
implied in the verse “let us make man in our image, according to our likeness (Genesis 1:26)”
may be a reference to a discussion among the Holy Trinity. The angels praising „holy‟ three
times in Isaiah chapter 6 may be addressed to the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus event as a whole bears witness to the Holy Trinity. Description about Jesus‟
conception, baptism, temptations, preaching, teaching, the transfiguration etc. in the Gospels
gives us a vivid picture of the Holy Trinity. In the announcement of the angel about the
conception and birth of the Son of God, it is clear that the angel Gabriel was sent by God the
Father to Mary. The angel says that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary and she will
conceive the Son of God. (St. Luke 1: 26- 38). The description about the baptism of Jesus
Christ gives a clearer picture of the Holy Trinity (Mathew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11). The
Baptismal formula in the last commission of Jesus is “in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit.”(St. Mathew 28: 20)
In St. John‟s Gospel, Christ teaches about the Father, Holy Spirit and Himself together in a
few passages. : 8: 23-28, 8:38, 42, 15:26, 16:13, High priestly prayer given in St. John‟s
gospel chapter 18 also refer to the Trinitarian understanding.
St. Paul was fully aware of the Holy Trinity. Introduction to most of his letters depicts the
Father –Son connection. Certain specific passages for the Pauline understating of the Trinity
are as follows: Romans 8:11, I Corinthians 6, 12, 14, II Corinthians 13:13, Ephesians 1: 1-14,
Eph.4: 4, 5, Colossians 1: 2, 15, 19. A little-modified form of the Trinitarian greeting of St.
Paul in II Corinthians 13: 14 is used repeatedly by the chief celebrant in the worship.
4. Historical Development of the Understanding of the Holy Trinity
This divine revelation was a stumbling block for many Christians who had the
monotheistic heritage of Judaism. The difficulty to understand the mystery of Trinity led to
the emergence of two trends of heretical solutions...
1. An attempt to deny the deity of Son or Holy Spirit or both. Heresies like Gnosticism,
Adoptionism, and Arianism denied the deity or divine nature of the Son. Adoptionism was a
different understanding of Jesus Christ of which the major exponents were Paul of Samosata
and Theodotus of Byzantium. According to the view of the adoptionists, Jesus was merely a
human being in the beginning and at the time of baptism he became a unique Son of God by
adoption because of the possession of the Holy Spirit. For them, Jesus was more glorious
than prophets. Arianism, started with the theories of Arius of Alexandria in the fourth
century, gave an inferior status to the Son of God compared to the Father. He taught that even
if the Son was born before the creation of this world, there was a time when He was not. He
is not co-equal in nature with the Father and so less than God. This teaching of Arius and
also his followers like Aetius and Eunomius stimulated many ancient Christian thinkers like
St. Athanasius and Cappadocian Fathers to theologize towards a classical doctrine of the
In the fourth century A.D., a Christian group called Pneumatomachi or Macedonians
emerged especially in Egypt which questioned the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Their
argument was that the essence of the Holy Spirit is less than that of God but more than that of
a creature. St. Athanasius & Cappadocian fathers wrote against this vehemently. Council of
Nicaea (CE 325) and Constantinople (381) gave shape to a summary statement of the
Trinitarian faith in the context of such distorted teachings. Against these distorted teachings
that the church affirmed the consubstantiality and equality of the Father, the Son and the Holy
2. Attempt to cancel the distinction between the persons in Trinity. Modalism
(modalistic monarchianism) which is also known as Sabellianism after Sabellius, the main
exponent of it, is the best example of it. According to this heresy Father, Son and Holy Spirit
are three modes of expression of the one God and three different names of the one divine
reality. This distorted version presented God as one who appears in the Old Testament with
the mask of Father and in the New Testament with the mask of the Son and thereafter come
in the role of Holy Spirit. It is always a temptation to think of Triune God as one person who
appears in three different roles or masks.
These two kinds of heresies attempted to safeguard the unity of God at the expense of Trinity.
As a response to this, the ancient Christian teachers especially Cappadocian fathers
formulated a Trinitarian theology which remained standard in the east.
Three hypostases in one ousia
God is one essence (ousia) in three persons (hypostasis). This was the Cappadocian
settlement. It was the Cappadocian Fathers who gave a clear distinctive meaning to the two
Greek terms ousia & hypostasis with respect to the Trinity. Ousia (essence) is that which is
common and hypostasis is that which is particular. Ousia refers to the general conception like
goodness, Godhead etc. while hypostasis is observed in the special properties of the persons.
In the case of mankind, human essence or nature constitute the whole set of properties and
marks which characterize each man. Each man has a reason, thought, will, judgment,
imagination memory etc. Human beings share these and have a common essence.
Ousia refers to unity and hypostasis refers to distinction in Godhead. In nutshell Father, Son
and Holy Spirit are three persons or hypostasis having the same ousia or essence or
substance. Cappadocians gave hypostasis a meaning of unique agent whose absolute identity
can in no way be duplicated. The essence of Divinity is incomprehensible. The Nicene Creed
presents Lord Jesus Christ as “the only begotten Son of God” who is “True God from True
God,” and “consubstantial with His Father” and the Holy Spirit as a Lord who “with the
Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.” The attempt of Cappadocain fathers and
other fathers like St. Athanasius was to interpret and defend this.
Distinction between the Persons
The three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist eternally as three distinct persons.
Though they are a community having co-eternity and co-equality, as Gregory Nazianzen says
ingeneracy / unbegottenness is a special aspect of Father, generation or begottenness is
special to the Son and procession particular to Holy Spirit. In other words, Father is not the
Son and Son is not the Father and Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. Father is
unbegotten, Son is the only begotten and Holy Spirit is the proceeded one. These attributes
and the names Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not interchangeable. These names and titles
we get from the revelation recorded in the New Testament refer to the distinction of the
persons. But there is no separation between them in time, will or in power as in human
beings. The Son has everything the Father has, but the Son is not the Father and vice versa.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not differ in the essence or nature but in their personal
attributes only. These attributes which distinguish them are paternity (Father), filiation (Son)
and procession (Holy Spirit).
5. Oneness of Triune God explained
There was a tendency to misinterpret Trinity as tri-theism which leads to polytheism. Against
this, the ancient Christian fathers strongly emphasized and taught the unity of Trinity.
Cappadocians explained the unity of Holy Trinity in terms of equality of nature, the harmony
of will and identity of activity, perichoresis and the Father as the principle of unity. It is
noticeable that many centuries before this classical theological development, Indian sages
experienced the ultimate reality as Sachidanadna which means Sat(Being)
Chit(Consciousness) and Ananda(bliss).
a. same nature of all three persons: As St. Basil says “God is one, but one in nature not in
number.” Nature refers to the common substance or essence of a group. Thus, the
commonality of all human beings is their human nature or humanity. Likewise different kinds
of trees share a common tree nature. So nature or essence refers to the common element that
distinguishes one group from others. Thus, the same Divine nature of the Father, Son and
Holy Spirit describe their distinction from the created order. All the characteristics of each
person are equally applicable to the other persons also. Eternity, omnipresence (being present
everywhere at the same time) are not the characteristics of anything in this created world
whereas all the three persons of the Trinity are eternal and omnipresent. One of the grounds
of the unity is the sharing of the same Godhead or consubstantiality of the persons. Gregory
Nyssa explains the Trinity with the image of rainbow thus „As the rainbow unites continuity
of light and differences of colour, so too the Trinity unites the community of nature and
distinction of persons‟.
b. Father as the source of Trinity
Orthodox understanding is that the Son and the Holy Spirit have the same nature as that of
Father mainly because they derive their being from the Father. Father is the fountain and
source of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
But the western theology, of which St. Augustine is the main exponent, seems to give
much emphasis to the common essence of Trinity as the source of the persons. Persons seem
to take their share from this essence of Godhead. However for the Eastern fathers there is a
personal and concrete living Father as the source from whom other two persons-The Son and
the Holy Spirit- derive their existence & being. “God is one,” writes St. Basil, “because the
Father is one.” Bishop Kallistos Ware describes the same idea in these words: “the first
person of the Trinity, God the Father, is the foundation of Godhead, the source, cause or
principle of origin for the other two persons. He is the bond of unity between the three. There
is one God because there is one Father” (Orthodox Way, p.39) It must also be noted that God
the Father is the eternal source of the eternal Son and eternal Holy Spirit. There is no time
and space in between them.
Filioque literally means “and from the Son”. In the third paragraph of the Nicene Creed, we
confess our faith „in the one living Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the
Father...”. The expression “and from the Son” was added to this in the Roman Catholic
Church in the middle of 9th century. So the statement about the procession of the Spirit
becomes “who proceeds from the Father and from the Son.” The Son is begotten by the
Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father (Jn15:26). The Orthodox thinks that the double
procession or the procession from the Father and the Son presupposes two sources in Trinity.
Since filioque damages, the principle of unity in Trinity, this doctrine of the double
procession is unacceptable to the orthodox.
c. One will and action
Ancient Christian Greek fathers have explained the essential unity of Father, Son and Holy
Spirit on the basis of the unity of operation. Though one person is highlighted at one time,
the acts of creation, incarnation, salvation etc. are done together by all three persons. It is true
that where there is only one action, there is only one agent. If the action proceeds from three
members of the Trinity, then the trinity is the single source of that action. This is not like
three individual human beings cooperating and acting together to fulfil a project. The will of
the Father is fully shared and done by the Son and completed by the Holy Spirit. This is the
single activity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. St. Gregory of Nyssa while describing
the singularity of the activity of the Triune God writes thus “ ..every activity extending from
God to creation and named according to our manifold conceptions , originates from the
Father , and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit” (To Ablabius,
That There Are Not Three Gods: 47.21-48.8)
By “energy” (energia) of Trinity ancient Christian fathers meant the perceivable
manifestation through operation in history. As there is one nature there is one „energy‟ in
Trinity. In other words, there is one and the same operation for Trinity which communicated
the Trinitarian life of God based on love to His creation.
d. Perichoresis: The Greek word perichoresis means to „make room for‟ „to come round to
in succession‟. It indicates reciprocity. Greek fathers used this term to explain the internal
co-inherence and mutual indwelling of the three persons in Trinity. On one occasion, we
experience Son at the forefront and on another occasion Holy Spirit. When Son is
highlighted, Father and Spirit are also with Him. In the next phase when Holy Spirit plays an
active role and at the forefront of the operations, the other two persons of the Trinity are also
with the Spirit. This is mutual indwelling or perichoresis. This concept can be explained by
comparing it to certain dances. Already attempts have been done in India to explore
Trinitarian Solidarity in the Naachnu or Akara (Dance) of Tribal life (See Francis Gonsalves‟
God of our soil). Such dances are not an individual performance, but a community affair. In
certain such dances, outer ring of dancers may come to the centre all of a sudden and the
penultimate ring will become the outer ring. Later on when the penultimate one comes to the
centre and the central one comes to the outer ring. But each ring is connected to the other.
6. Analogies to depict Trinity
The mystery nature of the Triune God forces us to use more images, though they are
imperfect and inadequate to describe the Holy Trinity. A few such attempts are : 1. Sun,
ray and heat, 2. Root, stem and branch of a tree, 3. Source, river bed and water of a river,
4. Body, mind and spirit of a person, 5. Proton, neutron and electron of an atom. 6. Brain,
nerve and any body part like hand. Each image conveys unity, diversity and connectivity.
These images from nature convey an idea of Trinity.
In the western art, there were attempts to depict the Trinity in images of a grey-bearded
father, with a youthful Son holding the globe of the world and the Spirit as a dove hovering
over both of them. But the icon of Trinity by the Russian Monk Andrei Rublev (c. 1408-
1425) is comparatively a better piece of art to depict the vision of Triune God. Rublev used
the traditional image of the apparition of the three angels to Abraham by the oak of Mambre
(Genesis 18) to describe the three persons in the Trinity. Using a circle as the basic form of
composition, and intersecting circles and very vivid colors he depicts Father, Son and Holy
Spirit as three angels brought into a oneness of deep peace and joy. Divine persons do not
look like human ones in this icon. But the three Persons in this depiction possess an active
dimension as they gaze at each other and seem to move eternally from one to the other in a
stillness which points to a loving communication in silence.
7. Practical Implications of the Holy Trinity
a. The vision of Trinity gives an affirmation of the beauty of diversity. The ultimate reality is
not an eternal monad who disregards the differentiation. God himself differentiated and the
distinction or diversity is not an issue to be solved by singularity or uniformity. So diversity
has an eternal validity. Diversity is not a threat but the joy and beauty of God as well as His
b. Perfect sharing, zero self-seeking and whole-hearted commitment to the common good
seen in the Trinity is the ultimate model for fellowship and community. The ultimate Being in
communion motivates us to be a reflection of this Truth. Life in our planet with diverse
cultures, religions, languages, nations etc. need to be a reflection of this supreme model of
c. Even if the whole world does not know the perfect unity and fellowship of the Trinity, the
Church which claims to know and worship this Triune community must become an ideal
community after the model of the Holy Trinity. We become what we worship. Being the
small unit of the church, each parish need to radiate the glory of this eternal communion. We
have been called by this Triune God to grow towards such a model community life by giving
worship to the God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and also by being with and
invaded by the Trinity.
d. The Holy Trinity is not an introverted or self-centred community. The Holy Trinity is
coming out to give shape to a world outside and also to give abundant life to it. We may not
be able to know the essence of God but know His energies through His activities. Actions of
creation, sustenance of it, giving fullness of life etc. are expressions of the Triune God‟s self
communications and self offering. God is a sending God. Jesus revealed that He was sent by
the Father to this world and Jesus promised that he will send the Holy Spirit from the Father
through his mediation (John 15: 26; 16: 5, 7). He goes on to say that as the father sent Him,
He sends his followers. So, all communities including families and parishes within the global
community are obligated to overcome the temptation to be a self centred and closed
e. From the Triune God, we learn that personhood is to be defined in relationship and
communion. Each person in the Ultimate truth is not enjoying personal individuality in
isolation but in perfect communion and relationship to each other. In the light of eternal truth,
the tendency to think the tribal life as uncivilized and postmodern life with extreme
individualism and self centeredness as civilized is to be rectified.
8. Holy Trinity and Worship
For the Orthodox Christians, worship means to give glory to the Father, the Son and the
Holy Spirit. That is why Shubho labo labro valruho kadisho or Glory to the Holy Father,
Son and Spirit is repeated over and over again in our worship. Joining the angels, saints and
our departed ones, thus we worship the ultimate ground of everything, the loving and caring
source of life. So the worship is thanks giving to the Triune God for creating, sustaining and
saving the world. All sacraments and celebrations of Christian feasts and especially the Holy
Qurbana is filled with thanks and praise to the Trinity who is creator, saviour and perfector
of all and everything. Nicene Creed is proclaiming our ultimate trust in the Father, the Son
and the Spirit. Almost all prayers begin with glory to the Triune God and ends with the same.
Yes the beginning and end of everything is the Triune God.
9. Mystical Experience of the Triune God The Triune God out of His love and humility
come to us to dwell in us to strengthen our hidden self and to give us Divine fullness (John
14:23, Ephesians 3:16-19). God loves us to make us participate in the joy of His communion.
Jesus prayed to His Father for his followers “that they all may be one, as You Father are in
Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us , that the world may believe that You sent
Me”(John 17:21). Triune God himself is preparing us such a wonderful communion with
Him in this earthly sojourn itself. As we submit, we will be permeated by the Triune presence
which will deify and fulfil our being.