Dear Church Family,
During some Lent reading on the Psalms I came across this story which I must confess made me laugh out loud! A man was knocked over in the road and seemed quite badly hurt. A priest who was walking nearby dashed over and began to give him the last rites asking, “Do you believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Much to his surprise the man opened his eyes, gave him a baleful look and said in response, “He thinks I’m dying and all he can do is ask me riddles!”
Now that did amuse me, but it also set me thinking that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is I guess a bit of a ‘riddle’ to most of us – and we are in good company when we consider that any ‘definition’ of the Trinity engaged the early church for many centuries through the various ecumenical councils. Gregory of Nyssa said we are obliged to use riddles because the Trinity lies ‘beyond words and understanding”. A great mystery which can only end in ‘wordless prayer’.
“I believe in one God” we affirm in the Creed and then we go on to affirm that the same God is at the same time three. Much of our worship begins “In the name of the Father, and the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and the final blessing is in the Triune name. It is the foundation of our faith as Christians, and we are baptized into that faith. Some of us have heard many sermons on Trinity Sunday using some more or less helpful analogies-and some not helpful at all- to try and explain the concept of God the Three in One. There are only two places that I come anywhere near to grasping this great mystery, before it escapes from my mind again, and I would like to share them with you if I may.
One is in the Icon painted by Andrei Rublev for the Iconastasis of the Holy Trinity Church in Moscow in 1425 in honour of St Sergius (whose life is one you can read about in my items in the June magazine).
Some icons show the story of Abraham meeting the three persons at the tree of Mamre told in Genesis 18 and his subsequent hospitality to them. These guests acted in unity and spoke with one voice and were later seen in tradition as a revelation of the Holy Trinity. This Rublev icon, is stripped of background narrative but prayerfully expresses in its silence “aspects of the nature of God beyond the reach of words”. (Jim Forrest)
An icon of serene shimmering light and colour, it shows three figures, identical apart from the colour of clothing, joined in a circle, devoid of hierarchy, and each with the head inclined to the others in a timeless and intimate communion of loving relationship and regard.
They sit at a table, but at the same time seem to invite movement, in what in Greek is called the perichoresis, literally the dancing around, a perpetual dance of love – what the Franciscan writer Richard Rohr (and this is the other place I find some ‘understanding’) in his book length meditation on this icon calls “The Divine Dance”. On the front of the table there was originally a mirror so that the one standing before the icon and meditating on it saw themselves reflected in it and so becomes the fourth person at the table. To gaze on the icon invites a response as we are called into that circle, to join them in their mutual hospitality, at the table of love, and to join them in the dance of love. This icon is full of harmony, light and love. St.Sergius, left no writings but, from his monastery in the forest, said the “contemplation of the Holy Trinity destroys all discord”.
So whether we grasp the ‘doctrine’ or understand the riddle is perhaps not so important. Perhaps we just need to enter the mystery and accept the invitation to join the dinner, join the dance, join the party, join hands as it were with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and with each other in a relationship of love and joy.
The poet-priest Malcolm Guite’s sonnet called “Trinity Sunday” includes these lines:
“The Triune Poet makes us for his glory,
And makes us each the other’s inspiration…
Our God beyond, beside us and within.”
So may the God who is “Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts” be with us: God the Father who is above and beyond us and yet in love created us in His own image; God the Son, the Word of the creation who opened His arms of love on the cross an