An Orthodox Handbook

by Protopresbyter Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos (1931 – 1996)

Dr. of Theology, Dr. of Philosophy

Chapter  4 – Who is the God of Revelation?

1. The hospitality of Abraham

Man cannot possibly know God the way He is in reality.  That is, he cannot become acquainted with the essence of God. He can only perceive the uncreated energies of God – the “traces” of God.

However, in the Holy Bible and the Sacred Tradition of the Church, we have certain “portrayals” of God. The most familiar one is that Byzantine icon in which God is portrayed in the form of three angels – the way He appeared before Abraham.  The Fathers of the Church say that the excerpt in question actually comprises the very first depiction of the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament.

Now God appeared to him near the oak of Mambre, while he was sitting at the door of his tent at midday.And looking up with his eyes he saw, and behold, three men stood over him. And when he saw them, he ran forward from his tent door to meet them and did obeisance upon the ground and said, “Lord, if perchance I have found favor before you, do not pass by your servant. Do let water be taken, and let them wash your feet, and you refresh yourselves under the tree.” (Gen.18:1-4)

What surprises us here, is that although the number of visitors is three, Abraham addresses Them as though They are one! Then, he again addresses Them in the plural.

Then in the same excerpt, we notice something amazing: Abraham’s interlocutor (in the Septuagint Greek text, which is used by our Church and used by the Apostles themselves during the compilation of the New Testament), He is characterized with the word “Lord” (Κύριος), whereas the Hebrew text uses the word יְהוָה  “Yahwe” – in other words, “God” (Genesis 18:16-23):  

טז  וַיָּקֻמוּ מִשָּׁם הָאֲנָשִׁים, וַיַּשְׁקִפוּ עַל-פְּנֵי סְדֹם; וְאַבְרָהָם–הֹלֵךְ עִמָּם, לְשַׁלְּחָם.

16 And when the men had set out from there, they looked down upon the face of Sodoma and Gomorra, and Abraam was going along with them as he joined in escorting them.

יז  וַיהוָה, אָמָר:  הַמְכַסֶּה אֲנִי מֵאַבְרָהָם, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי עֹשֶׂה.

17 And the LORD said: ‘Surely I shall not hide from my servant Abraam what I am about to do? 

יח  וְאַבְרָהָם–הָיוֹ יִהְיֶה לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, וְעָצוּם; וְנִבְרְכוּ-בוֹ–כֹּל, גּוֹיֵי הָאָרֶץ.

18 As for Abraam, he shall come to be a great and populous nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.

יט  כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו, לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת-בָּנָיו וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו, וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט–לְמַעַן, הָבִיא יְהוָה עַל-אַבְרָהָם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר, עָלָיו.

19 For I knew that He will instruct his sons and his household after him, and they will keep the ways of the LORD , by doing righteousness and justice so that the LORD may bring upon Abraam all the things that He has talked about to him.’

כ  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, זַעֲקַת סְדֹם וַעֲמֹרָה כִּי-רָבָּה; וְחַטָּאתָם–כִּי כָבְדָה, מְאֹד.

20 And the LORD  said: ‘Verily, the outcry concerning Sodom and Gomorrah has been increased, and their sins are very great!

כא  אֵרְדָה-נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה, הַכְּצַעֲקָתָהּ הַבָּאָה אֵלַי עָשׂוּ כָּלָה; וְאִם-לֹא, אֵדָעָה.

21 So when I go down I shall see whether they are perpetrating according to the outcry concerning them that is coming to Me, but if not—that I may know..’

כב  וַיִּפְנוּ מִשָּׁם הָאֲנָשִׁים, וַיֵּלְכוּ סְדֹמָה; וְאַבְרָהָם–עוֹדֶנּוּ עֹמֵד, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה.

22 And after the men had turned away from there, and went to Sodom; but Abraam was still standing before the LORD.

כג  וַיִּגַּשׁ אַבְרָהָם, וַיֹּאמַר:  הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה, צַדִּיק עִם-רָשָׁע.

23 Then when Abraam had come near, he said, “Surely you will not destroy the righteous with the ungodly, and the righteous will be as the ungodly?

This event therefore, of Abraham’s hospitality at the Oak of Mambre, is characterized by the Fathers of our Church as the first portrayal of the Holy Trinity.


2. The Holy Trinity revealed in the New Testament

In the era of the New Testament, God is revealed in a very clear manner:  it was at the River Jordan – on the day that Christ condescended to be baptized by John.  The One Whom man could not possibly have perceived with his own faculties: the One, Trinitarian God: The Father, Who testifies about the divinity of the Son and announces Him as ‘His beloved Son’; the Son, Who was being baptized in the Jordan and Who illuminates the whole world, ridding it of the domination of Satan, and the Holy Spirit, Who descends in the likeness of a dove and confirms the witness of the Father and Who provides for us the unshakeable foundation of our faith. (Matth.3:13-17)

This great truth is confirmed by the hymn of our Church:

“While being baptized in the Jordan, o Lord,
the veneration of the Trinity was made manifest:
for, the voice of the Begetter testified of You,
naming You as the beloved Son;
and the Spirit, in the likeness of a dove,
confirmed the inerrancy of those words.
O manifest Christ, our God,
Who also illumined the world:
glory be to You”

This divine revelation is also confirmed by the testimony of John:

I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God”  (John 1:33-34)

But in the New Testament we have other revelations also, of this ineffable mystery.  It is the witness of the event on Mount Tabor: the Transfiguration of the Saviour (Matth.17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36)

The three disciples there had witnessed the radiance of the divine Person, while the Holy Spirit shrouded them with the glowing cloud and the Father was again confirming that “this is My beloved Son; it is Him that you should listen to”.

Our faith, therefore, is not supported on the unstable and full of imperfections human logic.  It is the result of a divine epiphany and is supported by the Uncreated divine light of Mount Tabor, and the certainty given by the presence of the Holy Spirit, Who again descended with a rushing noise “as though a strong wind blowing”, as on the day of the Pentecost, in order to “replete” the disciples (Acts 2:2-4) and remain in the Church, in order to guide God’s people to the truth (14:16, 16:13).

These are the unshakeable foundations of our faith, which secure a stability that exceeds every other certainty that is based on human arguments and facts:  The witness of God the Father and the manifestation of the Son’s glory. The descent of the Holy Spirit in the likeness of a dove and like tongues of flames.

It was for this reason that the Apostle Peter wrote the following to the Christians:

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit
.” (2 Peter 1:16-21).

And another disciple – John – adds:

If we accept the witness of men, the witness of God is greater, for this is the witness of God in which He testified about His Son.  Whoever believes in the Son of God, has the witness in himself; but whoever does not believe in God, has made Him a liar, because he did not believe the testimony that God gave about the Son.” (1 John 5:9-10)


3.  Other witnessing in the Holy Bible

Apart from the aforementioned excerpts, the Holy Bible mentions the Holy Trinity in other places as well.

They are the passages of the Old Testament in which God speaks in the plural (Gen.1:26. 3:22, 11:7)  There is also the angelic hymn, in which the word “holy” is repeated three times (Isaiah 6:3) and elsewhere.

When Christ sent forth His disciples, He gave them the command to baptize those who accepted the message of the gospel, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matth.28:19)

The incarnated Son and Logos of God, the Christ, clearly discerned Himself from the Father and the Holy Spirit.

How, therefore, do the scribes say that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself had said in the Holy Spirit: ‘Sayeth the Lord to my Lord, ‘sit Thou at My right-hand…’.” (Psalms 110:1) “David, therefore, himself calls Him ‘Lord’.  How can He therefore be his Son?…”  (Mark 12:35-36)

The “Lord” who speaks is the Father.  The “Lord” to whom He is referring is the Son.  And He who is inspiring David to utter that prophetic phrase is the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, the Apostle Paul concludes his second epistle to the Corinthians with the Trinitarian blessing: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor.13:13, cmp. 1:21-22 and Titus 3:4-6)

But all these testimonies of the Holy Bible – as well as others which we haven’t mentioned – are properly comprehended and are accepted, only as gifts of God, as the fruits of the Holy Spirit and divine energies in the hearts of the people.  (1 Cor. 2:4-16; 1 John 2:20, 27)


4. The need for the divine “noise”

Even though the foundations of our faith in the One, Trinitarian God are unshakeable because they are founded on the Word/Logos of God and not on the instability of human logic, there are people who did not arrive at the Trinitarian truth, but instead remained in delusion and in heretical cacodoxy – albeit asserting that they study the Holy Bible.  They study it with their own powers only, without invoking the help of the Holy Spirit, Who “leads to the truth” (John 16:13, 14:26).  They don’t invoke the assistance of the Paraclete (Consoler), because “the Spirit of the Consoler/Paraclete, Who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son” (hymn of the Holy Spirit) acts only in the name of Christ (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13-15) – that is, in regard to His Holy Body, the Church (Colos.1:18-24, Ephes.1:23)

Whoever does not have Christ has remained in the age of the Old Testament, and a “veil” hinders him from understanding the Holy Bible. The Apostle Paul characteristically says to the Corinthians:

“….for until this day, that same veil remains unlifted during the reading of the Old Testament, not yet discovered that it is abolished in Christ; but even to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies upon their heart. Nevertheless, if that person returns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  The Lord is the Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there liberty is.  We all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:14-18)

For the people therefore of Christ, the “veil” that hinders the true comprehension of the Holy Bible and especially the Old Testament, is abolished. The “Lord” – the Spirit of Truth – grants them the true freedom and renders them able to face the radiance of God.  For those who do not have Christ – that is, for those who are  far from the Church – that “veil” remains and they cannot properly comprehend the Scriptures.  Thus, in order to reach the truth of the Trinitarian God, studying the Holy Bible is not enough.  We need to become people of Christ – that is, members of the Church wherein the Holy Spirit of God is active – and await that divine “noise”. That is when we will feel the presence of the fiery tongues and receive divine illumination, just like the Apostles on the day of the Pentecost.  Without that divine breath, no man can get to know the great truth of the Trinitarian God, regardless if he studies the Holy Bible – even if he memorizes it entirely by heart.  “For us to become fully acquainted with the mystery of the Holy Trinity” says Evagrios of Pontus, “means to attain a perfect union with God – to enter into the divine life”.


5. The dogmatic clauses of our Church

Saint Hilarion says that for us Orthodox, “it should suffice for us to fulfil everything that has been decreed, solely with faith: that is, to worship the Father, to honour the Son together with Him, and to be replete with the Holy Spirit.”

But, as he further mentions, there is also the “malice of the heretics and the blasphemers”.  As such, “we are forced to match our humble word to the most ineffable of mysteries”; “to climb unreachable heights, to speak of ineffable things… to expose the mysteries to chance, with the human tongue, instead of enclosing them inside the worship of our soul.”

That is the reason the Church made sure that She expresses more analytically the faith in the Holy Trinity and protect Her members form the dangers of heresy and cacodoxy, the results of which lead to perdition.


6. One essence and three hypostases

Our Church teaches us that the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are united in an inseparable bond and that simultaneously they each are discernible between each other.  The three Persons or three Hypostases of the Holy Trinity – says John of Damascus –  are “the one within the other” (εν αλλήλαις)”; however, they are not confused between themselves.

In the Holy Trinity there is a sole and unique principal and a sole and unique source: that is, the Father.  He shares His own divine nature with the Son and the Holy Spirit – that is, the one and unique nature of godhood.

One, therefore, is the nature of the Holy Trinity, and one is the principal and the source that imparts that nature: the Father.

However, that which is different is the manner of existence of the Son and the Holy Spirit out of that one source, the Father:  The Father begets the Son and the Holy Spirit proceeds from him.  Consequently, the Son exists in a different manner with regard to the Father (He is begotten by Him) and the Spirit also differently (He proceeds from Him).

From the above, we can understand that there is a difference in the form of their relationship towards the common source – the Father – by the Son and the Holy Spirit. Exactly what that difference (begetting, procession) constitutes remains something entirely unknown to us.

The Orthodox teaching therefore regarding the Holy Trinity is precisely about the preservation of the perfect union (the one essence) and the distinguishing between the three hypostases.  This distinguishing is based on the manner of the pre-eternal existence of the Son and the Holy Spirit (begetting and procession) as ordained by God the Father.


7. The procession of the Holy Spirit

According to the Orthodox faith, therefore, the only source from which the Son is begotten and from which the Holy Spirit proceeds is the Father.

But this truth is not safeguarded in the Orthodox manner in the Roman Catholic church, which has added to the Creed the term “Filioque” – that is, that the Holy Spirit proceeds ALSO from the Son. The reason is that this viewpoint of the Roman Catholic church does not preserve the unity of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity,  thus risking the introduction of diarchy – that is, of two principals (the Father AND the Son), or even a difference in the essence and not in the manner of imparting the one, common Divine Essence.  It is furthermore obvious that in this case, the risk implies dual deism.

This is the precise danger that the Orthodox Church averts, by proclaiming the distinguishing factor between the three Persons; that is: the manner of imparting the single Divine Essence on the part of the Father.  This is the way that the discerning of the three hypostases and the unity of the one essence of God are also preserved in Orthodox teaching.

This faith by the Orthodox Church in the monarchy of the Father, in regard to the pre-eternal imparting of the Divine Essence to the Son (by the pre-eternal begetting) and to the Holy Spirit (by the pre-eternal procession) should not be confused with the “sending forth” of the Paraclete (Consoler) within Time by the Lord, for the illumination and the salvation of the world.

But when the Consoler is come, Whom I shall send unto you from the Father – the Spirit of Truth Who proceeds from the Father – He shall testify of Me...”   (John 15:26)

And elsewhere, he mentions that “…the Consoler – the Holy Spirit – Whom the Father will send in My Name” (that is, in the name of Jesus Christ)… (John 14:26)

Justifiably, then, do we Orthodox faithful cry out to the Holy Spirit the hymn of the Pentecost:

“O Thou Most Holy Spirit,
Who has proceeded from the Father
and through the Son
has remained within
the illiterate disciples”

(“O Most Holy Spirit, You, Who have proceeded from within the Father and have alighted – through the Son – upon the illiterate disciples – save us and sanctify all of us who have acknowledged You as God!”)

Our Church confesses the whole Orthodox faith in the One, Trinitarian God, with Her superb hymn on the Pentecost:

“Come, you nations, let us worship the thrice-hypostatized Godhood: the Son in the Father, together with the Holy Spirit. For the Father has timelessly begotten the Son – eternal and co-enthroned – and the Holy Spirit Who was forever in the Father, glorified along with the Son, as one power, one essence, one Godhood, worshipping which, we all say:

Holy is God‘, Who created everything through the Son, with the collaboration of the Holy Spirit;

Powerful is God‘, through Whom we have come to know the Father and the Holy Spirit Who came to the world;

Immortal is God‘ – the Holy Spirit – Who proceeds from the Father and reposes in the Son.

Holy Trinity, glory to You.’

God’s redemptive opus – divine providence – is fulfilled in the Person of the Son, “in the Holy Spirit”, But, the principal and the source of salvation is always God the Father.

“For, as many as the promises of God are”, says the Apostle characteristically, they are all realized in the Person of Christ. “In Him is the ‘yes’ and in Him is the ‘Amen’, for the glorification of God by us. For, the One Who assures us, Who is with us in Christ, and Who has anointed us, is God; and Who has also sealed us and has given us the betrothal of the Spirit in our hearts.”   (2 Cor.1:20-22. Cmp. Titus 3:4-6).


8. Love, as the revealing of the life of the Trinitarian God

Of all that has been mentioned about the procession of the Holy Spirit by ONLY the Father, the following question can be posed:

Is this dogma indeed so basic for our salvation, that all the struggles made by Orthodoxy to preserve it are justified?

We are aware from the Holy Bible that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16); consequently, love undoubtedly constitutes a revealing of God’s way of life.  Thus, God is love, because He is not a unit, nor is He a dyad; He is a Triad.  If God were a solitary unit, love would not have been an expression of God’s essence. Because, how can a being that exists in solitude be “love”?  Then again, if God were a dyad – that is, Father and Son only – again, we would not have union and love in their fullness; rather, we would have a kind of opposition: Father-Son.  Well, that opposition is eternally overcome, in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

This is how we come to understand why the Holy Trinity has nothing to do with numeric arithmetic: it denotes the transcending of the ego, the transcending of division, and the fullness of union, harmony and love.

“The characteristic of love”, says Bishop Nicholas of Ohrid, “is that the Person who loves, wants to disappear into the person being loved. That is how ardent the Father’s love towards the Son is, and the Son’s love towards the Father!  Just as ardent is the love of the Holy Spirit towards the Father and the Son. “It is with that kind of kenotic (“self-emptying”) love – that is, with a love that keeps nothing for itself”, he continues, “that the words of the Lord are interpreted, when He said that ‘…My Father is greater than me’ (John 14:28). With that kind of love, the Holy Trinity can neither be confused, nor divided. It is, and it remains, one and simultaneously a threefold flame of life and love. In this wondrous flame of the Trinitarian God’s love, we also light our own little candles of terrestrial love, which can easily be extinguished. When love is concentrated in one person – that is, in our self – it is not love, it is self-love and egotism.  Love between two quickly cools and turns into sorrow.  This is the reason that childlessness in the Old Testament was looked upon as a curse.  The fullness of love is love of three.  That is the way it is on earth, because that is the way it is in heaven.”


9.  The Trinitarian God as man’s only hope.

The above words by the Bishop of Ohrid come to remind us of a basic teaching of our Church: that man was fashioned by God according to His image (“in the image of”) and that the destination given to man is to resemble Him (“in the likeness of”).

Thus, man discovers the purpose and the fullness of his life, when he becomes a living image of God; when his life becomes a miniature replica of God’s life.  That is why he must know that God is Trinitarian – that God lives “triadically” – ie., a life of complete unity and complete love.

If man becomes aware that this is his model – in other words, that he is in the image of the Holy Trinity – then he will believe that it is possible for him to likewise live a life of union and love. Then he will be able to find salvation.

This is not difficult to perceive, when we stop to think that man – especially in our day – lives internally splintered and externally isolated.  He feels this loneliness and isolation very deeply . He feels as though he consists of multiple elements. He has a body, a spirit, will, sentiments etc…

A man who is internally divided can never say that he is redeemed. The same applies, when he feels he is living in total isolation and loneliness.  A person who doesn’t possess the potential to love cannot find his inner balance.

But, when the person realizes that inner splintering and isolation do not belong to his nature, only unity, then, when he is informed that he is in the image of the Trinitarian God Who lives in fullness, in unity and in love, he will believe that he too is able to attain it: that he too is created for that same thing, and that is the point where his final destination lies.

Behold, therefore, why man’s only salvation is the truth of the Trinitarian God – the faith in the Holy Trinity.