June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. It is one of those feasts that celebrates one of the central dogmas of our faith, that is that God is a Trinity of three Persons who exist as one God.  This is a mystery that is almost impossible to explain and even harder to understand.  Thoughout the centuries, theologians have tried to explain it using symbols.  St. Patrick is noted for using the shamrock or three leaf clover to explain the Trinity. The three sections of leaves on the plant are each distinct but together they make up one leaf. 

The ancient Book of Kells from the early 9th Century illustrates the Trinity in what is popularly called the Celtic Knot. It is interesting that this has become popular with young people for whom this has become an often requested tatoo image.  I often wonder if the significance of the image is known or if it is just chosen to express their Irish heritage.

My favorite depiction of the Trinity is Rublev's 15th Century icon of the Trinity. It written as a depiction of the angels visit to Abraham from the Book of Genesis, but it is full of  Trinitarian symbolism. If you click the link you will be able to navigate around the images of the icon to learn their meaning.  This is why I love icons, they are so rich in symbolic meaning.

So what does the Trinity mean to me? My favorite way to enter into the mystery of the Trinity is with the word "perichoresis."  It is a Greek word that literally means "to dance around;" peri meaning "to circle" and choresis meaning "dance" (the root of the word choreography).  It is a word that was first used by the early Church Fathers, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssea, Gregory of Nazianizus and John of Damascus to describe the relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit. St. John wrote, “The subsistences [i.e., the three Persons] dwell and are established firmly in one another. For they are inseparable and cannot part from one another, but keep to their separate courses within one another, without coalescing or mingling, but cleaving to each other. For the Son is in the Father and the Spirit: and the Spirit in the Father and the Son: and the Father in the Son and the Spirit, but there is no coalescence or commingling or confusion. And there is one and the same motion: for there is one impulse and one motion of the three subsistences, which is not to be observed in any created nature” (The Orthodox Faith, 1.14).

I do like  the image of a dance.  If you look at dancers, and I am not talking about what you see on "So You Think You Can Dance," or "Dancing with the Stars" or other such TV shows, but real ballroom dancing, the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sort of dancing. The dancers are individual persons, each having their own distinct movements and costumes, but together they create something beautiful and cohesive.  You cannot have someone ballroom dance alone.  It just cannot be done. So too with the Trinity.  The Trinity is a Communio Personarum, a community of Persons who move and flow and draw life from one another in a "Great Dance" of Love. 

The Celtic Knot seems to illustrate this concept, but in a static sense. However, the Love of the Trinity is always moving, like the dance. The best part of this Dance is that God is always drawing us into it. God wants us to be part of Him.  We make the choice to "sit it out" or to accept the invitation to join in the Dance, to be gathered into the very Life of the Trinity for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever.

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