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Ask An Eastern Orthodox Christian: Trinitarian Theology

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What would you like to know about the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith? Submit your question.

By Nicholas Damascus

Origen and others say that they wouldn’t call Jesus “The Most High God” yet they recognize him as God.  Furthermore, early Christian thinkers seem to believe that the Spirit and the Word have derived their Godhood from the Father, i.e., the source.  So the father eternally begets the son, and the Spirit proceeds through the Father, etc. So my question: Is the Father the source of the other two persons’ being God as well?  If this is so, is this not a different explanation from the Protestant and Catholic understanding of the Trinity, the main point being the energies/essence distinction?   I know it’s a lot but isn’t salvation a lot?  God bless

Origen of Alexandria lived in the 3rd century and his teachings were considered heretical by the Ecumenical councils of 381 AD and as stated below in the 11th canon of the council of 553 AD.

“If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinarius Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, as well as their heretical books, and also all other heretics who have already been condemned and anathematized by the holy, catholic and apostolic church and by the four holy synods which have already been mentioned, and also all those who have thought or now think in the same way as the aforesaid heretics and who persist in their error even to death: let him be anathema.”

Question 1. Is the Father the source of the other two persons’ being God as well?

The Eastern Orthodox Church maintains that the Trinity of Persons that exist in the Christian Godhead are as follows: three co-equal persons; of the same substance; each one dwelling in the other by an unceasing movement of mutual love; and yet all three divine persons mystically undivided, Trinity in one essence.

There never was a time, or for that matter, an instance when any of the distinct persons of the Trinity did not exist. Moving and speaking throughout history God reveals Himself to us as existing beyond and before time itself.  Within the confines of our finite existence, one has difficulty conceiving of an entity that is infinite in perception, forever and always the same, without beginning and without end.

Saint Gregory the theologian, one of the Christian fathers and teacher of the Church (329 AD), says, “To try to comprehend unbegottenness of the Father, begottenness of the Son, or procession of the Holy Spirit, would lead to insanity.”

Saint John of Damascus, another Christian father of the church, says, “This [the procession of the Holy Spirit of God] is another manner of existence and is just as incomprehensible and unknowable as the begetting of the Son of God.”

God the Father (Abba) is unbegotten and the fountainhead (source or origin) of the Holy Trinity.  Jesus Christ we are told is the only begotten of the Father.  The Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father (not through), proclaimed by the second and third Ecumenical Church Councils of 325 AD and 381 AD.

In Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “Who is, Who was, and Who is to come, the Almighty.” If God were subject to space, time, and matter, then God would be limited and finite, and therefore not God. 

Question 2. If this is so, is this not a different explanation from the Protestant and Roman Catholic understanding of the Trinity, the main point being the energies/essence distinction?

In the Eastern Orthodox faith, one can only experience the divine energies of God rather than know the actual infinite essence of God.

This historical debate and conclusion took place between Saint Gregory Palamas and a monastic Barlaam of Calabria on Mount Athos in 1341 AD.  Barlaam began to preach a heretical teaching of the “created energies” of God, which was eventually condemned by the councils of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Barlaam believed that the light shining from the burning bush and the light from Jesus at the Transfiguration was created light, liken to a created substance or commodity maybe even pixy dust.   

Barlaam also believed that philosophers had better knowledge of God than did the prophets who spoke to God and God spoke to them.  He held that any created effects by God were not of God. Having been anathematized by the Orthodox Church Barlaam returned to Calabria and was accepted by the Roman Catholic Church in 1342 and his teachings may have been accepted by the Western Christianity as well.

Saint Gregory Palamas wrote that the light of the burning bush and the light seen at the Transfiguration was the “uncreated light” of God (His Energies).  Contrary to Barlaam, Saint Gregory addressed the question of how it is possible for humans to have knowledge of the transcendental and unknowable essence of an infinite God.

Saint Gregory maintains, however, that it is possible to know God in His energies as to what God does, and who He is in relation to humanity and His creation.  An example of uncreated energy of God is His grace which is the healing energy that one receives and not a created substance.

Question 3. I know it’s a lot but isn’t salvation a lot?

One might look at salvation as a synergistic cooperation where one willingly steps out of the shadows of darkness to willingly submit to the will of God, receiving the light of divine grace (healing energies of God) and becoming transformed into what one was designed to become, that being, created in the image (love) and likeness (holiness) of God, to become a son/daughter of God to receive all that God wants to give us that is all that He is, for eternity.  For if we are in rebellion to all of this, then we deprive ourselves from receiving any benefit from our Father in Heaven.  The irony is that His will is 100% for our benefit.

Trinity one in essence, without beginning and without end, I Am He Who always was, Is, and always will be the Light of Light, true God of true God.


Nicholas Damascus

About Nicholas Damascus

Nick Damascus is one who seeks to discover and apply the proverbial question of what is truth and wisdom, to fill that gaping hole, to become complete and to become realistically and synergistically functional. In an attempt to live the Christian life, which he says is a definite work in progress, he has discovered that he's created the Christ that fits his lifestyle and agrees with his ego (and boy what an ego, he says), carefully avoiding what God intended him to be.

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