The Significance of the Doctrine of the Trinity


MP3 Audio:  WS330293_Dn-Joseph_Trinity.mp3

This homily was preached on Trinity Sunday morning, June 30, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


Today is a great feast day of the church where we remember the Trinity.
This is Trinity Sunday.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our God is One. Amen.

I’m going to tell you a story about a man who really loved this woman that he was married to. He really loved his wife.

Now, he rarely saw her, because throughout the week he had to go to work. And of course he had to bowl with his buddies in the evenings, and had a few bars he liked to hang out with the guys. But he did hang out with her once or twice on the weekends, and he really loved being with her.

And whenever they would eat together, of course they would go to whatever restaurant he likes. And if they cooked at home, he would make sure it was whatever food that he wanted. But whenever they ate together, he really loved that; he really loved his wife.

And sometimes they would listen to music. They would listen to CDs; they would turn on the radio in the car. Sometimes they would even go to concerts. And of course it was always whatever concert he wanted to go to, whatever CD he wanted to listen to, and whatever radio station he was the most interested in. And he loved listening to music with his wife. He loved it.

And at one point she goes to him and says,

“I really, really love you and I love being with you, and I really want to open my soul to you and I want to tell you some things about me, some things that you couldn’t know from the outside, some things that you wouldn’t know just by seeing, some things that you wouldn’t guess just by being married to me. I’ve got a little journal–a little diary–that I keep, and no eyes have ever seen it except for mine. But you’re my husband. I love you, and I want to open up my soul to you, and I want to sit down with you and I want to show you some of these things.”

And he’s not interested in that, but he says,

“Look honey, let’s go to that restaurant that I love and let’s go to that concert that I love, and let’s just spend some time doing stuff that I really like. And you know what? I love you so much! I love being with you every time we do those things.”

What thoughts do you have about this man’s “love” for his wife? Is he being sincere when he says, “Oh, I love having her with me when I do this, and when I do that”?

I think so, but I think he’s using a different definition for the word “love” than we want to hear. Because,what does he mean? In this situation, what does he mean when he says, “I love my wife”?

“I love her when it’s convenient.”
“I love her when she fits into my schedule.”
“I love her when she meets my expectations.”

He loves her presence, but at the center of his soul, he loves himself.  He loves to do what he wants to do. And he loves her insofar as she can fit into that picture.

But her heart, her soul, who she is, what kind of eggs she likes, what kind of ice cream she likes, what kind of music she what to listen to, the types of things that makes her heart beat, he has no interest.

I don’t think that’s the type of “love” we are looking for in our relationships, is it?

But our culture sure knows how to use the word “love” in that way. And so often when people “fall in love,” it has been said that they are really just “falling in lust.” They are not falling in love. No, they love the way they feel when the other person is around and they love having that person around when they are doing what they want to do.

But we all know why this story makes us uncomfortable and just a little bit upset at this fellow. Because, we want him to love his wife not just at his concerts and listening to his music and going to his restaurants, but loving his wife so much that sometimes he wants to go to her restaurants; sometimes he wants to listen to her music.

In fact, if that’s the music he never would have listened to in a million years, maybe he just starts to like that kind of music a little bit because it makes him think of her. Maybe he starts to like that food a little bit that he never tried his whole life, because:

“Well, this is her favorite restaurant. She likes it, so I’m going to try that. Hey, this is not bad! This is pretty good. This makes me think of her!”

And if he really loves her for who she is, then he’s going to jump at the chance to sit down with her, and have her open up her soul to him, and tell him what’s important to her.

That’s the type of love that we think about when we think of the word “love,” when we think about true love.

What does this have to do with Trinity Sunday?

The Doctrine of the Trinity is Close to the Heart of God

I have come across at least two camps of people in the world, and I’m not sure that there is really any third category. There might be somewhere, but it seems that most people I meet fall into one of two categories.

They either think that the doctrine of the Trinity is the least important and the least applicable and the least practical of all the Christian doctrines, a vestige of the early church when they were fighting over “inconsequential” iotas of information that just “really don’t affect us.”

“I mean, at the end of the day, as long as we love each other, treat others nicely, don’t commit adultery or kill each other, what does this doctrine of the Trinity really matter?” “Well it–okay it matters–I believe in the Trinity. Check that off. Even if I believe in it and admit that it’s important to believe in it, that’s as far as I want to go. I don’t want to dive into it. I don’t want to study all seven of the Ecumenical councils and find out the depths of what they were talking about when they use this word ‘Trinity’, the three persons of God the two natures of Christ, what happened in the Incarnation, how those doctrines apply to why we have icons in the church and not just blank walls.”

You have a lot of people–who are Christians–who just say,

“The doctrine of the Trinity…ehhh…that’s just for college discussions and seminary/cemetary/whatever types of discussions. That’s not practical to my life. What’s practical to my life is, ‘How can I make my marriage better?’ ‘How can I make my children obey?’ ‘How can I feel more spiritually in tune with God?’ ‘How can I feel forgiven?’

“I, I, I, Me, Me, Me” . . . In other words,“How can God benefit me in all the things that I care about?” Not,“How can I find out what makes His heart beat and who He is and what’s in His diary?”

On the other side of the fence, you have people that say the doctrine of the Trinity is the most applicable, the most important and the most practical doctrine of the entire Christian faith. More important than not committing adultery. More important than not murdering. More important then even how we treat each other. And all those things are very important. But when we talk about top importance, here it is: it’s the Trinity.

And I’m not sure if there is a whole lot of middle ground there. I haven’t met too many people that think, “Well, it’s kind of important.”

Generally people either treat it like something that they only mention if they have to, and it has really no interest to them at all, or something of central, foundational importance to their faith.

And our approach to that particular question, is reflected in a whole lot of other things. You see, the doctrine of the Trinity is about the very essence and heartbeat of God Himself. Who is He?

There’s few other things that you can talk about that would get so close to the center of that question, “Who is God? Who is He? What’s He like?”  You can’t dive into that question without diving into the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is our stumbling, bumbling approach of trying to answer that question of “Who is God?”

And if a husband should be interested in his wife’s thoughts and desires, and heartbeat, and her soul, if a wife should be interested in what makes her husband who he is, then how much more should all of us be hanging on every word that God can give us about who He is? Not what He can do for us, not how He can fix our problems, not how he can fit into our schedules, but who is He?

And thus in the church you see the difference between those who love God, and those who love God for what He can do for them, between those who are seeking His hand and those who are seeking His face.

Now we all seek His hand. We all need His hand. We all like children go like this [holding palms upward]–even during the Liturgy when we’re praying the Lord’s Prayer–this, in every culture and every language, this is the universal sign of submission, palms turned upwards. You go like this, you’re not about to fight somebody. We are children with our hands open, waiting for God to feed us, to take care of us.

We need His hand, but is that all we’re interested in? Are we just here to find out how He can make feel better, how He can improve our lives, how He can heal us, or do we really want to seek His face, and find out what interests Him, what makes His heart beat, who He is?

You see, just humbling yourself and seeking His hand is the first step in the Christian walk. It’s important. It’s necessary.

But don’t stop there. If you’re going to go higher up and further in then you have to press forward and say, “Lord, I’m not just seeking Your hand. I’m seeking you, your face, your heartbeat. I want to know You.”

And when you start asking those kind of questions, you start seeking His face. Then  your own desires, your own schedule, your own preferences, your own tastes suddenly take a backseat. And you start to be more interested in, “Who is He?” I guess this doctrine of the Trinity is really really important!

It matters a lot to know who He is and who He isn’t. And it affects our entire lives, the way we worship. In a lot of Protestant churches today, it’s like a salad bar. There’s this whole range of things in a salad bar. What do you do? You pick what you want.

“Well, I’ll have the lettuce, I’ll have the garbanzo beans, I don’t want any of those olives, I’m going to skip the mushrooms, but I’ll put some of these chopped tomatoes on it, some nuts, but no sunflower seeds.”

And so a lot of Protestant churches do the same thing. They say,

“There’s this whole banquet that God has set before us, and I like this kind of  music, and I like this kind of worship, and I like this kind of preaching, and this kind of distance to drive–and let’s see–I like the chairs to be comfortable, so I’m going to get some of this. Okay, here’s what I got.”

And so there’s one church.

Now another church picks totally different things. . . . “Actually, I like this . .  . and I’m going to hunt and pick what God has given us.”

And what is that? That is saying,

“My preference, my desires, the restaurant I want to go to, the music  I want to listen to, I don’t want to know your heartbeat, what you’ve required, what you’ve asked for, I don’t even want to know what you like. I’m pretty sure you like whatever I like.”

“Whatever I like, that’s what you like, right, God?”

Now let’s get away from that, let’s get away from worship, and talk about something we all have more experience with, and that’s sin.

Whenever you’re about to sin, would you say it’s pretty true that whatever you like is about the same as what God likes? It doesn’t work that way, does it? It doesn’t work that way at all, and that should teach us something. Whenever you are about to give yourself some sort of pleasure, through sin, you know at that moment that what you like and what God likes are two totally different things.

Does it shock you that sometimes the same principle applies to worship?
That what pleases you and what pleases Him are not going to be identical.

Now we think of married couples who truly love each other and truly get to know each other. What is it that happens? We already talked about this.

He opens himself up to his wife. She opens herself up to her husband. They start liking each other’s food, they start liking each other’s music. They get to know each other’s hearts, and so they become more and more in unity, more like each other.

Well God is perfect. He doesn’t need to become more me. He doesn’t need to become more like you. But we are created in His own image.

And do you want to know the definition of salvation? It is becoming like Him. The more like Him you become, the more like Christ you look and act and think and talk, that is salvation.

The less you become like Christ, the more your life is hell.
The more you become like Christ, the more your life right now is heaven.

And so in this marriage between our Husband, Christ, and the bride, the Church, it is our job to seek His heart, to seek His face,to find out what He likes and to watch ourselves be transformed in that process.

If He likes robes, and incense, and candles, and liturgies–which is exactly the sort of worship you see in scripture, in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, even in heaven in the book of Revelation–If that’s what makes my Father’s heart beat, then that’s what I want to make my heart beat.

If I walk into this church and one of the prayers that are read, or the songs that are sung, or the liturgy that is done, or the icons that are here–if any of this grates me the wrong way, is it me that’s wrong and needs to change, or is it Him that’s wrong and needs to change?

If it grates me the wrong way, should we throw all this out and put a rock and roll band in here? Make sure that we all come in tank-tops, and make sure we all get some tattoos with the latest band names on it. Should we turn this into a rock concert, because we like it better? Should we get rid of the public scripture readings, and the public prayers, and the chanting, because it makes us uncomfortable?

Or should we say,

“Wow! This is what God likes, and I want to be like that! That’s what I want to get used to. That’s what I want to learn to love.”

Now the doctrine of the Trinity itself, on this Trinity Sunday–Now why would we have Trinity Sunday the week after Pentecost? Well, it is finally at Pentecost that we have had the full revelation of God the Father, God the Son, and then finally God the Holy Spirit.

We meet God the Father in Scripture. The Son becomes incarnate and takes on human flesh; we meet the Son. Then He ascends into heaven. And then on Pentecost Sunday, that’s when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church, and people speak in tongues, and people hear the gospel in their own languages. And three thousand are  converted to Christ in that single day. And you have what might be considered the birthday of the church at that point.

So the Father has been revealed. The Son has been revealed. And at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is revealed. And so that very next Sunday–the week after Pentecost–we celebrate Trinity Sunday.

And this is not a doctrine that we look at and say, “Man, if I understand the doctrine of the Trinity, my marriage is sure going to be a lot better. My kids are going to behave better if I talk to them about perichoresis among the three members of the Trinity, or if I at least teach them how to spell it.”

Your bank account is not going to get bigger overnight just because you go and study the doctrine of the Trinity. You get a much better reward then all of those things.

See, all those other things are temporal, temporary.

When you dive into the doctrine of the Trinity, not as an academic, not as an egghead, not as somebody just wanting to show how smart you are, but when you dive into the doctrine of the Trinity because your heart beats for God, and because you love Him, and because you want to know who He is, then instead of merely being rewarded with temporary things like healing or money, you’re rewarded with a look into the very heart of God, a look at the face of God. You’re rewarded with a better knowledge of who He is.

The Doctrine of the Trinity is Practical

Now there are some very practical things about the doctrine of the Trinity. It affects how we pray. . . .

If you really understand the doctrine of the Trinity, you understand that there are some really bad ways to explain it. Let me tell you one way to never explain the Trinity: “You see, I’m a son–and here’s my wife, so I am also a husband–and here’s my children, so I am also a father. So simultaneously I am a father, son and husband. Right?”

Okay, that’s nothing like the doctrine of the Trinity. That’s a terrible explanation, because let’s say somebody were to drive a stake through my wrists, just like they did Christ. Did they drive a stake through a son, a husband, or a father? Which one?

All three. That’s a heresy. The Father was not crucified for you. The Holy Spirit did not die on the cross.

There is only one God, but there are three persons. And there is only one of those three persons that you can thank for dying for you. The other two did not die for you.

Let me repeat, God the Father did not die for you. The Holy Spirit did not die for you. Only the Son did.

You cannot thank Jesus for giving up His child for you, because He did not do that. You cannot thank the Holy Spirit for giving  up His child for you, because He did not do that.

Those of you who are parents–What’s the one thing you can think of that would be worse than walking to your death?

Watching your children walk to theirs.

Can you imagine just being held down, and your eyes being held open, and you being forced to watch as your children are slaughtered before your very eyes? What kind of torture would that be?  Would you rather that, or would you rather walk to your own death by execution?

I would rather go to my own execution than to have to watch my children do that.

God the Father loved us so much, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.

And that’s how much the Father loved you.

The Father did not die for you, and you cannot thank Him for dying for you. But the Father loved you so much that he gave up His Son, and He watched from heaven as His Son was being tormented and crucified and went to His death on the cross.

You cannot thank the Holy Spirit for giving up His Son. You cannot thank the Holy Spirit for dying for you. But you know what?

You cannot thank the Father or the Son for being poured out upon the Church at Pentecost, or in your own Chrismation.

One week ago, when you [Russ] were Chrismated with the holy oil, and the Holy Spirit came upon you, and you were bound as a member of the  Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church, you partook of the body and the blood of Jesus Christ.

When the Holy Spirit came upon you, when you were Chrismated, when the Holy Spirit came upon all of us, when the Holy Spirit came upon the Church at Pentecost, you cannot directly thank the Father or the Son for that.

Now, the Father did send the Spirit.
The Son asked the Father to send the Spirit.

But the Spirit is the one who came. The Spirit is the one who fills you, and the Spirit is the one who lives within you. The Spirit is the one–not the Father and not the Son–in the Scriptures it says that the Holy Spirit is the one who cries out from within your heart, “Abba, Father.”

You have groanings that cannot even be uttered–things that you cannot even speak–it is the Holy Spirit, not the Father, not the Son, it is the Holy Spirit who prays for you.

So when you can’t pray no more and you don’t know what to say, prayers for you are still coming up toward the Father in heaven by the Holy Spirit.

There are things you can thank the Father for, that you cannot thank the other two for.
There are things you can thank the Son for, that you can’t thank the other two for.
And there are things you can thank the Holy Spirit for, that you cannot thank the other two for.

So does that mean there are three Gods?

No, that’s heresy.

If you think there are three Gods, you’re getting shown the door right there.
“See ya later. Bye.”

There’s only one God.

So, have you got this all figured out?  Do you have a perfect picture of what it means to be God?  Do you perfectly understand how there can be one God in three persons, three persons in one God?

If you ever totally get it, come explain it to me, alright?  If you ever get it where you understand it just right, I guarantee you have discovered a heresy that was already condemned probably fifteen hundred years ago.

It’s a mystery. God transcends us. He is above us.

Trying to fully understand Him with our little brains would be like a flea studying calculus. It would be like a mole trying to understand your marital relationship. It’s not going to happen.

We should expect the doctrine of the Trinity to be mysterious and beyond our comprehension. But there are aspects of it that we can understand. We can understand that there is one God and only one God. And we can also accept the fact that each member of the Trinity–each person–is distinct.

The Father is not the Son.
The Son is not the Father.
The Father and Son are not the Holy Spirit.
They are three distinct persons in one God.

And if that blows your mind, then that means you are getting it, you’re beginning to understand.

The Filioque

There is a difference in the way that the western churches, such as the Catholic church and the Protestant churches teach the Trinity, and the way the Orthodox church has taught the doctrine of the Trinity for two thousand years.

In John chapter fifteen, Jesus mentions the Holy Spirit . . . He mentions the Holy Spirit “who proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26).  And He stops there.  Jesus did not say He proceeds from the Father “and from Me.”

See, in some senses–now they are different–but “proceeding” is kind of a corollary to being “begotten” or “giving birth”.

Now, the Spirit proceeds from the Father.
But who was begotten by the Father?  Jesus.

Would it make any sense, Mom, if you said that you and my dad gave birth to me?

They are both my parents, but only one of them gave birth to me. Does this make sense to everybody?  It wouldn’t make any sense to give birth to somebody, and for two people to be doing the “giving birth”.  I cannot even picture that, and I don’t want to.

Similarly, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  That’s just as nonsense as saying that Jeremy and Christa both gave birth to Landon.  That didn’t happen, did it Jeremy?

The Holy Spirit did not proceed from the Father and the Son.

In John fifteen, Jesus says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father.  Period.
He didn’t say anything else.

A few hundred years ago, the Roman Catholic church changed that. And in the Nicene Creed, they started saying extra stuff. Instead of what was written in Scripture, they changed it and said the Holy spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Just one word in Greek–filioque–in English that is “and the Son.”

Now, even though we can’t really picture what it would look like, or how it would even be possible, would you agree with me that if the universe was changed around so that Landon was born from both Jeremy and Christa–that Jeremy and Christa both gave birth to Landon at the same time–would you agree that would be a radically different universe, one that we cannot even picture?

That’s not a minor change. In the same way, it is a different faith, it is a different doctrine of the Trinity whenever you say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

It seems like such a simple change, it’s just one little word, just one little phrase. But radical implications. It’s a radical change. And I’m not going to take time to go into it today, but suffice it to say, that one little change–on a foundational level–bears bad fruit that changes other doctrines and changes other beliefs.

And whereas to this day–starting in the 1200s–the Roman Catholic church has actually dogmatized that and said you have to believe that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. (They dogmatized it at the Second Council of Lyons.) And all the Protestant churches that broke away from Rome, those that kept the Nicene Creed kept the Roman Catholic version of it, that the Spirit proceeds from Father and the Son. I can think of only one Protestant church that actually flipped back to the old version, and that’s the Hussites–the followers of John Huss–the Moravians.

And the Orthodox church has kept the Nicene creed unchanged. The Nicene Creed was first written in the fourth century, and in sixteen hundred years we have not changed it.

In says in John fifteen that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. In the Orthodox Church–in our Nicene Creed–we say when we confess it, that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Period.

We didn’t change the doctrine of the Trinity.

And just as we refuse to change the doctrine of the Trinity, we refuse to change any other doctrine. For two thousand years, we have not waited until children reach some “age of accountability” before we allow them to be baptized and to take communion.  For two thousand years we have given even our smallest children food at the Lord’s table, as equal co-heirs in Christ.  Kelsey (two years old) is just as much an Orthodox Christian as Russ is (over 70 years old), or I am. . . . it doesn’t matter what your age, if you’re in the Orthodox Church,  it’s an even playing field. You come to the same table whether you are two or seventy two. We confess the same Creed. We have kept a very similar form of worship. Now, there are different ways to chant.  There are different forms of the liturgy.  There is a lot of liturgical diversity in the early Church. But they all had a lot of things in common. And those things that they had in common, we still have in common today. We still do them today.

And the reason we don’t change these things with the culture and with the time and with peoples’ preferences, is because–as the bride–we are not just wrapped up in ourselves. But as the bride of Christ we are wrapped up in Him. In who He is, in what He likes, and in what He–as God and as our Husband–has revealed.

And so we praise Him, not just the one true God, but we praise Him as the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.


This homily was preached on Trinity Sunday morning, June 30, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
Video | This entry was posted in 1274 A.D. - Lyons II, Filioque, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Trinity Sunday. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Significance of the Doctrine of the Trinity

  1. tpkatsa says:

    Very well written. SPOT ON!

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