From the book
The Orthodox Way
St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 1995 pp.32-33
God as Trinity: Personal Characteristics
The first person of the Trinity, God the Father,
is the "fountain" of the Godhead, the source, cause or
principle of origin for the other two persons. He is the bond of
unity between the three: there is one God because there is one
Father. "The union is the Father, from whom and to whom the
order of the persons runs its course" (St Gregory the
Theologian). The other two persons are each defined in terms of
their relationship to the Father: the Son is "begotten"
by the Father, the Spirit "proceeds" from the Father.
In the Latin West, it is usually held that the Spirit proceeds
"from the Father and from the Son"; and the word filioque
("and from the Son)
has been added to the Latin text of the Creed.
Orthodoxy not only regards the filioque as
an unauthorized addition-for
it was inserted into the Creed without the consent of the
Christian East-but it also considers that the doctrine of the
"double procession", as commonly expounded, is theologically inexact and spiritually
harmful. According to the Greek Fathers of the
fourth century, whom the Orthodox Church follows to this day, the
Father is the sole source and ground of unity in the Godhead. To
make the Son a source as well as the Father, or in combination
with him, is to risk confusing the distinctive characteristics of
The second person of the Trinity is the Son of God, his "Word" or Logos. To speak in this way of God as Son and Father is at once to imply a movement of mutual love, such as we indicated earlier. It is to imply that from all eternity God himself, as Son, in filial obedience and love renders back to God the Father the being which the Father by paternal self-giving eternally generates in him. It is in and through the Son that the Father is revealed to us: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life: no one comes to the Father, except through me" (John 14:6). He it is who was born on earth as man, from the Virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem. But as Word or Logos of God he is also at work before the Incarnation. He is the principle of order and purpose that permeates all things, drawing them to unity in God, and so making the universe into a "cosmos", a harmonious and integrated whole. The Creator-Logos has imparted to each created thing its own indwelling logos or inner principle, which makes that thing to be distinctively itself, and which at the same time draws and directs that thing towards God. Our human task as craftsmen or manufacturers is to discern this logos dwelling in each thing and to render it manifest; we seek not to dominate but co-operate.
The third person is the Holy Spirit, the "wind" or "breath" of God. While appreciating the inadequacy of neat classifications, we may say that the Spirit is God within us, the Son is God with us, and the Father, God above or beyond us. Just as the Son shows us the Father, so it is the Spirit who shows us the Son, making him present to us. Yet the relation is mutual. The Spirit makes the Son present to us, but it is the Son who sends us the Spirit. (We note that there is a distinction between the "eternal procession" of the Spirit and his "temporal mission". The Spirit is sent into the world, within time, by the Son; but, as regards his origin within the eternal life of the Trinity, the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone).
Why should God be a communion of three divine
persons, neither less nor more? Here again there can be no
logical proof. The threeness of God is something given or
revealed to us in Scripture, in the Apostolic Tradition, and in
the experience of the saints throughout the centuries. All that
we can do is to verify this given fact through our own life of
prayer. What precisely is the difference between the
"generation" of the Son and the "procession"
of the Spirit? "The manner of the generation and the manner
of the procession are incomprehensi ble", says St John of
Damascus. "We have been told that there is a difference
between generation and procession, but what is the nature of this
difference, we do not understand at all." If St John of
Damascus confessed himself baffled, then so may we. The terms
"generation" and "procession" are
conventional signs for reality far beyond the comprehension of
our reasoning "Our reasoning brain is weak, and our tongue
is weaker still remarks St Basil the Great. "It is easier to
measure the entire sea with a tiny cup than to grasp God's
ineffable greatness with the human mind." But while they
cannot be fully explained, these signs can (as we have said) be
verified. Through our encounter with God in prayer, we know
that the Spirit is not the same as the Son, even though we cannot
define in words precisely what the difference is.