Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for Trinity Sunday

Bishop Eric Menees

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of thy Divine Majesty to worship the Unity: We beseech thee that thou wouldst keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see thee in thy one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Last Sunday - Pentecost Sunday - we celebrated the fulfillment of Jesus' promise that God the Father would send the Holy Spirit, who would help God's people and lead them into all Truth. With the arrival of the Holy Spirit, who will be with us "forever" (John 14:16), God revealed himself in the third person of the Trinity. In a very real way this revelation of God began in creation, was embodied in the incarnation, and was fulfilled forever in the Holy Spirit.

Today's collect reflects the wonderful mystery and reality of our Triune God - One God in Three Persons - that Jesus himself refers to in his command to the disciples to, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19)

Over and over again in the scriptures we see the doctrine of the Holy Trinity reflected. From Genesis through Revelation, God is consistently revealing himself as One God in Three Persons involved in a cosmic dance - a relationship that demonstrates divine love and harmony.

However, because this doctrine can only be understood partially by the human mind, false doctrines and heresies have arisen through the ages that mark sharp differences between denominations like the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons that deny the Trinity and thus separate themselves, I believe, from traditional orthodox Christianity.

In the fourth century, St. Athanasius confronted these false teachings, and I encourage you to take the time, especially this week, reading through and praying the Athanasian Creed (79 BCP pg. 864). In his Letters to Serapion, he wrote the following about the Holy Trinity, which I think, speaks clearly: "[The Trinity] is a Trinity not merely in name or in a figurative manner of speaking; rather, it is a Trinity in truth and in actual existence. Just as the Father is he that is, so also his Word is one that is and is God over all. And neither is the Holy Spirit nonexistent but actually exists and has true being. Less than these the Catholic Church does not hold, lest she sink to the level of the Jews of the present time, imitators of Caiaphas, or to the level of Sabellius" (Letters to Serapion 1:28 [A.D. 359]). Athanasius' reference to Sabellius was to the heresy of "Modalism." Sabellius was a priest who argued that there is One Person to the Godhead who acts in three ways. This denies all of the scriptures like, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9)

Ultimately though, because our minds are human, a complete understanding of the Holy Trinity remains a mystery to us.  This Sunday we'll read about the Trinity in Holy Scripture, and you will hear eloquent sermons on the doctrine of the Trinity. However, when push comes to shove, it boils down to a choice to believe - a choice supported by scripture and the tradition of the Church Fathers. This belief, this practice of faith, comes in itself as a gift from God, and today’s Collect asks God for that assistance. “Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of thy Divine Majesty to worship the Unity….” It takes God's Grace for us to make a confession of true faith and, in doing so, our faith grows more and more, as does our experience of Grace. And to that I say...Amen!
God bless you all!

Note: These articles are written by Bishop Menees for the Diocese of San Joaquin. I have posted them on Soundings with his permission for a wider audience. This is also the case for his "Why I am an Anglican" series. Dale+

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