A proper order

This past weekend I had a wonderful conversation with my sister’s brother-in-law (what does that make him…my brother in-law-in-law?), a really smart guy and a fellow church nerd. I always enjoy the conversation with him, even if he is an unfortunate Calvinist, because I usually end up talking about Orthodoxy, which is my favorite thing.

We got to talking about the Great Schism and the nearly 1000 of separation between East and West. As we discussed the filioque–that key phrase “and the Son” that sparked, in part the split–I had an epiphany.

The western church does not know what to do with the Holy Spirit. EVER. It is always inviting Him in, asking for His help, or spending whole series of sermons and services trying to figure out Who He is and what He does. And I’m going to blame the filioque for that. Here’s why…

When they changed the words in the Nicene Creed from “proceeds from the Father and with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified…” to “proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified…” it made the whole thing linear–God the Father on top, Jesus in the middle and the Holy Spirit bringing up the rear–or it inverted the triangle, putting the Holy Spirit in a completely subservient position. In the Eastern Church, that relationship is more triangular: God the Father as the head and the Son and the Holy Spirit proceeding from Him. And it is easier to see unity in the three points of a triangle than in three dots on a line. And putting the Holy Spirit on the bottom of the triangle can cause one to see it as a sort of spiritual lackey.

Much of what constituted church in my protestant experience consisted of either being wary of too much Holy Spirit (Baptists…Holy Ghost) or obsessing over His every movement and trying to conjure Him up with praise-and-worship songs repeated ad nauseum and overly-emotional praying/hand-waving and even banner-waving.  And yet He remained elusive to most people, frustratingly mysterious in an almost stubborn refusal to be known. Scott mentioned the Pentecostals and how they seem to have it all figured out, but I reminded him that many of those denominations have a stubborn modalistic streak. Because they believe that God exists in one phase at one time–the Father in the OT, Jesus in the NT and the Holy Spirit now–there is no confusion because they are only dealing with the one way. But since that was long ago declared a heresy, and on that all orthodox Christians agree, that’s not how it’s supposed to work.

One of the things attractive to me about Orthodoxy was its balance: everything works in harmony. And as I talked with Scott, it dawned on me that part of that is that everything we believe flows out of that great statement of faith, the Nicene Creed, minus those three little words “and the Son.” We don’t worry about the “work of the Holy Spirit” in that we don’t spend a lot of time wondering where He is and what He’s doing. We are not spending tons of time inviting Him to come and worship with us or lead us in our worship. We know He’s there. We know exactly where He is and we know that He is part of what binds our Church together and does the work of the Father in us. The Orthodox view of the Trinity: God the Father (God above me), God the Son (God beside me) and God the Holy Spirit (God within me and within the Church).

An Orthodox prayer:

My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, My protection is the Holy Spirit. All Holy Trinity, Glory to Thee.



Author: Rebecca

Orthodox Christian. Journalist. SAR K9 handler. All three of those are deeply related.

4 thoughts on “A proper order”

  1. Amen! Great theology,wish I could articulate like that. Especially liked the triangle and the linear illustration, and when drawn puts it all in perspective. Again, I say AMEN!

  2. Trinitarian Theology 101

    What “belongs” to the person belongs to the person!
    What “belongs” to the essence belongs to all three!

    Begotten–personal the Son
    Proceeds–personal the Spirit
    eternally begetting–the Father

    nothing can be shared by two without being also shared by three, or one has weakened the Trinity.

  3. I think one of the points of confusion is that, as God relates to the world (humanity in particular), it is Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit (i.e. more “linear”… if we can speak that way about God). In fact, the doxology “Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit…” was originally worded, “Glory to the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.” St. Basil the Great introduced the wording now standard today.

    However, regarding the internal life of the Godhead, we have the classic Orthodox triangle of God the Father, God the Son begotten of the Father, and God the Spirit proceeding from the Father (and the Father alone).

    Related, see my note on the St. Nicholas Church Facebook page:

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