Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Feast of the Holy and Undivided Trinity

The Feast of the Holy and Undivided Trinity

For the First Nocturn

The First Reading
(from the Gospel of St. John 3:1-4).
THERE was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

The Second Reading
(from Isaac Williams’ Sermons on the Epistles & Gospels for the Sundays & Holy Days)
...The Gospel is of the mystery of Baptism, and Baptism is by the saving Word of the Three Persons in one God.  But to come to it more particularly, we may observe that St. John says that “a door was opened in Heaven,” that he “was in the Spirit,” when he beheld the throne in Heaven, and Christ sitting on His throne.  And in the Gospel our Lord declares to Nicodemus that no man can see and understand heavenly things unless he is born of the Spirit.  “Hardly do we guess aright,” says the Wise Man, “at things that are upon earth; but the things that are in Heaven, who hath searched out, except Thou give wisdom, and send Thy Holy Spirit from above ? “ (Wisd. ix. 16, 17.)  We may consider the Gospel therefore as bringing down to us that great mystery of which the Apocalypse speaks in figure.  For Baptism in the Name of the Three Persons in one God is as the “door opened in Heaven ;“ in like manner as at our Lord’s Baptism the heavens were opened, the Father’s Voice was heard, and the Spirit was seen.  To us, as born of water and of the Spirit, are the mysteries of Heaven made known, which eye hath not seen nor ear heard.  In other words, to us “a door is opened in Heaven,” and the mystery of the Godhead is reflected in the sea of glass which is before the throne.  At the first Creation the Spirit moved on the face of the waters; so even now is it in the Christian kingdom.  “There were seven lamps of fire before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal.” This is the description of Christ’s kingdom after the Day of Pentecost; and it is this which our Lord would explain to us in the Gospel for to-day by earthly similitudes.  For who is equal to these things ? and who should understand them, if God did not come down to us in our weakness, and meet us in our infirmities, overcoming by His humility our pride?
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, one of station and of learning in the Holy City, and therefore ashamed in the light of day to give any heed to the lowly Teacher of Galilee and Nazareth.  The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto Him, Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest except God be with him.  Nathanael had said on far less evidence, “Thou art the Son of God;” but this is all that the wisdom of the Pharisees could reach unto, “except God be with him!" Yet how patiently did Christ bear with him and teach him, not quenching the smoking flax! for his coming at all, even though it were under covering of the night, and acknowledging Him as a Teacher from God, was as a spark ascending in the smoke,—like the beginning of a faith, however weak; and even this our Lord did not despise.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.  He cannot “see” it, however near it be to him, for he has no eyes to discern God; and where God is, there is His kingdom.  Alas! how vain are all outward signs, unless God Himself teach us by His Spirit within, and reveal Himself unto our hearts as God! And here let us observe the difference between this man and all those creatures of God, in the Revelation:—they fall down; they worship with all prostration of soul and body; they rest not day or night from giving Him glory; the Saints in Heaven cry aloud, “Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord ?" But the learned ruler of the Jews questions, and inquires, and doubts.  He seems to stand erect in His presence; to look with half-suspicion; and to think such a change as a new birth absurd, if not impossible.  Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Surely we may say, to be born again of’ his earthly mother would be no better than his former birth in sin; for to be a child of the Resurrection, he must be born of a new mother, which is the Church of God, and of His Spirit.  He understood and spake of it carnally, as they of Capernaum did of the other Sacrament, when they said, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” and His disciples, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" (St. John vi. 52. 60.)  “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. ii. 14.)
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, lie cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is horn of the Spirit is spirit.  The great truth which our Lord here expresses, is as needful for us to consider as it was to Nicodemus.  The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, into which we were baptized, is not to be understood, except by a spiritual mind; carnal knowledge is of no avail; it must be revealed by the Father from above, because the knowledge of these things is made up of faith and love.  How can it be otherwise.  For to know this truth in the Scriptural sense of knowledge is everlasting life; and to know God, even here below, is rest and peace for the soul; then to know Him must be the first and best gift of the Spirit.

The Third Reading
(from the 39 Articles of Religion)
I. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

For the Second Nocturn

The Fourth Reading
(from the Gospel of St. John 3:5-8).
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

The Fifth Reading
(from a sermon by St. John Chrysostom)
John iii. 5.-"Verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God." 
[1.] Little children who go daily to their teachers receive their lessons, and repeat them, and never cease from this kind of acquisition, but sometimes employ nights as well as days, and this they are compelled to do for perishable and transient things. Now we do not ask of you who are come to age such toil as you require of your children; for not every day, but two days only in the week do we exhort you to hearken to our words, and only for a short portion of the day, that your task may be an easy one. For the same reason also we divide to you in small portions what is written in Scripture, that you may be able easily to receive and lay them up in the storehouses of your minds, and take such pains to remember them all, as to be able exactly to repeat them to others yourselves, unless any one be sleepy, and dull, and more idle than a little child. 
Let us now attend to the sequel of what has been before said. When Nicodemus fell into error and wrested the words of Christ to the earthly birth, and said that it was not possible for an old man to be born again, observe how Christ in answer more clearly reveals the manner of the Birth, which even thus had difficulty for the carnal enquirer, yet still was able to raise the hearer from his low opinion of it. What saith He? "Verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God." What He declares is this: "Thou sayest that it is impossible, I say that it is so absolutely possible as to be necessary, and that it is not even possible otherwise to be saved." For necessary things God hath made exceedingly easy also. The earthly birth which is according to the flesh, is of the dust, and therefore heaven is walled against it, for what hath earth in common with heaven? But that other, which is of the Spirit, easily unfolds to us the arches above. Hear, ye as many as are unilluminated, shudder, groan, fearful is the threat, fearful the sentence. "It is not (possible)," He saith, "for one not born of water and the Spirit, to enter into the Kingdom of heaven"; because he wears the raiment of death, of cursing, of perdition, he hath not yet received his Lord's token, he is a stranger and an alien, he hath not the royal watchword. "Except," He saith, "a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of heaven." 
Yet even thus Nicodemus did not understand. Nothing is worse than to commit spiritual things to argument; it was this that would not suffer him to suppose anything sublime and great. This is why we are called faithful, that having left the weakness of human reasonings below, we may ascend to the height of faith, and commit most of our blessings to her teaching; and if Nicodemus had done this, the thing would not have been thought by him impossible. What then doth Christ? To lead him away from his groveling imagination, and to show that He speaks not of the earthly birth, He saith, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of heaven." This He spoke, willing to draw him to the faith by the terror of the threat, and to persuade him not to deem the thing impossible, and taking pains to move him from his imagination as to the carnal birth. "I mean," saith He, "another Birth, O Nicodemus. Why drawest thou down the saying to earth? Why subjectest thou the matter to the necessity of nature? This Birth is too high for such pangs as these; it hath nothing in common with you; it is indeed called `birth,' but in name only has it aught in common, in reality it is different. Remove thyself from that which is common and familiar; a different kind of childbirth bring I into the world; in another manner will I have men to be generated: I have come to bring a new manner of Creation. I formed (man) of earth and water; but that which was formed was unprofitable, the vessel was wrenched awry; I will no more form them of earth and water, but `of water' and `of the Spirit.'" 
And if any one asks, "How of water?" I also will ask, How of earth? How was the clay separated into different parts? How was the material uniform, (it was earth only,) and the things made from it, various and of every kind? Whence are the bones, and sinews, and arteries, and veins? Whence the membranes, and vessels of the organs, the cartilages, the tissues, the liver, spleen, and heart? whence the skin, and blood, and mucus, and bile? whence so great powers, whence such varied colors? These belong not to earth or clay. How does the earth, when it receives the seeds, cause them to shoot, while the flesh receiving them wastes them? How does the earth nourish what is put into it, while the flesh is nourished by these things, and does not nourish them? The earth, for instance, receives water, and makes it wine; the flesh often receives wine, and changes it into water. Whence then is it clear that these things are formed of earth, when the nature of the earth is, according to what has been said; contrary to that of the body? I cannot discover by reasoning, I accept it by faith only. If then things which take place daily, and which we handle, require faith, much more do those which are more mysterious and more spiritual than these. For as the earth, which is soulless and motionless, was empowered by the will of God, and such wonders were worked in it; much more when the Spirit is present with the water, do all those things so strange and transcending reason, easily take place. 

The Sixth Reading
(from The Christian Year by the Blessed John Keble)
If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?  St. John iii. 12. 

CREATOR, Saviour, strengthening Guide, 
Now on Thy mercy’s ocean wide 
Far out of sight we seem to glide. 
Help us, each hour, with steadier eye 
To search the deepening mystery, 
The wonders of Thy sea and sky. 
The blessed angels look and long 
To praise Thee with a worthier song, 
And yet our silence does Thee wrong.— 
Along the Church’s central space 
The sacred weeks with unfelt pace 
Have borne us on from grace to grace. 
As travellers on some woodland height, 
When wintry suns are gleaming bright, 
Lose in arch’d glades their tangled sight;— 
By glimpses such as dreamers love 
Through her grey veil the leafless grove 
Shews where the distant shadows rove;— 
Such trembling joy the soul o’er-awes 
As nearer to thy shrine she draws:— 
And now before the choir we pause. 
The door is clos’d—but soft and deep 
Around the awful arches sweep 
Such airs as soothe a hermit’s sleep. 
From each carv’d nook and fretted bend 
Cornice and gallery seem to send 
Tones that with seraph hymns might blend. 
Three solemn parts together twine 
In harmony’s mysterious line; 
Three solemn aisles approach the shrine: 
Yet all are One—together all, 
In thoughts that awe but not appal, 
Teach the adoring heart to fall. 
Within these walls each fluttering guest 
Is gently lur’d to one safe nest— 
Without, ‘tis moaning and unrest. 
The busy world a thousand ways 
Is hurrying by, nor ever stays 
To catch a note of Thy dear praise. 
Why tarries not her chariot wheel, 
That o’er her with no vain appeal 
One gust of heavenly song might steal? 
Alas! for her Thy opening flowers 
Unheeded breathe to summer showers, 
Unheard the music of Thy bowers. 
What echoes from the sacred dome 
The selfish spirit may o’er-come 
That will not hear of love or home? 
The heart that scorn’d a father’s care, 
How can it rise in filial prayer? 
How an all-seeing Guardian bear? 
Or how shall envious brethren own 
A Brother on th’ eternal throne, 
Their Father’s joy, that hope alone? 
How shall thy Spirit’s gracious wile 
The sullen brow of gloom beguile, 
That frowns on sweet affection’s smile? 
Eternal One, Almighty Trine! 
(Since Thou art ours, and we are Thine) 
By all thy love did once resign, 
By all the grace thy heavens still hide, 
We pray thee, keep us at thy side, 
Creator, Saviour, strengthening Guide! 

For the Third Nocturn

The Seventh Reading
(from the Gospel of St. John 3:9-15).
Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whoso ever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Eighth Reading
(from a sermon by Martin Luther)
Part II: The Explanation of this Gospel; Christ's Conversation with Nicodemus. 
I. The Conversation in General 
1. In this Gospel you see clearly what reason and freewill can do. You may see it distinctly in Nicodemus, who was the best of the best, a prince and leader of the Pharisees, and the Pharisees held first place in their day. They were, however, in the highest things--in spiritual life--altogether blind and dead before God, however holy, wise, good and mighty they may have been considered by men. The longer Nicodemus associates with Christ, the less he understands Christ, although he is expected to understand only earthly things and the manner of Christ's death. Reason is so blind that it can neither perceive nor understand the things of God, nor all things which properly belong to its own sphere, This is a blow to nature and human reason, which have been rated so high by philosophy and the wise men of this world; the wise ones have said that reason always strives to attain the best. 
2. God has here given us an example showing that even the best in nature must fail. In instances where human nature is at its best it is blind, not to speak of its envy and hatred. Christ has here demonstrated by examples, words and deeds that human reason is altogether blind and dead before God, Hence, it cannot appreciate divine things nor desire them. 
3. Now, Nicodemus, who is a pious and well-meaning man, cannot grasp the work and Word of God; how then would Annas and Caiaphas?

Ninth Reading

 (from St. Athanasius First Epistle to Serapion) 
Light, splendour, grace in the Trinity and from the Trinity. 
It will not be irrelevant to examine the ancient tradition and the doctrine and the faith of the Catholic Church, which, as we know, the Lord handed down, the apostles preached and the fathers preserved.  For on this tradition the Church is founded, and if anyone abandons it, he cannot be a Christian nor have any right to the name. 
And so the Trinity, which is recognized in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is holy and perfect, and has no adulteration of that which is foreign or external.  Nor is it compounded of creator and created matter, but it is endowed with the complete power of creating and energizing; its mature also is consistent with itself and undivided, and its energy and activity is one.  For the Father makes all things through the Word in the Holy Spirit, and in that way the unity of the Holy Trinity is preserved.  Thus in the Church one God is preached, who is ‘above all things and through all things and in all things’.  Yes, certainly, ‘above all things’ as the Father, the first principle and origin; and truly ‘through all things’, that is through the Word, and finally ‘in all things’ in the Holy Spirit. 
When Saint Paul was writing to the Corinthians about spiritual matters, he traced all things back to one God the Father as to the fountain-head in these words: ‘Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord: and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.’ 
The gifts which the Spirit distributes to individuals are given by the Father through the Word.  For all things which belong to the Father likewise belong to the Son: so that those things which are given by the Son in the Spirit, are true gifts of the Father.  Similarly when the Spirit is in us, the Word by whom we receive him is also in us, and in the Word is also the Father, and this is the meaning of the text: ‘We (that is, my Father and I) will come to him and make our home with him.”  For where there is light, there also is brilliance, and where there is brilliance, there the power and the glory of the light shines out. 

Paul also in the second letter to the Corinthians gives the same teaching in these words: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’  For grace and the gift which is given in the Trinity is given by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.  For just as grace is given from the Father through the Son, so within us the fellowship in the gift cannot be brought about except in the Holy Spirit.  If we  have received the Spirit, then we have the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the fellowship of the Spirit himself.

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