The Eastern Orthodox begin all their theology with the Holy Trinity. But, it is not a scholastic conception of God with which they begin but with God as Trinity, God as Community, a more personalistic understanding. It is in the Holy Trinity and its interrelationships that the measuring rule is found for the Chaplain who wishes to acquire a biblically grounded perspective.
In an attempt to formulate the Church’s teaching on the Holy Trinity, it has to be remembered that God as Trinity is a mystery – indeed, the absolute mystery par excellence since God will forever remain so – and is therefore to be ”approached” in humility, reverence and thanksgiving rather than exhaustively ”understood”. … In expounding the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Orthodox Church begins with the community of the three genuinely ”existing” persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – rather than with an abstract concept of metaphysical or transcendental unity. … Fellowship or community is central to the being of God since it presupposes not an abstract being of God, as is supposedly the case in the West, but persons who are capable of fellowship. St Gregory of Nyssa stresses the idea of Trinitarian koinonia: In the life-creating nature of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit there is no division, but only a continuous and inseparable communion (koinonia) between them… It is not possible to envisage any severance or division, such that one might think of the Son without the Father, or separate the Spirit from the Son; but there is between them an ineffable and inconceivable communion (koinonia) and distinction. (Kariatlis)
But, this beginning has tremendous implications for us. “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, … So, God made man; in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them. Then God blessed them …,” (Gen.1:26a, 27-28a, OSB). (Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are taken from the OSB – The Orthodox Study Bible.)
There is a tendency to answer the question of how we are made in God’s image and likeness in the following manner: to talk about reasoning, an indelible sense of morality, the ability to communicate in depth, etc. All those refer to individuals, to single unities. Now, there is nothing wrong with referring to single unities. Yet, the Orthodox begin by saying that God is a triune unity.
Belief in a God who is three-in-one, whose characteristics are sharing and solidarity, has direct and practical consequences for our Christian attitude toward politics, economics and social action, and it is our task to work out these consequences in full detail. Each form of community-the family, the school, the workplace, the local eucharistic center, the monastery, the city, the nation-has as its vocation to become, each according to its own modality, a living icon of the Holy Trinity. (Cutsinger 1997, 142)
Thus, we must begin by not just realizing, but fully internalizing, that being created in the image and likeness of God is not simply an individual reality, but that being created in the image and likeness of God means that we are a people who are drawn to each other—by our very natures—to form interpersonal unities. We can properly call them complex organizational systems, but we can also simply call them communities.
We are to image God in our individual lives. But, our conception of our imaging of God is woefully deficient if it is not accompanied by a theology of imaging and a desire to image God in our various communities. Both our individuality and our various communities are necessary to be icons of God, the Trinity. In our individuality, we image the persons of God. In our communities, we image the Unity which is God. That is what makes us icons, especially as communities.
It should not be surprising, then, that the truly differentiated person is also one of the best members of the community. A community of differentiated persons would be one of the best icons of God, both individually and corporately. But, I digress.
There is a very Orthodox wordplay here, for eikona is the word for image while omoiwsin is the word for likeness which is used in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. In fact, omoiwsin also has its own wordplay, as this is the word that may not be applied to the Trinity, according to the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. The Trinity is omoousios; we are omoiwsin. The Trinity is ontologically consubstantial. We are like the Trinity when we join together in community, but not ontologically so. In other words, we are not consubstantial with our fellow member of a community.
We need to realize that there is a very real drive within human beings to become part of, to form, communities. This drive is not simply a cultural drive, but it is an ontological drive. It is part of who we are. We are beings whose very ontology drives us into groups. More than that, just like God interacts, we need to realize that people are driven to interact. And they are driven to do so not merely as individuals but from within as members of a group. That is, a community is not simply the sum of its individuals, but is more than that. Though it may appear that the system interactions are simply the sum of the individual interactions, communities are truly an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
There is a sad, but interesting, set of studies that point out how ontologically wedded into our very beings is the drive to be in a group. They are the studies about solitary confinement in prisons. Just one of the various articles will be quoted.
Solitary confinement—that is the confinement of a prisoner alone in a cell for all, or nearly all, of the day with minimal environmental stimulation and minimal opportunity for social interaction—can cause severe psychiatric harm. … The paradigmatic psychiatric disturbance was an agitated confusional state which, in more severe cases, had the characteristics of a florid delirium, characterized by severe confusional, paranoid, and hallucinatory features, and also by intense agitation and random, impulsive, often self-directed violence. Such disturbances were often observed in individuals who had no prior history of any mental illness. (Grassian 2006, 327-329)
That is, so ontologically wedded to our essence is the Image and Likeness of God as community that the lack of community loosens our hold on reality and drives us into psychiatric harm.
There is an interesting quote from Dr. Gilbert that points out how deep the drive is for humans to form communities. It is a quote that points out that even a working group quickly strays beyond the boundaries of being merely a workgroup and begins to form the types of attachment that are more communitarian than merely work oriented.
Are organizations emotional systems also? It appears to be the case. Theoretically, all that is necessary to create an emotional system is spending time together. If people spend enough time together they begin to form an emotional system similar to that of the family. … The same patterns can be observed in organizations and the same principles that govern emotional processes in families apply. (Gilbert 2006, 20)
Or, it could simply be that because of the ontology of human beings, anytime they come together they seek to express that part of the Image and Likeness of God which tries to have unity in diversity. It is not simply that, “they begin to form an emotional system similar to that of the family.” It is that both families and organizations form communal links that image something of the God who created us. But, more than that, any time that groups come together, the very ontology of the human beings involved drives them toward interactions that are greater than simply a number of individuals functioning together. The ontology of human beings tries to drive them toward some expression of unity.
=== The previous was an excerpt from a paper that I wrote for a doctoral class. ===