In Eastern thought, salvation is understood essentially in terms of participation and communion with the deified humanity of the incarnate Logos – Christ. The Eastern fathers even dare to call the Spirit the “image of the Son”; by this they imply the truth that the Spirit is the main agent which makes communion a reality. According to Athanasius, the Son has given us “the first fruits of the Spirit, so that we may be transformed into sons and daughters of God, according to the image of the Son of God”. Thus, if it is through the Spirit that the Word of God became a human being, it is also only through the Spirit that true life reaches us.
The Church has always struggled with her ideas of how God operates. How do the Father, Son and Holy Spirit operate as one being and yet retain their individuality. The doctrine of the Trinity is the Church’s way of saying that there is only ONE God and yet there are THREE distinct Persons that are this ONE God. A mystery. Something that we humans find very difficult to understand. Yet the Church has always maintained her belief in monotheism and yet sees this ONE God as working in three very different ways.
Authors throughout the history of the Church have wrestled with how to express how our Triune God works in time. One author asks, “What is the effect and the result of the sufferings and works and teachings of Christ? Consider in relation to ourselves, it is nothing other than the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.”
Another author reminds us of the fact that the role of the Spirit in salvation is to confirm the personal dignity of the deified human person. He writes:
If our individual natures are incorporated into the glorious humanity of Christ and enter the unity of His Body by baptism, conforming themselves to the death and resurrection of Christ, our persons need to be confirmed in their personal dignity by the Holy Spirit, so that each may freely realize his own union with the Divinity. Baptism – the Mystery of unity in Christ – needs to be complemented by Chrismation – the Mystery of diversity in the Holy Spirit.
Interestingly, the Eastern fathers attribute to the Spirit all the multiplicity of names that can be attributed to grace, as is evident, for example, in St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Basil. They freely speak about the Holy Spirit as effecting deification, perfection, adoption and sanctification. Eastern Christians sing, “The Holy Spirit gives life to souls; He exalts them in purity; He causes the sole nature of the Trinity to shine in them mysteriously.”
We will probably never totally realize during this lifetime how the Holy Trinity operates in human life. We simply have to believe that They do!