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Dance of the Trinity

'Trinity Dance' by Maria Oosthuizen

I would imagine that most everyone reading this is familiar with the idea of the Holy Trinity, but I would also imagine that most people would not be familiar with the word perichoresis (PEAR-ree-koh-ray-sees).


Perichoresis is a theological term used to describe the Holy Trinity and the relationship of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. It originates from the Greek noun περιχώρησις which means ‘rotation’, and as a verb it’s translated as something similar to embracing or encircling, imagery meant to convey the idea that each is within the other, and while they are three ‘separate’ entities, they are yet all one and the same, in constant motion with each other.


The word first appeared in the writings of St. Gregory of Nazianzus in the 5th century but was later greatly expanded upon by St. John of Damascus in the 8th century. St. John of Damascus was a strong Christian leader, credited as being one of the Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. Many of his writings helped shape Christianity in his time and now. He used perichoresis to show how the Triune is both divine and human in nature and its interplay within each other and how we are involved in it as well.


In modern theology, this term has also been coupled with the idea of a dance. The last part of perichoresis is similar to the word ‘choros’, which is the Greek word for dance. The Greeks have several ancient folk dances that are performed in a circle, one being the Kalamatianos. This dance is often done at weddings, where any number of people join hands on the dance floor and perform the dance in a circle.


This does paint a lovely picture of how the Trinity encircle each other, and us with it, all of us moving together, separate, yet one unit. This also helps demonstrate that there is no ‘order’ in the Trinity. One is not above the other. The ‘Dance of the Trinity’ is a common picture in today’s theology, even though there’s no evidence to say that the word was used with the dance in mind back in the 5th century.


In researching this topic, I was a bit surprised to find out that the Trinitarian belief isn’t held by all Christians, and in fact makes some other monotheistic religions (the belief that there is only one God), such as Judaism and Islam, view the Trinity as polytheistic (the belief that there is more than one god). I find this interesting as in Genesis 1.26, God says: “Let us make humanity in our own image.” (CEB) God is beyond our limitations of personhood, God is a plurality and a single entity at the same time.


The Trinity has inspired many people for centuries in theology and art. In fact, signs of the Trinity can be found in many churches, including our own. If you go looking for groups of three in the woodwork or in the stained-glass windows, you will start to see more and more. Here are just a few examples from our sanctuary.

There have been a multitude of comparisons to understand the unity of the Trinity, from St. John of Damascus saying they were like one substance that was unseparated and unmixed, to the tales of St. Patrick using the shamrock as an example, to the Dance of the Trinity. Most importantly, remember that the Trinity is a community and that we are invited to join in the dance.


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