"And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven,
and one sat on the throne" (Revelation 4:2).
What we have here from St. John is not a photograph of God the Father seated upon his throne, the throne before which our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered himself for the salvation of the world. We have, instead, a spiritual vision and a description of the otherwise indescribable glory of God expressed in earthly terms.
That throne tells us that the Father is the ruler of all things. Upon it, the Father is, to look upon, like the "jasper" and the "sardine stone" (Rev. 4:3). That "jasper," if we translate it as the white diamond, signifies the perfect purity of God. If we translate it as the green gem, it signifies God’s perfect mercy, and the hope that his mercy gives to the faithful. Over the throne, like a great arch, is the rainbow, the sign of God’s covenant of salvation with man, made perfect in the New Testament established in the Blood of Jesus Christ (Rev. 4:3; Gen. 9:13).
This vision of God’s glory, however, does not end with the Person of God the Father. God the Holy Ghost is represented by the "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God" (Rev. 4:5). This does not mean, it must be very clear, that there are "seven Holy Ghosts," any more than the tongues of fire on Pentecost mean that there is more than one Holy Ghost. Rather, in the tradition of Biblical imagery, the number "seven" indicates the complete and perfect operation of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God. We still speak of the Seven Gifts (or sacred operations) of the Holy Ghost in our Confirmation service, based on Isaiah 11:2, and these are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, and the Fear of the Lord.
But where is the depiction of God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, in this vision of the whole glory of God? The Son himself is the glory of the Father and the express image of his Person (Heb. 1:3). Our Lord said, "Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me" (John 14:11) and "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30). Thus, while our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God made man, is depicted elsewhere in St. John’s vision in a variety of ways, here he is made manifest by the results of his work.
St. John could not see this vision of the glory of the Father, and of the glory of the Holy Ghost, if it were not for the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. The glory of God is made manifest to John because Jesus Christ has made him a member of his own Body. Likewise, the four and twenty elders who fall before the throne and cast their crowns before it in adoration are the elders of the Old and New Testament Churches, redeemed by Jesus Christ to render worship to the Father in his Name. It is Christ’s work of glorifying the Father that the elders continue, by virtue of their having received the crown of salvation by his Blood.
The Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are not "three gods," but One God. They are not, and cannot be, opposed to one another or divided. No one who does not worship the Three-in-One and the One-in-Three can be said to know the only God there is or to call him Lord. But there are not "three lords," but only One Lord, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. These Three Persons of the Godhead are of equal eternity, might, majesty, and dominion, and yet within the order of their perfect love, God the Father is first. He is served and obeyed by God the Son and by God the Holy Ghost, for the sake of that love and not out of weakness, compulsion, or necessity.
The Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are, moreover, real persons. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are not "just three names for God" or metaphors to describe how we have experienced God or our own personality. And while we cannot divide the Persons of the Blessed Trinity, we can learn from each of them in particular, as well as in their perfect unity. We must remember, however, that we are created in the image and likeness of God, rather than the other way around.
For example, if we say on this Father’s Day, which happens to fall on Trinity Sunday, that St. John’s vision of God the Father seated on his throne is the very image of the Divine Person who is the source of all true fatherhood, we must not think for a moment that we call God "Father" because of our experience of fathers on earth. Rather, we must understand that we can only know what a "father" is, or know what the calling of earthly fathers might be, because God the Father is eternally the Father of God the Son, before all worlds began. Human fatherhood was created, first of all, to glorify the Eternal Father in heaven, and secondly to give certain chosen men the grace and the privilege of becoming images of the Father’s glory—to be fathers on earth under the rule of God the Father in heaven.
That throne upon which the Father sits in St. John’s vision is an admonition to earthly fathers to rule their households, not as tyrants, but by goodness. The Father in heaven’s authority is precisely his perfect goodness, his perfect purity, his perfect justice, and his perfect mercy. And while earthly fathers will always be imperfect, especially in comparison to God, the duties and the authorities of their office as "father" depend on their efforts, with the help of God’s grace, to work constantly to make their goodness, purity, justice, and mercy as perfect as possible.
That throne of God presented in the Scriptures as the epitome of all true fatherhood may worry some people, since it certainly does mean that fathers are to rule and to be obeyed. Some of those worries are legitimate, but most of them come from our modern hatred of order and authority. And yet, our legitimate worries pass away when we realize that the man who is going to claim God the Father as the source of the authority for his own fatherhood in his own household must himself bend the knee and submit to the heavenly throne. He must accept with the gift of authority that he will be judged by the Father in heaven for his earthly ministry as a father.
Our worries about unfettered tyranny in the home should also pass away when we remember that wives are not children, and that the model of the godly husband is the heavenly Bridegroom himself, Jesus Christ the Lord. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity become man exercises and derives his authority as the husband of his Bride the Church from his willingness to die on a cross for her.
But today, fatherhood as a divinely given vocation is under attack, whether by false ideologies like feminism; by false social movements and governmental policies that do not recognize that order and "equality" need not be in conflict; by wives and children who deny their husbands and fathers, no matter how godly, the respect and obedience that God has commanded; and especially by lazy, careless, and unconverted men who fail to take up the full God-given duties of fatherhood.
We all hate to see a drunken priest, a negligent doctor, or a crooked cop because these men have failed in their vocations. Yet, so often, we wink at a father who makes little or no effort to live up to the standards of the Father in heaven. He’s busy, we say. Or, He’s tired. Or, He’s got his own "ways." Or, He needs his "space." But those of us who had good Christian fathers know that they worked just as hard as anybody else (if not harder); that they got just as tired; that they suppressed their "own ways" for God’s way more often than not; and that they never let us see them sitting around feeling sorry for themselves and contemplating how much easier life would be without us or our mothers.
Of course it’s hard to be a good father. Every Christian calling is hard because every Christian calling demands that we show the world some bit of the goodness and glory of God. But the calling of fatherhood (complemented by the calling of motherhood) is uniquely basic to the raising of sane human beings, to the survival of society and civilization, and to the welfare and success of the Church. Our mothers may teach us to value ourselves, but without the lessons in discipline and justice that our fathers teach us, we may never learn the value of others, not even of God.
The basics of Christian fatherhood can be put quite simply. A father on earth is to be a faithful son of the Father in heaven. He is to live out all of the Commandments of God, and to teach his children by his own faithful example, as well as by his words. He is to be good, generous, honest, and just. He is to correct out of love, and not out of anger or self-regard. He is to take responsibility for the welfare of every member of his household, and to place that welfare ahead of his own. Most of all (because this will make all of his other duties possible), he is to work to make himself and the members of his family holy before the Lord God.
Before there were priests, there were fathers. The modern notion that religion is "women’s work" is a blasphemy against the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the fathers by whom God established his Chosen People, and from whom Jesus Christ was made flesh. It is fathers who are to lead their families in prayer. It is fathers who are to make certain that their children receive an education in the Christian Faith. It is fathers who are to bring their families to worship in God’s House and with the members of God’s congregation on the Sundays and Holy Days appointed by God’s Church (what were called "sabbath days" in the Old Testament and in the Fourth Commandment).
None of these things is a choice, because each one of them is an absolute obligation before God. The young men in our parish ought to recognize that they should not even approach a woman as a possible wife and mother until they are ready to take on these responsibilities. They should also recognize that the God who makes such great demands offers greater graces to meet them than can be imagined. They should also understand that the greatest and most important work performed by any man in this parish, the work with the most eternal significance, is the effort to be the kind of husband or father that God has called him to be.
This is Trinity Sunday because of Who God is and because of what he has done. It is also Father’s Day because there is a noble tradition of fathers, back through the centuries, who have honored God and brought us thus far. We honor them today, then, because of the kind of men that God made them and because of all that he helped them to accomplish. We worship God best and honor our earthly fathers most when we take up our fathers’ work of glorifying God, and do so according to our heavenly Father’s calling, purposes, and wonderful grace.
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne