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A Discussion Between an Orthodox Christian and a Mohammedan about the Truth of the Most Holy Trinity

By Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev and Galicia, from a posthumous publication entitled A New Experience in Teaching the Knowledge of God
Translated by Dormition Skete

Ibrahim, an old Tatar mullah (Muslim religious leader), was a good acquaintance of the chanter Ivan Thedotovich, who was able to speak exceptionally well in the Tatar language; they often conversed about faith and argued about which faith was better—the Tatar’s or the Russian’s. Once after a long argument Ibrahim said: “You are a smart man, and if only you would just agree to read our Koran, then most likely you would become a good Mohammedan.”

“And I wanted to tell you that you are a very good man,” replied the chanter, “and if only you would know our faith, if only you would at least read the New Testament, then you would come to love Christianity and gradually become convinced in its rightness and receive Baptism.”

“You know what?” exclaimed the mullah. “Give me your New Testament, and I will give you the Koran. We will dedicate 40 days in order that we can learn these new books of a different faith, and until that time we will not even speak one word about faith or even see each other.”

As they spoke, so they did. Ivan Thedotovich began to read the Koran, and Ibrahim Gasanov the New Testament. Whenever they saw each other they wanted to speak, but remembering their agreement, they passed each other silently; and only on the fortieth day Ibrahim early in the morning went to the chanter with the book; his cheeks were flushed and his eyes were shining: he wanted to speak about the Gospel and about the apostolic epistles, but he contained himself and asked the chanter: “Did you like the Koran?”

“Lots of things I liked,” answered the chanter, “but these I already knew from the Christian books, which were written before Mohammed and from which Mohammed learned: how to preach to people, that God is great and holy, and we must lay down our lives for Him. That we must listen to the will of God, submit to the portion that he allots to us, help the poor, etc.; isn’t it true that you read all about this throughout the New Testament?”

“Yes, but you know Mohammed taught much more than what you said.”

“But all that Mohammed said in excess of the New Testament, I did not like,” answered the chanter. “But if I start to speak about this, you would get angry, but it’s better if you gladden me—tell me what you liked in the Christian Faith.”

“I liked almost everything, answered the mullah: I wish that I had read your books earlier; you know, I am a straightforward man, and I do not like to dissemble, as others would, and for this reason, although it is hard for me to admit, I will tell you, as to a good manin secret from my wives and my friendsthat when I read the words of Jesus about the forgiveness of enemies and love towards God, then I cried from joy and I began kissing the book; and when I read about the feats of Apostle Paul in the Acts, then I promised myself that I would by no means ever curse him, as I did earlier. But all the same I cannot be a Christian. See, you yourself said that Mohammed did not add anything good to the Christian Faith, but I will tell you: although he added many good things, he also added one particularly good thing; better said—he corrected your Faith in one law. He said that God is one, but you teach that there are three gods: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Thedotovich waved his arms around and exclaimed: “Mullah, how are you not ashamed to blaspheme us! Let these,” then he added more calmly, “let these expressions of stupidity be said by your ignoramus traders or by those wise men who, reasoning about faith, do not seek the truth but strive to lie to simple people, but you, after all, don’t call yourself a straightforward man in vain. But tell me, where did you read in the New Testament about three gods? You know Jesus Christ directly says: ‘And this is the eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God’” (John XVII, 3).

“It is thus,” answered Ibrahim. “Apostle Paul says: ‘one God and Father of all, Who is over all, and through all, and in all of us’ (Eph. IV, 6), and many other expressions in the New Testament about the oneness of God, but according to others it is revealed that even Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God; which means three gods.”

“Let us speak about these expressions more exactly,” said Thedotovich. “At least I see that you read my book nevertheless, and for this reason I am calm. And so, are you agreed with the fact that in the Gospels Jesus Christ is recognized as God?”

“I know why you are asking me this. Before, repeating the words of our elder mullahs, I said that in the Gospel Jesus does not recognize Himself as God and that this was thought up by later Christians, starting with Apostle Paul. Now having read the Gospel, I know that the very same doctrine is set out, the one which Paul preached and the one you all maintain, because even if Jesus didn’t say once directly: ‘I am God,’ then all the same He made it understandable to all that He is God, since He said: ‘I and the Father are one,’ and when they asked Him: ‘Who then art Thou?’ He answered, ‘From the beginning, I am’ (John VIII, 25), and afterwards added, ‘Before Abraham came to be, I am’” (v. 38).

“Ah, how glad it makes me to hear the words of the Gospel from your mouth!” the chanter Thedotovich exclaimed again, this time now without anger but with delight. “How happy I am that you are no longer going to accuse the Apostle Paul and Christians of distorting the Gospel.”

“In vain do you rejoice,” responded the mullah. “While I was thinking that the teaching of the Trinity was thought up by Christians, I did not ascribe to the Gospel the teaching of polytheism, but now, although I have come to love your Gospel more than before and—I will add, in secret, more than our KoranI see that along with the holiest truths about our life it also has this teaching about three gods.”

The chanter again became agitated: “Alright, but you know, you yourself just brought up the words of the New Testament about the oneness of God.”

“Yes, so much the worse, that this Testament of yours contradicts itself: however much you might say that God is one, if God also has a Son, then there would be two gods, and if He has also a Holy Spirit, Who is not the Father or the Son, then already it comes out to three gods, and not one.”

When the mullah said these words, a hunchbacked old man approached the two speakers, a pilgrim, dressed very humbly, in bast shoes, with a wide hat, and leaning on a simple stick. He bowed to the interlocutors sitting on logs and was obviously preparing to ask the chanter for hospitality, but after he heard the last words of the Tatar, he was suddenly startled and pulled himself up to his full height and, stopping the chanter with his hand from saying anything further, addressed Ibrahim with the question: “So you read the entire Gospel?”

“Yes,” he said, “both the Gospel and the Epistles.”

“Glory to God,” the pilgrim said with a sigh. “For this one thing alone I will tell you: you are a good man.”

“And you, old man, what kind of man are you?” asked the mullah, surprised by his audacity and not knowing whether he was angry at him or making fun of him. “The whole village calls me good, but as for your praise, please, take it back. And then Thedotovich will give you a piece of bread and a place to sleep for the night.”

“Yes I am hungry and want to sleep,” said the elderly man, “and this very man is thin, but my Savior is Christ, better than all others, and for His glory and for the salvation of your soul I will not sleep the entire night and I will not eat today and tomorrow if only you would agree to speak with me for one hour about the Most Holy Trinity.”

The mullah with amazement looked upon this pauper, whose pale face was flaring up and his eyes were directed towards heaven. “Why should you go hungry?” he said, “I see that you are a noble man; let all three of us go to my house, and we will be strengthened with food and we will listen to what you have to say.”

When they entered the house, there the two wives of the mullah looked with surprise from behind the curtain upon the pauper entering. They had already seen Thedotovich often with their master and they were not surprised by him. However, when the mullah approached the curtain to take food from them, then they silently handed him enough food for three men.

Partaking of the food with his guests, the mullah turned towards his elderly guest. “Grandfather, I have guessed what you are going to tell me. But I have already heard this from him, the son of a seminarian,” and he pointed to the chanter. “You will probably say that God is one, but in Him are three Persons, and these three Persons constitute one, just as in the sun the light and warmth are one, or in the mouth of man there is the breath and word, but the man is one. Only for me these syllogisms seem to be empty: I myself can name many things which consist of separate parts, but all the parts constitute one object. Here is a table: it has four legs and the fifth part is the board, but the table is one; in the window there are four glasses, but the window is one; only all this doesn’t speak to the purpose.”

“How does it not speak to the purpose?” shouted Ivan Thedotovich.

“Because these are objects, but the others are living beings. You find me an instance when two chickens constitute one bird, or three lions one beast, or three men one. This thing you would never be able to show me. They all will be three men, not one, and the gods you have are three, not one.”

“And if I show you?” the old man quietly asked.

“If you show me,” exclaimed the mullah, “then I promise to become a Christian and get baptized! Only, you would by no means ever be able to show me this,” he added hastily and even louder, since he heard an angry cough from behind the curtain.

“Never will you ever show me this and I will never be a Christian, and I would sooner convert you to Islam,” he said again loudly. “But let us continue our conversation outside; first you speak, and afterwards I will, but in here let them clean the table.”

Thedotovich went for his cap and whispered to the mullah: “It seems your wives are upset, so let’s get away from them all the sooner.”

Having sat back down on the logs, the mullah laughed and said: “See, I cannot learn your patience towards a wife. Every disobedience or interference in my conversation from my wives makes me so angry that if you weren’t here, I would have really taught them. Your Paul says that the husband and wife are one body, but I feel that it is as if I am light and they are darkness, I am warm but they are cold; where I am, there is no room for them, and just as they take up space, they constrict me so. So how is it possible for two or three beings to become one? Father and Son and Holy Spirit—one, two, three: three gods, and not one.”

“You started the conversation well,” said the elderly man, “and this is where we should now continue speaking.”

“Well, speak. I will listen.”

“No,” answered the old man, “you yourself speak, and I will ask you questions, so that it wouldn’t be my soul, but your soul which will speak the truth. Tell me first: do you always feel the same about your conflict with your wives about the predominance in the home? Say this first, and afterwards tell us: do you always feel this kind of conflict with every person (as if you are both squeezing each other out of some place), or with some do you feel worse and with some better?”

The mullah was silent for a bit and then answered: “Certainly, it happens that my feelings towards my wives change. When you get angry, then it seems that even the whole world is too narrow for the three of us. When you happen to be calm, then they don’t bother me, sure, but after all, I also don’t feel much desire for them. I am 65, and they are a little under 60 years old, so we are not up to intimacy; our time has already passed.”

“Let it be so,” said the pilgrim. “Now tell me, don’t you feel, then, sometimes a need that the wives should be close to you, not for pleasure, but for cordial conversations, especially when you are about to leave them for a long time?”

“Well, of course, sometimes I miss my two old women,” answered Ibrahim, “but, you know, we wanted to talk about God, not about women.”

“We will get to God,” was the response of the pilgrim, and his face lit up with a meek smile. “Tell me more, mullah, who do you love other than your wives? Do you have children?”

“There is my sweet son, a good Muslim student at the madrasah in Kazan and what a handsome boy! Ah, how I miss him when I don’t see him for a long time; now I am waiting for him to come home every day. He is such an affectionate boy, and although he is much more educated than me, he doesn’t want to offend his old man in any way by his superiority and continues to ask for my explanations, although he doesn’t understand, stupid boy, that I myself know how much smarter he is than me, and I rejoice in this, and even more do I rejoice that I see his humility and desire to give way to me. I also had a daughter, but she died, the poor girl.”

“Tell us now, good mullah,” the old man continued his questioning, “for you and your son, are you comfortable anywhere and don’t bother each other, like your wives bother you?”

The mullah’s face lit up with a blissful smile, and when he began to talk about his beloved son, he was so carried away that he forgot the main purpose of the conversation with the pilgrim. “What are you saying!” he exclaimed. “Yes, if we were in the middle of the sea on a small rock, it wouldn’t be too close for us. We would even be giving way to each other there, and each of us would be ready to toss himself into the water in order to save the other.”

“You see, mullah,” said the pilgrim, “people do not alwaysand not all peoplebother each other. Wouldn’t you be able to tell us if there were any times like these when you were this friendly even with your wives, like with your son?”

The mullah continued to speak now as if it wasn’t even for the pilgrim, but to himself, letting out the voice of his heart. “Oh yes, only this happens only in a time of shared sorrow, when we are remembering our poor Fatima. She was such a good, humble soul, and both my wives loved her equally; they loved her so that even Solomon the king wouldn’t be able to guess who out of the two women was her mother. The kind soul of our reposed daughter only strived for one thing: that there was peace at home. When we got along, she would rejoice, as though we just gave her a hundred rubles.”

“If you would be so kind, tell me: when do you yourself happen to be closer to the truth: then when you fight with your wives for dominance in the home or when you reminisce about your daughter with them?”

“Why even ask about this?” Ibrahim laughed. “In our conflicts there is nothing good, but only stupidity alone. When I speak with my wives about Fatima and we cry together, then I notice that I am not an evil man and they are good women; but later, just you watch, and again Satan comes and disturbs our minds and we torment each other with swearing, completely forgetting that this is senseless and cruel. But then when we again remember Fatima, I can read the thoughts of the old women on their faces; yes, and I myself think about that very thing. I have the thought: ‘Now, if only we were always like this in the spirit, then even for money we wouldn’t start nagging and quarreling. Peace and love are more precious than gold.’ Yes, our good Fatima, God deprived us of your presence, but we, when we speak about you, then between the three of us we become as if one soul, because all the evil departs from us, and what is left is only the good. All three of us even feel what each of us is thinking; sometimes it even seems to us that even Fatima sits amidst us and smiles at our unanimity.”

The pilgrim grabbed the Mohammedan by the arm and said: “Mullah, you can no longer say that it is impossible for two or three beings to become one! Were those not your words just now, that it sometimes happens that all three of you have one soul and unity of thoughts?”

The mullah was startled. “You caught me by my words, you cunning old man!” he exclaimed, though without anger, but, to the contrary, with joy. Afterwards he dropped his head and spoke slowly, “Yes, I learned something new both from you and from my very own self; you are a wise and good man. Just tell me yourself with more explanation what follows from my confessions.”

“If you please,” the pilgrim spoke up humbly and joyfully. “From your admissions emerges the fact that people, for this reason only, are not able to believe that the three Persons of the Holy Trinity constitute one Godheadsolely for the reason, I say, that they, quarreling with one another, think that every person, or in general, every living being is opposed to another and disturbs him, and that thus it is impossible for one and another to be one being. It further emerges that this hostile feeling of opposition, this conflict between people, weakens when they do not succumb to Satan, who sets people at variance and roils their reasoning. Then they feel love for each other and rejoice in their mutual closeness such that it is not uncomfortable but joyous to be together, and even if one of these good people is freed from the body, and only his pure soul remains in the memory and in the heart of the people, then along with the sorrow of the visible separation from him, the people feel, even so, closeness to the one who has died and mutual affection for each other so strongly, as if they had only one soul. And I will add for you this: the Father never fights with the Son and the Holy Spirit, and They in no wise ever disagree, and Satan cannot confuse Their mind, and They never separate from each other. Now tell us: if it is even possible for us, sinful people, to have these moments of enlightenment, when every discord disappears between us, then aren’t the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit more conscious at all times of Their unity? And if you and your dear ones during the most reasonable hours of your life feel unity of soul, then why do you call our teaching false, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God, not three gods?”

Hearing these words which were new to him, the mullah opened his eyes wide and even his mouth in amazement; he couldn’t speak for a long time and rubbed his forehead with his hand. “Wait, one more word,” he piped up finally, “you know, according to what you are saying, not only God is able to be one and at the same time a trinity, but, even us men are able to be so, but in reality nonetheless we are all not one. Alright, so sometimes it seems to me that my soul blends with others, with those whom I love, but you know that I don’t love everyone, surely, and even the ones I do love still remain separate beings.”

“My friend!” the old man said in response, with a completely softened voice. “After all, you yourself said that you feel your unity with others not when you have a wrong frame of mind but when you happen to be a true, rational man. If this doesn’t occur with you often, and with others almost never, then should we on account of this deny the truth? You know that all people constantly sin, but all the same all three of us would agree that to sin is irrational, that the only right thing is virtue, even though you may rarely find this on earth.”

“You speak good words,” Ibrahim said thoughtfully, interrupting him, “but it is difficult for me to believe that my soul can become close with all people, even with enemies.”

Here the chanter interposed, “But surely you don’t mean to say that you don’t like the teaching of Christ, that our neighbor is not just any kind of relative or friend, but also any person in general?”

“Oh, for sure, I like it; I loved especially the parable of Jesus about the Good Samaritan: the Samaritan saw his enemy the Jew, left by robbers half-dead, whom his own people passed by and considered it beneath themselves to stop and help him; the Samaritan saw him, got off his donkey and washed his wounds, put him on his donkey and brought him to the city into the inn and himself walked on foot. Yes, this Samaritan was kin to all. And I agreed to recognize that the better and wiser a man, the more he considers others his friends, and the very best is the one who loves all and does not count anyone as his enemy.”

“And even more of a neighbor of all can a man be,” the pilgrim continued his speech, “if he gives himself over to the service of Christ, when he has no personal interests at all, and it is impossible to anger him by any means, and he is unable to contend for himself against others. Then his soul is tied to the souls of his neighbors and he feels their pains and their sins as if they were his own. You remember how the Apostle Paul exclaimed in his Epistle to the Galatians: ‘My little children, for whom I again travail until Christ should be formed in you!’ (Gal. IV, 19) and in another place he rejoices in the valorous deeds of the Christians as if they were his own: ’Therefore, my brethren, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, thus be standing in the Lord, beloved ones’ (Phil. IV, 1); and listen to his feelings towards those who hearken to his preaching: ‘O Corinthians, our mouth hath opened to you, our heart hath been enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us’ (2 Cor. VI, 11-12). The holy apostle had these kinds of feelings towards people who were strangers to him, but is it even possible for there to be better feelings in a mother for her own child?”

“But still, these are just feelings,” Ibrahim retorted. “However, I will say it again, Paul is a great, holy man; our people curse him because they don’t know him. But you see, Paul, and all the good, and all the evil people, they nonetheless lived separately, each in his own body, just as we live separately now.”

“Yes,” answered the pilgrim, “apparently, for now separately, because we are confined by the body, but people will be freed from the body after death, and at the resurrection they will acquire a kind of body like the risen Christ; for these bodies there are no impediments. None from distance, because they are quickly moved from place to place, none from any other obstacle, because they go through walls just as they go through the air, as it is said in the Gospel.”

“And so, according to your saying,” the mullah began speaking again, “when people will be freed from the flesh and from all kinds of sin, then they will be one man, remaining still as separate persons? But find me this kind of idea in the holy Scriptures; then I will believe that you have correctly explained to me the teaching of the Trinity.”

“This I can answer,” the chanter exclaimed cheerfully, who also was listening to the pilgrim with amazement. “The Apostle Paul explains how those who have turned to Christ, until then hostile to each other, Greeks and Jews, became all together one man. Listen to what he says about the Savior: ‘For He is our peace, the One Who made the both one,’ and further on, ‘in order that He might create in Himself the two into one new man, making peace’ (Eph. II, 14-19). I read these things from the Church fathers and I didn’t understand before; they constantly say that the nature of man is one, just as the nature of the Holy Trinity, but this is weakened by the sins of people and is being recovered by the redemption of Jesus Christ…. Yes, yes,” added Thedotovich, as if remembering something, “Saint Gregory of Nyssa even speaks thus: ‘You ask me how is it possible that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not three gods but one God, if people, i.e., Peter, Paul, and John, still constitute not one man, but three men. To this I respond,’ continues Saint Gregory, ‘that this expression “three men” is not correct. Mankind is one, but only persons are differentiated. It is so in mankind, which is confined, corporeal, and sinful, but in the Divinity, where all the Persons are holy, bodiless, and unconfined, there is no division, “but in truth our God is one.”’”

“Yes, that is absolutely right,” added the pilgrim. “You bring to mind the words of Saint Gregory from his letter to Abablius.”

The mullah’s face grew hot with both joy and inner struggle. He said, breathless with excitement, “I don’t know this Saint Gregory; bring me those kinds of words from Christ, from which I could see that love and understanding between people must triumph to such a strong degree that they would become one in their multiplicity; then I will believe in the Holy Trinity and I will be a Christian!” Speaking thus, Ibrahim leaped to his feet and exclaimed, “Oh, then I will understand why Christians so cherish their Trinity! I will understand that to believe in the oneness of the Father and the Son is necessary so that we do not succumb to our general division on the earth but rather await the better life, because if already in the true God there exists a multitude in singularity, then do we doubt that our division could also end, and we, like the triune God, will become one like Him! Find me these kinds of words in the Gospel or in the New Testament,” he exclaimed again, “and I will treasure the teaching about your Trinity more than all the other words of Jesus.”

“Here are those words,” Ivan Thedotovich said solemnly, as he was opening the New Testament, returned to him that day by the mullah. “Listen to with what kind of prayer Jesus Christ concluded His farewell exhortations to His disciples: ‘And I do not make request for these only, but also for those who shall believe on Me through their word; in order that all may be one, even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us, that the world might believe that Thou didst send Me forth.’”

Thedotovich began with a weighty and solemn voice, but at the words “that the world might believe,” his voice broke from heartfelt tears and he, weeping, continued to read: “In order that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one, and that the world may know that Thou didst send Me forth, and didst love them even as Thou didst love Me” (John XVII, 21-24).

Thedotovich suddenly threw himself upon Ibrahim’s neck: “Brother!” he exclaimed, “don’t reject your Savior! You already gave your word to become His disciple if you heard those words.”

The eyes of Ibrahim were moist with tears. “But—my son, my wives!” he blurted out, covering his face with his hands.

Suddenly he felt someone affectionately touching his hands, covering them with kisses. “Your son has been a Christian in soul for a long time,” he heard from a familiar voice. “And he is praying that you would allow him to be baptized and that you would be baptized together with him.” Unable to believe his ears, the mullah drew back his hands from his face and saw his son, standing before him on his knees. He drew him into his embrace and kissed the young man on the forehead and the eyes.

Afterwards he lifted his eyes to heaven and said: “O merciful Jesus Christ, our Savior! Now I am Thine and no one will stop me from confessing Thee, even if they threatened us with death! Let my poor wives leave me, but I will not turn away from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“O our lord Ibrahim,” said his two wives, “we heard your entire conversation with these good people and even though we didn’t understand everything that we heard, we saw that they told you the word of God. Let thy faith also be our faith; in the Christian law there is no such thing as two wives, but we will be your sisters and servants, just never leave us, neither you nor your son.” The mullah wept from joy and for the first time in his life made the sign of the Cross.

“Be our godfather,” he said to Ivan Thedotovich, squeezing his hand. “And to you, holy man,” addressing the pilgrim, “allow me to make a full prostration according to the Christian custom.” But to the astonishment of the mullah, the pilgrim was already gone; first the mullah thought that the old man had left for some time and asked to chanter to bring him in the evening, but Ivan Thedotovich arrived that evening with the news that he could not find the pilgrim. And so they never found out who that stranger was.


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