Racial Injustice and Trinitarian Suffering

by Matt Kappadakunnel

Andrei Rublev's Trinity

I discovered Andrei Rublev’s The Trinity icon ten years ago and have been using this icon for prayer ever since. I especially turn to the Trinity (both the icon and the Father, Son and Spirit) during times of crisis.

Given the COVID-19 Pandemic, coupled with the racial violence that seems to have been magnified in 2020, contemplating the Trinity has been my refuge.

When I grieve the loss of lives due to COVID-19, I contemplate The Trinity, but I see something new: the Trinity is weeping.

In prayer, I also experience the Trinity weeping for:

  • Trayvon Martin (murdered in 2012),
  • Michael Brown (murdered in 2014),
  • Eric Garner (murdered in 2014),
  • Freddie Gray (murdered in 2015),
  • Tamir Rice (murdered in 2015),
  • Philando Castille (murdered in 2016),
  • Ahmaud Arbery (murdered in 2020),
  • Breonna Taylor (murdered in 2020),
  • George Floyd (murdered in 2020),
  • All of the unjustly murdered Black persons throughout history.

The Trinity weeps because there are so many in our country and our society who are not weeping.

The Trinity weeps because there are so many of the US bishops and priests, along with other religious leaders, who are not weeping.

Given God’s immutability, could one speak of the Trinity weeping, or suffering in any manner?

The shortest passage in the entire Bible is “Jesus wept” (ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, edákrysen ho Iesoús lit) in John 11:35, describing Jesus’ reaction to the death of his dear friend Lazarus prior to raising him back to life.

The Trinity is a communion of persons, a community of sharing, a community that is together. Jesus did not weep alone; the Father and Spirit weep with Him.

Jesus also suffered immensely during His Passion, Crucifixion, and Death.  When Jesus exclaimed Eli Eli lama sabachthani, did Jesus suffer alone? Did Jesus surrender His Breath alone?

I struggled with the notion of the Divine Trinity not breathing, until it was presented to me in the following manner:

In his Pentecost message this year, Dr. Geevarghese Mar Coorilos, Metropolitan of the Niranam Diocese (in Kerala, India) of the Malankara Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church, reflected on the dying words of Eric Garner and George Floyd: “I can’t breathe.” He condemned the unjustified brutality and murder of these two men at the hands of police and the systemic racism directed towards the Black community.  While contemplating the wailing of Garner and Floyd expressed in these words, the Metropolitan shared, “It is in the backdrop of this wail (that we are) commemorating the day of Pentecost,” noting the Spirit is also God’s Breath (ruah in Hebrew). Geevarghese Mar Coorilos connected the Breath of God at Pentecost as the Breath of Life in Genesis 2:7. All people received the Breath of God freely and equally in creation and at Pentecost, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status. “Pentecost is the festival of equality and equity,” he noted.

However, continued the Metropolitan, the “killing of George Floyd was an outright violation of the spirit of Pentecost…Without saying a word about this incident, our churches commemorated Pentecost. If God (were) present in such a worship service, God’s Spirit must have wailed. ‘I cannot breathe here.’”

The Metropolitan continued to describe inequities in the Christian faith and society including caste, gender and racism, noting in each one of these occurrences God is exclaiming, “I cannot breathe.”

Geevarghese Mar Coorilos further stated, “When there is (rising) furor against racial discrimination, and the protestors are being arrested…(yet no) word for justice (from political and religious leaders who) raise the Holy Bible without shame…the Spirit of God wails, ‘I cannot breathe here.’”

The Metropolitan made a comparison to COVID-19, juxtaposing this virus by stating, “casteism, racism, sexism and xenophobia and so on are viruses that are (more) dangerous than (Coronavirus, and) that choke the world to death.”

Geevarghese Mar Coorilos ended his message by sharing, “The commemoration of God’s Breath, the day of Pentecost, asks us to build a resistance of life-giving breath against those powers that choke us…In these abominable times we can say along with the African Americans that we cannot breathe. I cannot breathe. Can you?”        

The Trinity, along with Eric Garner, George Floyd, and sadly many others, cries, “I cannot breathe.” The Father and the Spirit were with the Son in His Agony, Passion and Death, and the Trinity is with the children of God in their agony, passion and death, most especially when it is the result of injustice. 

If we desire to enter into communion with the Trinity and, by God’s uncreated energies, experience divinization, we must also have this same anguish for the suffering experienced by the marginalized, including but not limited to the inequity facing Black persons everyday. If George Floyd cannot breathe, and if the Trinity cannot breathe, then if we are true believers, we also cannot breathe. We cannot experience theosis if we cannot be with the people suffering racial injustice. Moreover, we cannot be true Christians if we are also not fighting against racial injustice. Let us therefore contemplate the Trinity as our model for living in communion with others, breathing life into the lives of people who cannot breathe due to systemic racism, and as Geevarghese Mar Coorilos exhorted, build a resistance of life-giving breath against the forces of inequity that are polluting our society.


Matt Kappadakunnel is a finance professional who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and toddler, and they are expecting a newborn in November. He is from the Syro-Malabar Eastern Catholic Rite and has ancestral ties to the Malankara Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church. Previously, Matt spent a few years studying to be a Catholic priest. He is a graduate of Creighton University and is a CFA Charterholder.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.