I read this years ago, but this mode of thinking changed my central understanding of "person" vs. "individual", even changed my whole view of how to read the Church fathers. Not to sound sensationalist, but this even changed my life in a way. So, hats off to Fr. Thomas Hopko for this crucial point:
I prefer the word communion to relationship. The Orthodox approach is that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that God is a Trinity of persons in absolute identity of being and of life in perfect communion. Therefore, communion is the given. Anything that breaks that communion destroys the very roots of our existence. That’s why forgiveness is essential if there is going to be human life in the image of God. We are all sinners, living with other sinners, and so 70 times 7 times a day we must re-establish communion — and want to do so. The desire is the main thing, and the feeling that it is of value.
The obsession with relationship — the individual in search of relationships — in the modern world shows there is an ontological crack in our being. There is no such thing as an individual. He was created, probably, in a Western European university. We don’t recognize our essential communion. I don’t look at you and say, “You are my life.”
Modern interpretations of the commandment in the Torah reflect this individualistic attitude. The first commandment is that you love God with all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength, and the second is that you love your neighbor as yourself. The only way you can prove you love God is by loving your neighbor, and the only way you can love your neighbor in this world is by endless forgiveness. So, “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, in certain modern editions of the Bible, I have seen this translated as, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But that’s not what it says.
I recall a televised discussion program in which we were asked what was most important in Christianity. Part of what I said was that the only way we can find ourselves is to deny ourselves. That’s Christ’s teaching. If you cling to yourself, you lose yourself. The unwillingness to forgive is the ultimate act of not wanting to let yourself go. You want to defend yourself, assert yourself, protect yourself. There is a consistent line through the Gospel — if you want to be the first you must will to be the last. The other fellow, who taught the psychology of religion at a Protestant seminary, said, “What you are saying is the source of the neuroses of Western society. What we need is healthy self-love and healthy self-esteem.” Then he quoted that line, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He insisted that you must love yourself first and have a sense of dignity. If one has that, forgiveness is either out of the question or an act of condescension toward the poor sinner. It is no longer an identification with the other as a sinner, too. I said that of course if we are made in the image of God it’s quite self-affirming, and self-hatred is an evil. But my main point is that there is no self there to be defended except the one that comes into existence by the act of love and self-emptying. It’s only by loving the other that myself actually emerges. Forgiveness is at the heart of that.
As we were leaving a venerable old rabbi with a shining face called us over. “That line, you know, comes from the Torah, from Leviticus,” he said, “and it cannot possibly be translated ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ It says, ‘You shall love your neighbor as being your own self’.” Your neighbor is your true self. You have no self in yourself.
After this I started reading the Church Fathers in this light, and that’s what they all say — “Your brother is your life.” I have no self in myself except the one that is fulfilled by loving the other. The Trinitarian character of God is a metaphysical absolute here, so to speak. God’s own self is another — His Son. The same thing happens on the human level. So the minute I don’t feel deeply that my real self is the other, then I’ll have no reason to forgive anyone. But if that is my reality, and my only real self is the other, and my own identity and fulfillment emerges only in the act of loving the other, that gives substance to the idea that we are potentially God-like beings. Now, if you add to that that we are all to some degree faulty and weak and so on, that act of love will always be an act of forgiveness. That’s how I find and fulfill myself as a human being made in God’s image. Otherwise, I cannot. So the act of forgiveness is the very act by which our humanity is constituted. Deny that, and we kill ourselves. It’s a metaphysical suicide.
You are making a distinction here between the individual and the person.
The individual is the person that refuses to love. When a person refuses to identify in being and value with “the least,” even with “the enemy,” then the person becomes an individual, a self enclosed being trying to have proper relationships — usually on his or her own terms. But again, we would say that the person only comes into existence by going out of oneself into communion with the other. So my task is not to decide whether or not I will be in relationship with you but to realize that I am in communion with you: my life is yours, and your life is mine. Without this, there is no way that we are going to be able to carry on.
In other words, the Trinity is not three individuals, but three persons, in the sense that they are perfectly in communion with one another. This perfect communion from the very beginning is this Oneness. The One God is the perfection of communion of Love. Therefore, the awareness of "self" is not there. The Father is aware in the Son through the Spirit. The Son is aware in the Father through the Spirit. The Father is aware in the Spirit through the Son, and the Son is aware in the Spirit through the Father. The Spirit is aware in the Father through the Son, and the Spirit is aware in the Son through the Father. This perfection in Trinitarian relationship of awareness of the self in the other, not in oneself, and act of awareness is through the agency of yet another, the perfection of the circle of communion of three, for this is a way in which we can understand the simplest of Oneness in the Threeness.
We on the other hand are persons who can potentially be individuals, but we are to emulate God by acting as self-sacrificing persons as best as possible, as Christ commanded, "Be Perfect, as my Father in heaven is Perfect." The word "Person" therefore describes a hypostasis that wants to enter into personal relationship. The Trinity is in fact so personal, that God is also Pantocrator, for God creates so that God may also have a personal relationship with His creation, and this is done in a manner that the Logos, the Son of God may eventually take creation in the form of man as part of His own so that we may enter into this same relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the Logos does, so that we be sons to the Father by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
This is only the best way one can explain our relationship with God. It is how we can relate to God that we can also understand who and what God is. If God is Perfect Love, then God is Perfectly Triune. If God is incarnate, then we can be perfected and grafted into this Triune relationship. It is because God is Love that He is also incarnate, because not only He is Love within Himself, but He loves us, and wants to establish us as love within Himself. This is a very complex view of God, but the complexity of it all is also worthy of God, for we can only understand so much about God through our relationship with Him. But what He really IS in His essence, only the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit knows, and something no creation is able to know. Therefore, beyond this, we call "mystery" and the Trinity truly is a mystery at some point.
Now, what is a Muslim God? The God of the Muslims is a God that can never be in communion with us. He sends us intermediaries, but He never directly interacts with us, because that would be blasphemy in the eyes of a Muslim. For God to interact with creation is defiling. It is in fact a pagan aspect of God, for pagans also believe that it would be defiling for the gods to interact directly with us. But the Judeo-Christian God is the God that interacts directly with us, and if He does send messengers it's because to show how His messengers interacted with God, and how we can also interact directly with God as His messengers can, even if they be angels, for we are higher than the angels. But a Muslim God may say he loves us, but only the type of love that is politically correct. A King who sits on His throne, but never leaves His throne, and creates and sends higher forms of creation, i.e. messengers to do His work for Him. But Christ is a King who takes His throne and places it in our hearts. It is through this relationship with Christ that we can understand the Oneness of God in the Trinity, because such is true Love. But in Islam, it is blasphemy for God to be among us in our midst, but to keep Him in His place away from us, and we only obey His words to us through other more higher beings of His creation. Where's the love in that? In Christianity, the fear results from the love to God. In Islam, the love results from the fear of God. In Christianity, God came to primarily serve us. In Islam, God sends messengers to primarily be served. In Christianity, God is Triune and bring us into unison with Him. In Islam, God is separate from His creation, and therefore, no need for Triunity.
Therefore, before all else, the concept of love, not a simple love of your fellow peers of faith, but a boundless love of all, even to your archenemies, need to be understood first. And if that is understood, then one can also understand the true Love, that is who God is. If Muslims can truly understand this Agape Love, then the foundations of their theology and their practical lives will be shattered. Then they can come back and talk about the Trinity.