“GOD’S SELFIE” is how someone described Andrei Rublev’s “Trinity”. It’s one of the most-viewed icons, with a Trinitarian interpretation of Gen 18:1-16, the episode in which “three men” visit Abraham and Sarah and promise them a son.
"The Trinity", (also called The Hospitality of Abraham) is an icon written by Rublev in the 14th / 15th centuries. Rublev was a monk at the monastery of Zagorsk, near Moscow.
Old Testament and New Testament meet here,
and help us gain a helpful perspective on the Trinity:
It is based upon the story of the Angels
visiting Abraham and Sarah, who offered them hospitality,
supposing them to be travellers along the road.
Abraham ordered a servant to prepare a choice calf,
and set curds, milk and the calf to offer the visitors hospitality
(notice the vessel on the table).
One of the Angels brought the couple news,
news of a miracle, news of a Son.
This icon has a “double entendre” about it……
because here we witness, not only God’s visitation at Mamre
in the form of three angels,
but also Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
the image and personification of God,
Trinity in Unity, Three-in-One and yet distinct.
Here in this icon the Godhead is represented by three angels,
who deliver to us in iconic form the doctrine which sets us apart as Christians,
which is misunderstood by people of other faiths and of no faith.
In the icon, we see:– All three angels are the same in form and size
– All three carry the same staves in their hands, representing their co-authority;
- Each angel has a halo, symbolising their co-equality;
– All three sit on the same type of seating, to show their equal importance;
– Each figure is clothed in the same type of garment
but are individually distinct;
and one colour is common to all three – an intense blue, the colour of eternity.
THE ANGEL ON THE LEFT
is the centre of focus of the other two:
It is the Person of the Father, towards whom the others face.
The colour of His vesture is predominantly gold,
symbolising monarchy and authority;
The house, rising immediately behind is the Father’s,
for “in my Father’s house are many mansions” (Jn 14:2).
THE ANGEL DEPICTING THE SON is inclined towards the Father.
His tunic is red, the colour of the blood He shed
with a continuous braid of gold, representing Kingship
which spills over from the golden tunic of the Father.
Over this tunic He wears a Greek male garment, a chlamys,
coloured blue, the colour of heaven, the colour of glory.
It was a garment worn by Officers and travellers.
In the icon the Son is represented as a traveller alongside us,
God travelling through life with each of us.
This mantle is draped over the left shoulder,
leaving the right arm free.
The tree behind the Son, the oak at Mamre,
symbolises both the Tree of Life
and the Wood of the Cross.
On the Cross the Son transforms death to life, the tree
whose fruits are passed on to us through the Holy Spirit
in our baptism.
In the icon, THE ANGEL ON THE RIGHT depicts the Holy Spirit,
who is also inclined towards the Father, from whom He proceeds
(….and the Son is a Western addition to our Nicene Creed).
Like the Angelic Son, the chlamys is worn,
this time over the right shoulder so that the left arm is free.
St. Irenaeus spoke of the Son and the Spirit
as equally the two “hands” of the Father,
Jesus the right hand, the Spirit the left hand,
through which He works everything.
As with the Son, the heavenly azure blue is clearly seen,
but is generously covered by a pale green chlamys.
In Orthodoxy green, not red, is the liturgical colour of Pentecost,
the colour of new life in the Spirit who is the “Lord and Giver of Life”
(Nicene Creed) and who transforms our lives through baptism.
We see this same pale green on the ground
on which all three figures find themselves,
as if it is the Spirit that is common ground to each Person.
Behind this angel we see a range of mountains.
The mountain is a place in Scripture where God has been encountered. There, heaven and earth embrace one another,
as they did when Moses encountered God on the mountain;
as they did at The Transfiguration of Jesus;
as they did when He went up a mountain to pray,
to find a place of intimacy with His Father.
Life can bring us mountain experiences in times of difficulties,
and in times of exhilaration, both times of Godly revelation.
While the three figures form a circle, it is not closed in on itself.
Rublev is inviting us, the observers, to step into the frame,
to approach the table,
to share in the Eternal Eucharist of Father, Son, and Spirit.
Is that not the meaning and purpose of worship,
of being church, of being Christian;
to be drawn into, to indwell, the very life and being of God,
as we lift up our hearts to the Father,
through the Son,
in the Spirit?
It is through the Mass that we are nourished
to become ourselves icons of the Trinity,
called to live Godly lives in the grace of Jesus Christ,
in the love of the Father,
and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.