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Author Topic: Rublev's Trinity Icon  (Read 2155 times) Average Rating: 0
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Ortho_cat
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« on: January 04, 2011, 04:38:50 AM »

Simply stated, I am fascinated by this icon. I find it's potential for theological symbolism to be as deep as an ocean. Lately I have found myself thinking about it during the day, and pondering the significance of the three angels sitting at the table, and which angel depicts which person of the Trinity and what they are doing.

Lately I have thought the icon to represent the moment of pentecost, where the Father (center) looks to the Son (left) to send the Holy Spirit into the world and upon the believers, with the Spirit looking inward, pleased with what has been accomplished for the salvation of man. Alternately, I can also see how the Son could be seated in the middle, looking towards the Father to send the Holy Spirit.

In addition, I see this as a never-ending relationship between the 3 persons, with each of the persons offering themselves entirely to one another in an act of selfless love and communion, while the Holy Spirit looks inward and reflects upon their unity and wholeness. Finally, I see the open seat at the table as an invitation for us to come and commune, as our entrance into and participation within the life of the Trinity itself.

So enough of my armchair theologian interpretations; what is the traditional Orthodox interpretation for this icon? Which Person is traditionally thought to be seated where, and what is the appropriate symbolism? Have there been any books written about this icon? If so, I would be very interested to read one (or several! Smiley )

« Last Edit: January 04, 2011, 04:39:30 AM by Ortho_cat » Logged
Clare G.
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« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2011, 05:44:26 AM »

Ortho_cat: look out for this book
The Rublev Trinity, by Gabriel Bunge. Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2007.

At the time of writing it Fr Bunge was a Benedictine monk: just a few months ago he was received into Orthodoxy.

It's a beautiful book and also very scholarly. It will answer all your questions.
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« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2011, 09:29:47 AM »

I thought God the Father was never depicted in hagiography:

Many commentaries on this icon say that this icon depicts only the three angels who visited Abraham, a physical, historical event that is fair game for iconography. However, for the instruction of the faithful, the angels represent the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus this can be "The Icon of the Holy Trinity" without directly depicting the Persons of the Trinity.
« Last Edit: January 04, 2011, 09:30:17 AM by CRCulver » Logged
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« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2011, 09:34:21 AM »

I thought God the Father was never depicted in hagiography:

Many commentaries on this icon say that this icon depicts only the three angels who visited Abraham, a physical, historical event that is fair game for iconography. However, for the instruction of the faithful, the angels represent the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus this can be "The Icon of the Holy Trinity" without directly depicting the Persons of the Trinity.

I meant the other icon of the Holy Trinity, which was pasted by Achronos.
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« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2011, 10:06:47 AM »

I thought God the Father was never depicted in hagiography:

Many commentaries on this icon say that this icon depicts only the three angels who visited Abraham, a physical, historical event that is fair game for iconography. However, for the instruction of the faithful, the angels represent the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus this can be "The Icon of the Holy Trinity" without directly depicting the Persons of the Trinity.

Thn's what I've always thought, too.

What fascinates me in this icon, though, is something that we cannot find explicitly expressed in the story of Gen. 18:1-8. In that story, the Three Visitors are having a meal while Abraham is standing "near them under a tree" (verse eight).  In this Rublev's icon, however, there is a PLACE AT THE TABLE (!) - apparently, for someone invited to the feast, for the human being(s) who will enjoy it for all eternity...
« Last Edit: January 04, 2011, 10:23:14 AM by Heorhij » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2011, 10:21:32 AM »

I thought God the Father was never depicted in hagiography:

Many commentaries on this icon say that this icon depicts only the three angels who visited Abraham, a physical, historical event that is fair game for iconography. However, for the instruction of the faithful, the angels represent the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus this can be "The Icon of the Holy Trinity" without directly depicting the Persons of the Trinity.

Thn's what I've always thought, too.

What fascinates me in this icon, though, is something that we cannot find explicitly expressed in the story of Gen. 18:1-8. In that story, the Three Visitors are having a meal while Abraham is standing "near them under a tree" (verse Cool.  In this Rublev's icon, however, there is a PLACE AT THE TABLE (!) - apparently, for someone invited to the feast, for the human being(s) who will enjoy it for all eternity...

That is an interesting observation. I have seen variant's of the Holy Trinity icon that have Abraham and Sarah included, usually serving food to the Trinity, but neither of them take that final seat. It remains open in every variant of this icon that I have ever seen.

And, yes, depictions of God the Father are uncanonical. An unfortunate blunder that the Church will hopefully be rid of, in time.
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« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2011, 04:25:42 PM »

Ortho_cat: look out for this book
The Rublev Trinity, by Gabriel Bunge. Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2007.

At the time of writing it Fr Bunge was a Benedictine monk: just a few months ago he was received into Orthodoxy.

It's a beautiful book and also very scholarly. It will answer all your questions.

Very good, thanks!
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« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2011, 08:51:06 PM »

Have you noticed that the space formed between the angels, the table, etc, forms the shape of a chalice?
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« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2011, 09:01:32 PM »

How about the 2 fingers being held out in the middle angel? Is that a type of blessing? Or perhaps this symbolizes the 2 natures of Christ?
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« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2011, 10:48:08 PM »

Lately I have thought the icon to represent the moment of pentecost, where the Father (center) looks to the Son (left) to send the Holy Spirit into the world and upon the believers, with the Spirit looking inward, pleased with what has been accomplished for the salvation of man. Alternately, I can also see how the Son could be seated in the middle, looking towards the Father to send the Holy Spirit.

So enough of my armchair theologian interpretations; what is the traditional Orthodox interpretation for this icon? Which Person is traditionally thought to be seated where, and what is the appropriate symbolism? Have there been any books written about this icon? If so, I would be very interested to read one (or several! Smiley )



"The Church has many different depictions of the Holy Trinity. But the icon which defines the very essence of Trinity Day is invariably the one which shows the Trinity in the form of three angels. The prototype for this icon was the mysterious appearance of the Holy Trinity in the form of three travelers to Abraham and Sarah under the oak of Mamre. The Church specifically chose this particular icon because it most fully expresses the dogma of the Holy Trinity: the three angels are depicted in equal dignity, symbolizing the triunity and equality of all three Persons.

We find the deepest understanding of this dogma in the icon of the Trinity painted by the venerable Andrei Rublev for the Trinity Cathedral of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. This icon is a masterpiece of ancient Russian iconography, and it is not surprising that the Church established it as the model for depicting the Trinity.

In Andrei Rublev’s icon, the persons of the Holy Trinity are shown in the order in which they are confessed in the Credo. The first angel is the first person of the Trinity - God the Father; the second, middle angel is God the Son; the third angel is God the Holy Spirit. All three angels are blessing the chalice, in which lies a sacrificed calf, prepared for eating. The sacrifice of the calf signifies the Saviour’s death on the cross, while its preparation as food symbolizes the sacrament of the Eucharist. All three angels have staffs in their hand as a symbol of their divine power.

The first angel, shown at left, is vested in a blue undergarment which depicts his divine celestial nature, and a light purple outer garment which attests to the unfathomable nature and the royal dignity of this angel. Behind him and above his head towers a house, the abode of Abraham, and a sacrificial altar in front of the house. This image of the abode has a symbolic meaning: the house signifies God’s master plan for creation, while the fact that the house towers above the first angel shows him to be the head (or Father) of this creation. The same fatherly authority is seen in his entire appearance. His head is not bowed and he is looking at the other two angels. His whole demeanor - the expression on his face, the placement of his hands, the way he is sitting - all speaks of his fatherly dignity. The other two angels have their heads inclined and eyes turned toward the first angel with great attention, as though conversing with him about the salvation of mankind.

The second angel is placed in the middle of the icon. This placement is determined by the position held by the second Person within the Trinity Itself. Above his head extend the branches of an oak tree. The vestments of the second angel correspond to those in which the Saviour is usually depicted. The undergarment is a dark crimson color which symbolizes the incarnation, while the blue outer robe signifies the divinity and the celestial nature of this angel. The second angel is inclined towards the first angel, as though deep in conversation. The tree behind him serves as a reminder of the tree of life that was standing in Eden, and of the cross.

The angel on the right is the third Person of the Trinity - the Holy Spirit. His light blue undergarment and smoky-green outer garment represent heaven and earth, and signify the life-giving force of the Holy Spirit, which animates everything that exists. “By the Holy Spirit every soul lives and is elevated in purity” - sings the Church. This elevation in purity is represented in the icon by a mountain above the third angel.

Thus Andrei Rublev’s icon, while being an unsurpassed work of iconography, is first and foremost a “theology in color,” which instructs us in all that concerns the revelation of the triune God and the three Persons of the Holy Trinity."

From the book “Thoughts on Iconography” by monk Gregory Krug

http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/lord_trinity_rublev.html
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« Reply #10 on: January 05, 2011, 01:04:10 AM »

Since the OP asked specifically about the Holy Trinity icon painted by Andrei Rublev, NOT about what Trinity icon is your favorite, nor about Trinity/God the Father icons in general, the tangent on the Old Man-Young Man-Dove icons of the Trinity has been split off and moved here: http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,10122.msg515355.html#msg515355  -PtA
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« Reply #11 on: January 05, 2011, 01:09:35 AM »

Thanks, Deacon Lance! Very informative.
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