A Note on the Icon of the Holy Trinity
by Erlinda Brent, parish secretary
According to the Genesis story, Abraham and Sarah offer hospitality to three visitors: water for cleansing, bread for refreshment, and space for rest. Later, they shared a meal, complete with dessert. After visiting any service, take a look at the three–paneled “The Holy Trinity” icon in the Memorial Chapel here in the church.
First, a little bit on icons. “Icon” means “image” in Greek. They are described as “visual prayer, made through prayer, and as an aid for prayer.” (We don’t pray to icons, but the icons are made to praise God and “strengthen the faith of those who pray with them.”) Icons are not painted, but are written, according to the rules established by Orthodox Christian artists and theologians.
Our icon, written by the Rev. John Walsted, a retired priest in our diocese, is modeled on the original icon The Holy Trinity, painted by Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. (The original is at Trinity/St. Sergius Monastery in Sergeiev Posad, Russia.) This icon is referred to as “The Icon of Hospitality” because it depicts the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah to the three visitors. (Abraham and Sarah are not in the original. Ours is a triptych with Abraham and Sarah on panels adjacent to The Holy Trinity. Abraham and Sarah are shown with bread and wine—ancient symbols of hospitality.)
Both icons give a representation of the Trinity in the form of angels and address the nature of creation and of who God is in the Hebrew Testament. In Holy Trinity’s icon, just as in the original, this is manifested as the Father on the left; the Son in the middle; and the Holy Spirit on the right. In both, the angels are equally important. (In the 14th and 15th centuries, Russian icon painters usually painted the Christ figure in the middle, but made the figure larger—more important—than the others.)
Biblical scholars differ on which angel represents which person in the Trinity. According to Alexander Boguslawski, a Russian folklorist, “The Father turns to His son and explains the necessity of His sacrifice, and the Son answers by agreeing with His Father’s wish.” Perhaps The Holy Trinity icons purposelyconfuse us in order to include us in the dialogue on God’s nature—“a symbol of unity and image of divine love—and promise that the descendants of Abraham and Sarah would be the people of God.”
For those wondering how this icon and the name of this magazine coincide, the term ‘triptych’ means three panels that are hinged together, often provoking conversation into the meanings of the paintings. -- Erlinda Brent