Holy trinity

Discover the Holy Trinity in a New Way with this Ancient Icon | Catholic National Register

You have probably seen many artists perform the Trinity: at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, there is the Son of God in the water, God the Father in the clouds, and the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, hovering like a dove above the head of Jesus. Or sometimes you see them on the clouds in the sky: the Son and the Father sitting side by side, enthroned, and the Holy Spirit represented as a dove between their heads, framed by a halo.

The Trinitarian image that is most often seen in the Eastern Church, however, is different. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the most familiar image is that of a Russian icon by Andrei Rublev (1408-1425) called “The Trinity of the Old Testament”. In it, three winged creatures are sitting together around a table.

I remember the first time I encountered the icon. A priest explained that the three winged creatures, like the angels, represented the Trinity, and each of the divine Persons was co-equal with the others.

But what I have learned since is that there is another very different interpretation in the Eastern Church. The icon is often referred to as “the hospitality of Abraham” and represents the three angels (three visitors) who appeared to Abraham at Mamre in Genesis 18: 1-15:

“The Lord appeared to Abraham near the oaks of Mamre, while he was seated at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing next to him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not miss your servant. Bring some water, wash your feet and rest under the tree. Let me bring you some bread, so that you can refresh yourself, and after that you can go, since you have come to your servant. So they said, ‘Do what you said.’ And Abraham rushed into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Quickly prepare three measures of the flour of choice, knead it, and bake cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curd and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and presented it to them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

“They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There in the tent.’ Then one of them said, ‘I will certainly come back to you in due course, and your wife Sarah will have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old and advanced in years; he had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. Then Sarah laughed, saying, “After I get older and my husband is old, will I have any fun?” “ The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say: Will I really have a child now that I’m old? Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the appointed time, I will come back to you in due course, and Sarah will have a son. But Sarah denied, saying, “I didn’t laugh”; because she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yeah, you did have a good laugh.’ “

The “hospitality of Abraham” is a type of the Trinity – but not a representation of the Trinity itself.

In fact, the Russian Orthodox Church expressly prohibits any representation of God the Father in the form of a human person. There had long been a tradition against showing the Father, and in 1667 the Grand Synod of Moscow addressed this canonically:

“It is very absurd and inappropriate to represent in icons the Lord Sabaoth (ie God the Father) with a gray beard and the Only Begotten in his womb with a dove between them, because no one has seen the Father according to his divinity, and the Father has no flesh, and the Son was not born in the flesh of the Father before the ages. And although David the prophet said, “From the womb before the morning star I begot you” (Psalm 109: 3), this birth was not carnal, but unspeakable and incomprehensible.

“For Christ himself says in the holy Gospel: ‘No one has seen the Father except the Son’ (cf. John 6:46). And Isaiah the prophet said in his chapter 40: “To whom have you compared the Lord?” And with what likeness have you made a likeness of him? Did not the craftsman of wood make an image, or the goldsmiths, having melted the gold, have they gilded it and made a similitude of it? (40: 18-19) Likewise, the Apostle Paul says in Acts (17-29): “Insofar as we are therefore the offspring of God, we are not to think that the Godhead is like gold, silver or stone. , engraved by the art of the imagination of man. ‘ And John Damascene says: “But moreover, who can make a similitude of the invisible, incorporeal, uncircumcised and indescribable God?

“It is therefore the highest folly and ungodliness to give form to the Godhead (Orthodox Faith, 4:16). In the same way, Saint Gregory the Dialogist forbids it. For this reason, we should only form an understanding in the spirit of Sabaoth, which is the Godhead, and of the birth before the ages of the Only Begotten of the Father, but that we should never, in any way, portray these in the icons, because this, in effect, is impossible.

“And the Holy Spirit is not essentially a dove, but essentially he is God, and ‘no man has seen God’, as John the theologian and evangelist testifies (1:18) and so it is. if in Jordan at the holy baptism of Christ the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. But in no other place will those who have understanding not describe the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. dove, for on Mount Tabor he appeared as a cloud and at another time in other forms.

“Further, Sabaoth is the name not only of the Father, but of the Holy Trinity. According to Dionysios the Areopagite, Lord Sabaoth, translated from the Jewish language, means “Lord of Hosts”. This Lord of Hosts is the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And although Daniel the prophet says he saw the Ancient of Days seated on a throne, this is not to be understood as referring to the Father, but to the Son, who at his second coming will judge every nation at judgment. terrible.