This is one of my favorite works of art. In fact, I have a printout of it pinned to my bulletin board above my computer at work. It is widely recognized as the greatest icon ever created and, even though it is based on the visit of the three angels to Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament, it has long been considered the most important and popular representation of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Rublev painted each figure to be of equal size, making them of equal importance, which is also symbolized by the rod each holds in their left hand. Each wears a cloak of blue, the color of divinity. And the face of each is exactly the same, depicting their oneness.
The Father is represented by the figure on the left. His blue tunic is cloaked in a color that is light and almost transparent because he is the hidden Creator. He blesses his Son, Jesus, with his right hand. He is pleased with the sacrifice he will make. His head lifted higher than the rest, yet his gaze is turned to the other two figures.
The Son is portrayed in the middle figure. He wears both the blue of divinity and reddish purple of the royal priesthood. He is the King who descends to serve as priest to the people he created and to become one of them. With his hand, he blesses the cup he is to drink, accepting his sacrifice for humanity. His head is bowed in submission to the Father.
The Spirit is on the right. Over his blue tunic is a cloak of green, symbolizing life and regeneration. His hand is resting on the table next to the cup, suggesting that he will be with the Son as he carries out his mission. His head is inclined toward the Father and the Son but his gaze is toward the open space at the table.
It is this open space at the table that demands my attention. How wonderful it is that the Holy Trinity—who have been in perfect love and community with each other since forever, have saved a spot at the table for humanity—for me and for you. In Hebrews, it is written that “for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross.” What joy could have been set before Jesus? He already had joy and love and peace with the Father and Spirit. What joy could the cruel cross possibly hold?
I think the joy was two-fold: the first was the joy of obeying his Father’s will. And the second was the joy of knowing that through his sacrifice, we could take our place at the table with the Trinity, where God intended us to be all along.
Being Human connection: Come. Take a seat. All is ready. You and I are a guest of the most-High.
Here is a meditation on this icon by Henri Nouwen from his book, “Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons.” The more we look at this holy image with the eyes of faith, the more we come to realize that it is painted not as a lovely decoration for a convent church, nor as a helpful explanation of a difficult doctrine, but as a holy place to enter and stay within.
As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in the intimate conversation that is taking place among the three divine angels and to join them around the table. The movement from the Father toward the Son and the movement of both Son and Spirit toward the Father become a movement in which the one who prays is lifted up and held secure… (p. 20-22).
Featured image: The Trinity Icon (also known as The Hospitality of Abraham), Andrei Rublev, Russian, 1411.