Rublev Trinity Icon

Rublev Trinity Icon

Rublev’s Icon is one of the most recognized images in the history of iconography. It is called either “The Old Testament Trinity,” or “The Hospitality of Abraham.” Like all icons, it is a type that has been copied by many writers since Rublev (and was probably copied by him). The scene in the icon recalls the passage in Genesis 18, in which God visits Abraham. Abraham and Sarah are staying by the terebinth (a sacred tree) of Mamre. Abraham was sitting in the entrance of his tent when he saw three men coming toward him. He rushed to invite them to stay with him for a meal. Water was brought for them to wash their feet, and he and Sarah prepared them a meal. After the meal, the three men and Abraham walk on toward Sodom. It becomes clear that Abraham’s guests (now only a single guest) is God, as Abraham bargains for Sodom. Christians throughout history have seen this episode as a witness to the Trinity.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews picks up the theme of this episode at the end of his letter when he advises Christians not to neglect hospitality, “for some thereby have entertained angels unaware.”

Rublev’s icon itself is a masterpiece of composition. In the background, one can see the terebinth. At the table, the three figures are ambiguous — are they men or women? The one sitting at the table across from the viewer is holding his/her fingers in the traditional position of blessing — is this Christ, blessing the viewer? Each of the angels is looking at another of the angels. The table has four sides, with only three filled. The viewer is being invited to join the meal. The doctrine of the Trinity as a community of Love into which the believer is invited to enter is depicted with clarity and simplicity. The icon communicates to the viewer that the basis of the divine life is hospitality. When Jesus sends out the twelve he instructs them to enter whatever house will have them, heal their sick, eat what is set before them, and proclaim that the Reign of God has arrived at that house. Rublev’s icon proclaims the same message: the Reign of God arrives in hospitality.

– Rev. Dan Handschy

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