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The Trinity, also called “The Hospitality of Abraham,” is an icon created by Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. It is his most famous work and the most famous of all Russian icons, and it is regarded as one of the highest achievements of Russian art.
The Trinity depicts the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1–8), but the painting is full of symbolism and is interpreted as an icon of the Holy Trinity. At the time of Rublev, the Holy Trinity was the embodiment of spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love and humility.
The icon is based on a story from the Book of Genesis called Abraham and Sarah’s Hospitality. It says that the biblical Patriarch Abraham “was sitting at the door of his tent in the heat of the day by the Oak of Mamre” and saw three men standing in front of him, who in the next chapter were revealed as angels. “When he saw them, Abraham ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth.”
Abraham ordered a servant-boy to prepare a choice calf, and set curds, milk and the calf before them, waiting on them, under a tree, as they ate. One of the angels told Abraham that Sarah would soon give birth to a son.
The subject of The Trinity received various interpretations at different time periods, but by the 19th to 20th centuries the consensus among scholars was the following: the three angels who visited Abraham represented the Christian Trinity, “one God in three persons” – the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.
Art critics believe that Andrei Rublev’s icon was created in accordance with this concept. In his effort to uncover the doctrine of the Trinity, Rublev abandoned most of the traditional plot elements that were typically included in the paintings of the Abraham and Sarah’s Hospitality story. He did not paint Abraham, Sarah, the scene of calf’s slaughter, nor did he give any details on the meal. The angels were depicted as talking, not eating. “The gestures of angels, smooth and restrained, demonstrate the sublime nature of their conversation.” The silent communion of the three angels is the center of the composition.
In Rublev’s icon, the form that most clearly represents the idea of the consubstantiality of the Trinity is a circle. It is the foundation of the composition. At the same time, the angels are not inserted into the circle, but create it instead, thus our eyes can’t stop at any of the three figures and rather dwell inside this limited space.
The impactful center of the composition is the cup with the calf’s head. It hints at the crucifixion sacrifice and serves as the reminder of the Eucharist (the left and the right angels’ figures make a silhouette that resembles a cup). Around the cup, which is placed on the table, the silent dialogue of gestures takes place.
The left angel symbolizes God the Father. He blesses the cup, yet his hand is painted in a distance, as if he passes the cup to the central angel, who represents Jesus Christ, who in turn blesses the cup as well and accepts it with a bow as if saying “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will”. (Mt 26:39) .
The nature of each of the three is revealed through their symbolic attributes, i.e. the house, the tree, and the mountain. The starting point of the divine administration is the creative Will of God, therefore Rublev places the Abraham’s house above the corresponding angel’s head.
The Oak of Mamre can be interpreted as the tree of life, and it serves as a reminder of the Jesus’s death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection, which opened the way to eternal life. The Oak is located in the center, above the angel who symbolizes Jesus. Finally, the mountain is a symbol of the spiritual ascent, which we accomplish with the help of the Holy Spirit. The unity of the Trinity’s three beings expresses love between all things: “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)
The wings of two angels, the Father and the Son are interwoven. The blue color of the Son’s robe symbolizes divinity, the brown color represents earth, his humanity, and the gold speaks of kingship of God. The wings of the Holy Spirit do not touch the Son’s wings, they are imperceptibly divided by the Son’s spear. The blue color of the Holy Spirit’s robe symbolizes divinity, the green color represents new life. The poses and the inclinations of the Holy Spirit and the Son’s heads demonstrate their submission to the Father, yet their placement on the thrones at the same level symbolizes equality.
Rublev’s icon captures a little of the river of life, love and gratitude that flows between the Father and the Son and creates a fire, an energy, called the Holy Spirit. To have that flow go through you is to know God. All authentic icons reveal something of the inner life of God.
The God we know through Christianity exists as a community of overflowing love. St. Augustine taught us that our hearts are restless until they rest in God: The love we have and the love we crave are God’s lure, drawing us to know and be like God, loving from the inside out.
Our Trinitarian Faith
On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate our intimacy with God.
God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit,
God who has been with us throughout all time
And who invites us into intimacy still — at every moment.
We celebrate our belief in one God,
Who is creator of heaven and earth,
and of all things — seen or unseen.
God, who loves the entire universe
Who blesses all creatures of earth, sky and sea.
God, who calls us to share in the process of creation,
To take responsibility for all that exists,
To care for our environment,
To preserve the purity of our land, our water, and our air.
We celebrate our belief in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son,
Who was born into our history,
Who preached and lived the good news of God’s reign.
Who for our sake, lived, died and rose again.
Who came to gift us with freedom, healing and fulfillment.
Who loved the poor and the oppressed,
And called every person to care tenderly for others.
Who showed us how to live more simply and responsibly,
So that others may simply live.
We celebrate our belief in the Holy Spirit of God —
The Wisdom of God; the Giver of Life.
The Divine Spirit who unites all people in the bond of love,
Who inspires and compels us to work for freedom and justice.
Who burns within our hearts and within our church,
Who directs us to be living signs of the mission of Jesus.
A community of forgiveness and compassion
That continually welcomes all into the joy of the risen Jesus.
Exodus 34: 6-7
Our reading from Exodus reminds us that God’s key self-revelation in ancient times began because God heard the cry of the people and sent Moses to lead them to freedom. In this Sunday’s reading from Exodus, the God whose name is incomprehensible to the human mind and unpronounceable by the human tongue, stands and talks with Moses. God tells Moses that being God means loving with a motherly, generous mercy, exercising long-lasting patience, and demonstrating unshakeable fidelity.
Psalm: “Canticle of Daniel”
(Music by Father Richard Ho Lung)
(Monks of Glenstal Abbey)
Proclamation of this week’s Gospel
Trinity Sunday (Cycle A) Homily with Father Peter Kirwin OFM
(Franciscan Renewal Center)
The Holy Trinity
(Catholic News Agency)
Faith Exposed: The Holy Trinity with Cardinal Tagle
“The Great Revealer” Pastor’s Corner with Father Dan Leary
Trinity Sunday with Father Pontifex
Bishop Robert Barron on the Holy Trinity
Scriptures for children
Beginner’s Bible: The Story of Moses
“The Fiery Furnace”
“For God So Loved the World”
John 3: 16-17 Silly Scriptures
Music that reflects the feast of the Holy Trinity
“For God So Loved the World”
(John Stainer) St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir (London)
“O God Almighty Father”
“Holy Holy Holy”
“I Am For You”
(Rory Cooney) St. Paul Choir and Ensemble
“Stand Up Friends”
“One Is The Body”
The Blessing of the Trinity
When you are lost in your own life,
When the landscape you have known falls away,
When your familiar path becomes foreign,
and you feel like a stranger in your own story,
When you search for meaning…
Let yourself enter the threshold of those three loving strangers
who know the mystery of your bewildered soul.
They are there as a surprise,
Like angels, they welcome you warmly,
And make a place for you at the table.
They call you by your name.
Let the glass be filled.
Let the light be tended.
Let the hands lay before you
That will meet you in your hunger.
Let the sweetness of laughter enter your sorrow.
Welcome the solace that comes as sustenance
as sudden, unbidden grace.
For all this that comes to you — offer gladness.
For this kindly welcome — offer thanks.
Offer blessing to those angels
Who gathered you in,
Who made a place for you at the table,
And who called you by your name.
For you have known the love of Father, Son and Spirit.