Trinity Sunday

Today the Sunday after Pentecost is notable for a number of reasons in 1334 Pope John XXII decreed that the Feast of the Holy Trinity should be kept and in 1162 Thomas Becket was consecrated a Bishop, and as the anniversary of his consecration, it was celebrated. It is something which gets people into a bit of a mess, there is the standard joke that it is a Sunday to get someone else to preach for you, a curate, a visiting preacher, anyone, as though the Doctrine is something of which to be scared.

Well I for one do not ascribe to such nonsense, I never have and I never will, as today gives us an opportunity to contemplate the mystery which is God’s very nature, we know God as the Father, the Creator and Ruler of all, the Son, who redeems humanity, and the Spirit, active in the World, who fills us with the love of God. There is a reason why we started our worship the morning with the words ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’, and why it ends with ‘The Blessing of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit’ not three blessings, but one, our baptism, our worship as Christians is Trinitarian: Three persons, One God. It can be hard for some to understand, the church spent hundreds of years arguing of the Divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and in the process worked out what we believe as Christians and why. We can Say One Father, One Son, One Holy Spirit, One God, because what we are dealing with is not a mathematical question, Christians are not polytheists, we do not worship three Gods, but One: the Trinity is not a problem to be solved through thought, but a mystery to enter through our worship of God, and a relationship, which through Christ is open to us, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

If anything it is better to approach such things obliquely rather than head on, and in this case with images rather than words. Andrei Rublev painted an icon of the Trinity either around 1411 or 1425-7. It shows the visit of the Angels to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre:

And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favour in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. (Gen 18:1-8 ESV)

In Andrei Rublev’s icon, the persons of the Holy Trinity are shown in the order in which they are confessed in the Creed. The first angel is the first person of the Trinity – God the Father; the second, middle angel is God the Son; the third angel is God the Holy Spirit. All three angels are blessing the chalice, in which lies a sacrificed calf, prepared for eating. The sacrifice of the calf signifies the Saviour’s death on the cross, while its preparation as food symbolizes the sacrament of the Eucharist. All three angels have staffs in their hand as a symbol of their divine power.

The first angel, shown at left, is vested in a blue undergarment which depicts his divine celestial nature, and a light purple outer garment which attests to the unfathomable nature and the royal dignity of this angel. Behind him and above his head towers a house, the abode of Abraham, and a sacrificial altar in front of the house. This image of the abode has a symbolic meaning: the house signifies God’s master plan for creation, while the fact that the house towers above the first angel shows him to be the head (or Father) of this creation. The same fatherly authority is seen in his entire appearance. His head is not bowed and he is looking at the other two angels. His whole demeanour – the expression on his face, the placement of his hands, the way he is sitting – all speaks of his fatherly dignity. The other two angels have their heads inclined and eyes turned toward the first angel with great attention, as though conversing with him about the salvation of mankind.

The second angel is placed in the middle of the icon. This placement is determined by the position held by the second Person within the Trinity Itself. Above his head extend the branches of an oak tree. The vestments of the second angel correspond to those in which the Saviour is usually depicted. The undergarment is a dark crimson colour which symbolizes the incarnation, while the blue outer robe signifies the divinity and the celestial nature of this angel. The second angel is inclined towards the first angel, as though deep in conversation. The tree behind him serves as a reminder of the tree of life that was standing in Eden, and of the cross.

The angel on the right is the third Person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. His light blue undergarment and smoky-green outer garment represent heaven and earth, and signify the life-giving force of the Holy Spirit, which animates everything that exists. “By the Holy Spirit every soul lives and is elevated in purity” – sings the Church. This elevation in purity is represented in the icon by a mountain above the third angel. (Taken from “Thoughts on Iconography” by monk Gregory Krug, found at http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/lord_trinity_rublev.html)

This relationship of equals has a space in front of them , and that’s where you and I come in, there is food at God’s table, spiritual food, prefigured in this vision of hospitality, we enter a relationship with the Trinity in our baptism and deepen it in our worship, and our prayer and reading of scripture, but most of all through our response to the Eucharistic hospitality of God, so let us come to Him, to be fed by Him and fed with him to share his life and proclaim his truth so that the world may believe and give glory…

017rublev troitsa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s