Praying With the Trinity Icon  

Posted by Joe Rawls

I've come up with a simple kind of contemplative prayer using the Rublev Trinity icon that I'd like to put on the table for anyone who might be interested. But first, a few words about the iconographer and the icon itself.

Andrei Rublev

Little is known of Andrei's life, including his dates. He is thought to have been born in 1360 (or perhaps 1370) and he died on January 29, 1430 (or was it 1427?). What is known is that the Russia into which he was born was a turbulent place, rent by Mongol oppression and by internecine feuding among the various Russian polities. It is also clear that Andrei somehow transcended this turmoil to become one of the church's greatest iconographers.

Andrei became a monk at a young age, entering the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (also known as Zagorsk), which was founded by St. Sergius of Radonezh, one of the great figures in Russian church history and who is also included in the calendar of the Episcopal Church. He is thought to have written the Trinity icon about 1408 during a restoration of Zagorsk after it was burned by the Mongols (in Orthodoxy, one does not paint an icon, one writes an icon). The icon is now displayed at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

The Icon

Scripturally the icon is rooted in the first part of Genesis 18, which describes Abraham playing host to three heavenly messengers. Because of this, the icon is frequently named "The Hospitality of Abraham". The Church Fathers consistently interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures as foreshadowing developments which would be fully played out in the life and resurrection of Jesus. The three beings,they thought, were a direct manifestation of the Trinity to Abraham.

The icon depicts the three divine Persons as angels. The middle figure is clearly meant to represent Jesus because his garments are iconographically identical to those worn by Jesus in other renditions. The reddish-brown undergarment (symbolizing earth) is overlaid by by a dark blue cloak representing heaven. Jesus, being a union of the divine and the human, unites in his own person heaven and earth.

The figure on the left (as you look at the icon) represents God the Father. His garments are rendered, in a truely fascinating way, in an irridescent sheen of orange and blue which is near-unique in eastern iconography.

The figure on the right symbolizes the Holy Spirit, dressed in a sky-blue garment with alight green cloak representing the earth's vegetation. The Spirit, acting through the Father and the Son, holds all of creation in life.

The Son and Holy Spirit incline their heads towards the Father, showing that they each proceed from him. Their unity in love is shown by their being equally spaced around the table, all three on the same level. The table itself symbolizes the Eucharist.

The Icon Prayer

Find yourself a good reproduction of the icon (many can be downloaded from the net). Assume your usual position for contemplative prayer. Position the icon so that you can look at it comfortably. During the prayer you will alternately focus your attention on each of the three figure plus on the icon as a whole.

Focusing on the left-hand figure, say: God the Creator, have mercy on us.

Now, shifting focus to the middle figure, say: God the Redeemer, have mercy on us.

Shifting focus to the right-hand figure, say: God the Sanctifier, have mercy on us.

Finally, focusing on the entire icon, say: Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.

If your are more of a traditionalist, you may of course substitue "Father", "Son", and "Holy Spirit" for "Creator", "Redeemer", and "Sanctifier".

Spend a set block of time saying the prayer repetitively, much as you would do with the Jesus Prayer.