Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Scriptural Basis for the Old Testament Trinity Icon (3)

THE SCRIPTURAL ACCOUNT WHICH FORMS THE BASIS of the Old Testament Trinity icon is found in Genesis 18:1-8. The Lord appeared to Abraham on a hot afternoon. Perhaps Abraham had dozed off from the heat, but when he looked up he saw three men standing nearby. Abraham ran to meet them, bowed and said:

"O sirs, if perchance I find favor with you, please do not pass by without stopping with your servant."

The three visitors accepted Abraham's kind invitation: water for their feet  and the comfort of a shade  tree. He and Sarah prepared a generous meal - she making cakes with the best flour and a veal dish prepared from their herd. He then waited on his guests.

The visitors asked where Sarah was and predicted that upon their return, at the end of a year, she would have a baby, even though the two were long beyond child bearing years. But Sarah was listening from the door and thought it funny to hear  she'd have a child, as she was post-menopausal and her husband was, well, - just old. "How can there be marriage pleasure for me?" she wondered out loud.

The messengers either heard or imagined her thoughts and called over to her: "Don't laugh, nothing is too wonderful for God." Of course she denied having laughed, but one messenger said, "Oh yes you did!" A message from God is evidently no laughing matter.

The Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah

Rublev would have been familiar with the icon above, depicting the Genesis account: The Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah. The three messengers are comfortably seated  around a table set with a white cloth, dishes and silverware. Elderly Sarah and Abraham are busy serving  while waiting for the young servant to prepare the fatted calf meal. The scene is so busy it's hard to imagine that the conversation among the three winged messengers was about anything other than the pleasant hospitality being extended to them.

But Rublev, with fresh insight, saw in the Three Messengers a symbolic depiction of the Holy Trinity. And so to emphasize that vision he has cleared the table of everything except the central cup, removed Abraham, Sarah and their farmhand from the scene, straightened up the posture of the angel-visitor on the left and made important color changes. Only the three seated messengers remain, along with  the house, tree and mountain, enabling us to focus all of our energies in contemplation of the Trinitarian Mystery.

Rublev's Old Testament Trinity

But before we do that, we might take a moment to consider Sarah's laughing. We all know that snickering which says, I know best, or That ain't happening, or I won't allow that or some variation of that thinking. The message is essentially I'm in charge. But then  things don't work out my way at all.

Indeed, Sarah was quite accurate in saying she and her husband were beyond child-bearing age, but she had forgotten to let God be God. The God-messenger didn't appreciate her laughing at the news. Lots of Christians live like Sarah, imagining they've got it all figured out - their bases are covered. Or worse still, their prayer is filled with directives for God. They might even deem themselves to be spiritual people, but they are not. Let God be God! Sarah had to learn this, and so do we.

1 comment:

  1. Rublev's icon holds so much meaning and symbolism within it. Thank you for giving the background and explanations. Although a widely recognized icon, there are many parts to it that may not be understood or even thought of. This helps.