Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

On Trinity Sunday

THIS ICON OF THE HOLY TRINITY was painted in the 15th century by Andrei Rublev who is considered to be the greatest Russian painter of icons. Here, the icon depicts the three persons of the Holy Trinity, foreshadowed under the Oak Tree at Mamre before Abraham and Sarah. This Scriptural account is found in Genesis 18: 1-8. It is a very good scripture to be familiar with. If you have never read it - before continuing, run to it now.

The icon does not attempt to do what a camera would have done had cameras existed then. Rather, using prescribed colors and style, icons depict the holy events and personages in symbolic form. Every earthly event and person is suffused with the light of heaven. Here the three persons of the Trinity symbolically sit around the table of Abraham: the Father is on the left, the Son is in the middle and the Holy Spirit is to the right. Look at the image to study its details, noticing:
  • The movement in the icon originates from the Father, then counter clockwise in a circle returning to Him.
  • The heads of the Son and Spirit are inclined slightly to the Father - in harmony with His will.
  • The color blue signifies divinity. 
  • But see, the Father's divinity is concealed,
  • The Son's blue fully expresses His divinity,
  • While the Spirit's blue-divinity is balanced with the green of energized new life.
  • The walking staves of Son and Spirit are leaning in motion, as they have walked with us on earth, while the Father's posture and staff are upright in authority.
  • Behind the winged figures are three additional images: mountain, tree and house.
  • Notice the mountain and tree are also inclined to the Father.
  • Can you feel the circular movement of the Son, Spirit, mountain and tree returning to the Father?
  • The icon invites me into that circular movement of again-and-again return.
  • In the moment, this is the spiritual life.

All of this to say: God is ONE, but within God there is a community or family of persons, a harmonized relatedness into which we are all invited to share and enjoy. The brilliant colors suggest this joy in a world whose colors are diluted with tears - much as Russia lived in the Medieval world of invasion, poverty and despair at the time of the icon's creation.

But perhaps the icons most marvelous aspect is the house over the Father. Biblically it is the tent of Mamre in which Abraham and Sarah lived, but mystically it is the House of the Father. AND THAT HOUSE IS OPEN. The mission of the Church is simply to declare or proclaim that open house of the Father. The Church loses itself when it no longer proclaims a message of salvation for all, becoming instead a celebration of  the like-minded and well-behaved. 

The mission of the Church is simply to declare that open house of the Father.  Many people don't feel or hear that message coming from the Church. Many people, including very many priests have no sense of the mystical center of the Gospels; they have reduced the Gospel to family values and a sexual ethic. The icon invites us to sit. To look. To feel the inner movement of return. We don't need to think original thoughts about the icon - rather just to be there before it. The first movement of Christianity is God's movement: God present to us, opening to us, inviting us in, long before we even had a thought of God. 

Perhaps one indication of how far we are from this mystical dimension of the Gospels is to observe how antsy we may quickly become sitting before the icon - how strong the urge to runaway from it and to busy ourselves with something else. Resist the impulse. Then, after sitting and gazing, perhaps this:

Your foreshadowing appearance
at the Mamre Mountain
Oh, One-in-Three,
draws us into the energy of return:
from planet-rape and
thingdom come,
from withering children and
industry of war,
from sports idolatry and
the shopping channel,
from kidnapped girls and
thirty-three flavors,
from the embittered heart and
the power contest ~ 
to your open house
of interface and 
in red and blue,
in green and gold.


  1. Thank you for reminding us of God's invitation. We are all welcome in the kingdom of God.

  2. One thing I think of when I remember you Father Stephen, is the way you taught us to pray in front of this icon. I thought to myself then that this was a wonderful way to pray and that I would never forget your humble and unassuming manner which was so engaging. I thank you for these lessons and reminders. I, like many others, can us a refresher now and again on this method for contemplative prayer.

  3. Thank you for this Father. It is truly a good feeling to be invited in. You present this open door policy of the Church that I hope more priests will embrace. But at the same time I hope we don't lose our Catholic traditions. I hope the Church can meld the old world and the modern world together in unity.

  4. Wonderful. A great read to remind us about the meaning of Trinity Sunday.

  5. On this Sunday I am reminded that often our faith and sometimes our lives take on a challenge to just get things right and in proper order. God is a divine puzzle, that grand mystery that begs our attention yet we may feel he is too distant and silent to really think consciously about every day. That is until we find ourselves in crisis is when we go to the mystery and hope he will give us the solution. Yet, the truth is we are surrounded by his presence and are never alone. I think that your explanation of God's invitation to us to enter His circle is the most perfect way of explaining this all. Amen.

    1. There's different ways of thinking about MYSTERY. Mystery means something is faraway and can't be grasped. Mystery means there's not enough light to understand. I wouldn't hold to that. I think Christian mystery means there is SO MUCH light - we can't see the thing rightly. Mystery means the thing is SO CLOSE (like a book right up against our eyes) that we can't read it correctly. In the Incarnation God has drawn so close to us - is so right up against us - we miss it.

  6. This is fascinating! Thanks for this insight!

  7. I never noticed the walking staffs at different inclines before. So much detail to behold.

  8. Thank you for the scripture read. It certainly connects to the Trinity Icon. Your explanation of the meaning of the colors is so interesting. What an important Icon this is. It should be put in a special place in our homes. Blessings.