Narnia, icons and Rublev's Trinity!
Those of you who know me know that I cultivate a special love for icons. In English the word icon can be used as a general term for an image. It is often used in connection with religious imagery, and the term iconography can relate to any consistent scheme of imagery, religious or secular. However, two modern secular applications of the word icon have gained wide currency. First, in the world of fashion and entertainment, people can be described as icon if they epitomize certain trends in style or culture. Second, in the world of computers and electronic technology certain images on the screen are known as icons. You'll also know that my acquaintance with the modern applications of the word is more with the latter! Click on the icon and you enter a whole new world of information and imagery. This modern usage of the word icon has interesting parallels with the theological use of the term! John Paul II in his encyclical "Duodecimum saeculum" wrote: "Just as the reading of material books allows the hearing of the living word of the Lord, so also the showing of the painted icon allows those who contemplate it to accede to the mystery of salvation by the sense of sight". Our first encounter with icons may not be easy, for they are seriously different from many of our assumptions about art and imagery.Icons are different, they are a non-naturalistic form of art. The intention behind the icon is to make the invisible visible. They are a door to another world, allowing us to enter more deeply into a living relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit. In the Apocalypse St. John says: "I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door!" (Rev 4:1). Through that door he enters into the heavenly worship and the place of revelation. In C. S Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the children enter the strange world of Narnia through the wardrobe. There is a change in levels of consciousness and perception which can only be communicated through the metaphors and imagery of transition. Sacred iconography uses its own language of symbols and imagery to take us deeper into the mystery of Christ.
I would like to share with you a short interpretation of this icon of the Trinity.This icon represents the scene described in Genesis 18, 1-5 where Abraham is visited by three angels at the oak of Mamre and had always been interpreted as a prefiguration of God in the Three persons. In fact if we look closely at the text it interchanges between the singular and the plural as if there were only one visitor.
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (l-r) complete each other in an endless circle of loving communion.
The bond of trust among them is transparent.
We can identify:
1)in the top left background- Abraham's house. Abraham and Sarah's hospitality to the angelic visitors is rewarded with the promise of an heir.
2) middle top background- the oak of Mamre. This may also recall the tree of the Cross. This is the transformation of the Tree of Death becoming the Tree of Life because of Jesus' willingness to trust the Father in all things.
3) on the top right background- the mountain. In the Bible mountain are usually symbols of a place of encounter, of a divine revelation, it is the place of theophany. Moses met his Lord there, Jesus went often to pray and was transfigured on the mountain.
LEFT: The blue garment is almost hidden by the shimmering outer garment. This is the Father who cannot be seen by his creatures and must encounter him using the eyes of the Son. Both hands grasp the staff showing his dual authority over heaven and earth.
MIDDLE:The brown garment speaks of the earth - of His humanity. 'He humbled himself and became obedient even unto death on a cross.' The gold stripe speaks of kingship.
RIGHT:The green garment is a symbol of new life. The Spirit touches the table indicating the divine life of God.
Just think: the Father, the Son and the Spirit are looking towards the one who is contemplating the icon. They are looking at you, offering you a porthole into the cosmic movement of love which exist between them. Their hands bless you in your joys and in your worries. They ask you for the same hospitality which was offered to them by Abraham and Sarah, they await the hospitality in your heart. Each one is reclining slightly towards the other. Call to mind the beloved disciple John who rested upon the heart of Christ and acknowledge that you too have this privileged space. Enjoy the sense of profound peace that this scene can bring you.