The message of an Icon
Trinity Sunday is sometimes regarded by preachers as the most difficult Sunday in the year. They might agree with the late Revd. Professor Leonard Hodgson who said: ‘How many clergy, as Trinity Sunday draws near, groan within themselves at the thought that it will be their duty to try to expound this dry and abstract doctrine to congregations for whom they anticipate that it will have but little interest?’
Anyone familiar with the rather impossible ‘Athanasian Creed’ (see the Book of Common Prayer, especially on a sleepless night!) might be forgiven for being somewhat confused .What are we to make of: ‘the Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, the Holy Ghost uncreate” and all three ‘incomprehensible’ !!
God as Three in One is not an easy concept—when are three one and one three? Perhaps a simple mathematical formula could help. 1+1+1= 3 but 1x1x1=1. However, describing the very essence and nature of God by a trite mathematical formula isn’t really very prayerful or theological. It certainly doesn’t feel very loving!
The problem arises because too often it is seen as a doctrine rather than a way through which our life is enriched and given its true meaning.The Trinity is about ‘relationship’ – specifically the relationship of total love enjoyed by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Another way of seeing this is through three complementary roles which biblically the 3 persons of the Trinity have. The Father is Creator; The Son is Redeemer; the Spirit is Sustainer.
Applied to ourselves—our Father God creates us out of love; Jesus redeems us because of that love (He died and rose again so that we are caught up into eternal love) and the Holy Spirit enlivens us and awakens Godly love within us—thus sustaining us for our Christian journey through life which takes us beyond earthly death into eternal life.
If we begin to see the action of the Holy Trinity in our lives in this sort of way, then the ‘doctrine’ becomes more ‘personal’ and describes God’s relationship with us.
A famous Icon by the Russian icon-painter, Andrei Rublev, has long been seen as an Icon of the Holy Trinity. Painted around 1410 it shows the three Angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18). The angels have come to represent the Trinity and they are seated around a table on which appears to be a chalice. The three angels are in a very strong relationship with each other and Rublev has managed to portray them in such a way that the viewer is drawn into the unity which exists between them. They are bound together with and in love. It is possible to draw a circle encompassing them in a loving relationship. That is why they have come to represent the Holy Trinity. But of significance is the fact that the icon not only draws you to this relationship of love, it actually invites you to share it. Rublev has painted them so that there is a space in front of them and it is done in such a way that you simply want to be there with them at the table.
So the relationship of love we see in The Father,Son and Holy Spirit isn’t exclusively between the three of them but rather an inclusive love which invites us to participate in it. We are invited by Love to join a loving relationship which if we accept it changes not only our perspective of who God is but also changes our thinking about ourselves. We are drawn by God’s love to become love.
The most exciting thing about Trinity Sunday is that it is the Festival of God in a way that no other festival is. We celebrate God in all His totality and we are invited to be part of the great mystery of Love which charges the world with a new grandeur—the grandeur of God which is glorified in human lives filled with love.