Vir Drie-Eenheidsondag: Andrei Rublev se Triniteitsikoon

What is an icon?

Icons are very familiar in the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition.  An icon points to a reality almost behind the icon.  When you read an icon, you are required to look behind the icon, to a reality that the icon signifies. An icon is a window on the world as seen with eyes opened by the Bible and the Spirit of God.

Trinity Icon

The Trinity-Icon was written by Andrei Rublev  between 1410 and 1420 for the Trinity Monastery in Russia.

This icon wants to open a window on God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Genesis 18

At a glance we see the scene from Genesis 18 on the icon.  Abraham is sitting in the entrance to his tent, at high noon.  Three visitors turns up.  Abraham thought that these three were human visitors, so he did what any host of this time would do – he honored ancient Near Eastern hospitality customs.  He greeted his guests by bowing before them, giving them water, washing their feet, and offering them a shady place for some rest.  He got everyone in the household involved in preparing a feast.

As they were eating together, the Bible narrative suddenly stops using the plural “they” for the three visitors who were visiting Abraham.  At this point the author begins using “the Lord”.  “The Lord says….”

The three visitors were God.

Were they humans or were they angels?  Abraham and Sarah thought they were humans.  In these three humans Abraham and Sarah encountered God in flesh and blood.  What they thought were human visitors, to whom they showed hospitality, was the presence of God.  They saw the face of God in the face of humans.

The nature of God

Rublev uses this story to communicate something about the nature of God. 

We read the icon from left to right.  First we see the Father, with his head erect, while the other two persons bow in respect.  Nobody ever saw the Father, therefore the colour of his garment is subdued.  He sends and blesses his Son with his right hand.

The two natures of Jesus Christ are represented by a two-coloured cloak, earthly red-brown and sky-blue. A golden divine ribbon touches the earth – through Christ’s incarnation the earth is redeemed.  He points his two Fingers to signify his two natures, truly God and man.

Holy Spirit:
The Spirit of God brings life on land and in the sea.  In Genesis 1 the Spirit hovers over the sea (blue cloak) and life shoots from the earth (light green cloak).

The intimate circle of the three divine Persons gives a deep (more than rational) perspective on the love, unity, trust, equality and peace between the Trinity.  The three angels can fly with their wings, but each carries a walking stick.  The Trinity chooses to involve God self with human and earthly life.


There is space at the table.  The open foreground is an invitation for people to enter the life of the Trinity.  The table of the Eucharist is where God turns up.

The Son and the Spirit look at us – they invite us into the life of the Trinity.

In the background we can discern the mountain of prayer (behind the Holy Spirit), ‘n tree that gives shades and rest, but also the tree of Golgotha, and the life-giving vine of John 15 (behind the Son), with the slaughtered Lam (in front of the Son), and the Father-house (with open door and window) (behind the Father).


We live our life’s within the life of the Trinity.

Openness to the Stranger

Where will you draw the world in this picture?  What is ultimate reality?  Patristic theology (early church theology) will answer in terms of this icon….

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