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Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Our favorite icon of the Trinity, written by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev (1360s-1427), depicts the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (see Gn 18:1-15), a type of the Holy Trinity. Rublev’s icon, Trinity, is shown below.


Rublev’s Trinity[1]

Rublev wrote[2] Trinity sometime around 1410. This type is the most common depiction of the Trinity in the Eastern Orthodox Church. God the Father is represented by the first angel on the left, Jesus is represented by the second angel in the center and the Holy Spirit is represented by the third angel on the right. Each of the three angels has a staff in their hand as a symbol of their divine power.[3]

The first angel, the Father, is vested in a blue undergarment which depicts His divine celestial nature, and a light purple outer garment which attests to His profound nature and royal dignity. His head is not bowed; rather, He is looking at the other two angels. His whole demeanor – the expression on His face, the placement of His hands, the way He is sitting – speaks of His fatherly dignity. The other two angels have their heads inclined and eyes turned toward the first angel with great attention, as if conversing about the salvation of mankind.[4]

The second angel, the Son, is situated in the center of the icon. His vestments correspond to those in which the Savior is typically depicted. His undergarment is dark crimson, symbolizing the incarnation. The blue outer robe signifies His divinity and celestial nature. He is inclined towards the first angel, as though in deep conversation.[5]

The angel on the right is the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. His light blue undergarment and smoky-green outer garment represent heaven and earth, signifying the life-giving force of the Holy Spirit which animates everything that exists.[6]

Rublev’s icon expresses the dogma of the Holy Trinity as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

  1. “We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the ‘consubstantial Trinity.’”[7]
  2. “The divine persons are really distinct from one another.”[8]
  3. “The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: ‘In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both.’”[9]

While being a consummate work of iconography, Rublev’s icon Trinity is also a “theology in color.” [10] It instructs us in the revelation of the triune God and the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. This rich image reminds us of the importance of praying to all three Persons of the Trinity for grace, wisdom, forgiveness, transformation and guidance. Praying with this icon helps us to more fully enter into the mystery of the Trinity.

The Most Holy Trinity is an eternal exchange of life-giving love. Throughout history, God has shown humanity His selfless love. Christ has revealed the Father’s love in the power of the Holy Spirit. He has shown us the inner life of the Holy Trinity: a communion of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Church is also a community of persons that shares in God’s Trinitarian life and love.[11]

Marriage is a metaphor for God’s self-giving love. It is also a participation in it. Like all sacraments, Matrimony draws husbands and wives more deeply into the Trinitarian life of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 2205).

Have you thought of your marriage as an image of the Holy Trinity? You have a responsibility to live your marriage in manner that reflects the self-giving love of the Most Holy Trinity. Ask God to fill you with this life-giving love so that it may shine forth from your marriage to enlighten a world darkened by sin.

[1] Original is housed in the State Tretyakov Gallery (Russian: Государственная Третьяковская Галерея, Gosudarstvennaya Tretyâkovskaya Galereya; abbreviated ГТГ, GTG) art gallery in Moscow, Russia.

[2] Icons are not paintings, they are written as a form of prayer.

[3] Fr. Gregory Krug, Thoughts on Iconography, Internet: http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/lord_trinity_rublev.html (accessed March 30, 2015).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] CCC, 253.

[8] CCC, 254.

[9] CCC, 255.

[10] Krug.

[11] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pastor Letter Marriage – Life and Love in the Divine Plan (Washington, D.C. USCCB, 2009), p. 35-37.