It’s clear to me that the very essence of holiness is found in the social and moral nature of God as Trinity. The essence of God is holy love shared between and among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By divine revelation, we know the persons of the Trinitarian God to be co-equal in power and glory, and mutual in unity and love. Together, the three persons of the Trinity are a perfect circle of fellowship open to all humanity as we remain open to intimacy with God in unity and love.
In the fifteenth century (1425), a Russian monk by the name of Andrei Rublev created the Icon of the Holy Trinity.[i] Some refer to it as the icon of icons. Inspired by the Genesis 18 passage, this icon depicts the visit of three angelic persons eating the meal provided by Abram and Sarah. At the time, one visitor announced to them the future birth of their son, Isaac. The three visitors around the table may be understood to be God in three persons, the holy Trinity.
In Rublev’s work there are three primary colors. They illustrate the essence of the one God in three persons. The garb of the Father is in gold signifying perfection, fullness, and the source of life. The God in Christ, the human, is portrayed in the color blue signifying sea and sky. Christ is taking on the world and in particular humanity. His hand is holding out two fingers, together representing within both spirit and matter. Finally, Rublev uses the color green in the apparel of the Spirit to convey fertility, fecundity, blossom and bloom, divine and eternal life. The three persons are gazing at each other in intimate expressions of love, and each one’s hand is pointing at the others. It is a picture of perfect, holy love, unity, and divine fellowship.
While the symbolism of color is inspiring, what is most significant is how they are portrayed together in their positioning and fellowship. They encircle a shared space around a small table. On the front of the table is a small, empty rectangle. Art historians mention the finding of glue residue on the original icon suggesting that at one time there may have been a mirror glued to the front of the table.
A mirror in an icon is quite unusual. Catholic Franciscan mystic, Father Richard Rohr, interprets the icon as suggesting that God is not a distant, static monarch. Instead, the three persons in divine fellowship are in what early Fathers of the church called perichoresis (the root word in Greek for choreography). In other words, the persons of the divine Trinity are in a divine dance. The mirror represents our seeing ourselves in the dance with God at the table of fellowship.
The icon is an invitation to enter socially and spiritually into the divine, intimate ecology of holiness. The mirror represents seeing ourselves restored to the image of God, present at the banquet table, and participants in the divine nature. The table is not reserved for the Three, nor is the circle closed, but open to all. Rublev’s icon occasions reflection on the divine, inclusive, perfect love of God expressed in the intimate, social nature of the Trinity, opened in all its fullness as a dance, a banquet table, a social ecology of holiness, and the eternal company we may keep.
For implications for clergy and lay ministry, see Seamands, Stephen. Ministry in the Image of God: The trinitarian shape of christian service. Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2005.