A modern icon in the style of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham
TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality
Thursday 20 October 2016
Liturgy 2016-2017 (Full Time) 4.1: Bible study (1):
Genesis 18: 1-15
1 The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on – since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ 7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9 They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ 10 Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ 13 The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” 14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ 15 But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’
Jürgen Moltmann, Gerald O’Collins, and other theologians across the traditions have written about Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity placing the Eucharist at the centre of the life of the Trinity. The three figures in the icon surround a “chalice on the table, which links the scene with the Eucharist, and hence with the saving and revealing story of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.” [Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God (London: SCM, 1981), p xvi; Gerald O’Collins, The Tripersonal God: Understanding and Interpreting the Trinity (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1999), p 11.]
The three figures form a sort of mystic circle and they seem to say to us: ‘May you all be one as we are one.’ (cf John 17: 21). The communion of the Holy Trinity is lived out in prayer, above all in the Eucharist.
This icon speaks of the Eucharist and the Church as if the mystery of Christ in the broken bread is immersed in the ineffable unity of the three divine Persons, with the Church itself an icon of the Trinity.
The Trinity denotes that ‘God, who is one and unique in his infinite substance or nature is three really distinct persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ Or as the Athanasian Creed states: ‘We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.’ [see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 771.]
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This Bible study was part of a lecture/seminar on 20 October 2016 as part of the MTh module TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality with full-time MTh students, Year II.