Troitsa (Trinity)







Troitsa" is the Russian name for the original icon by St. Andrei Rublev (1370 - 1430).  Rublev was an Orthodox monk who lived in St. Sergius Monastery, Moscow.  Rublev’s icon became the prototype for future Holy Trinity icons. The original prototype, badly faded, is housed in the Tretyakov Museum, Moscow.  It was painted in egg-tempera, 56" high by 45" wide.  (The image above is a copy, see below the original).


The Old Testament story tells of the recognition and veneration by Abraham of three handsome young men, or three angels, arriving at the home of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham falls down on his knees, recognizing the holy ones and addresses just one of the men/angels. These three respond sometimes in the singular, when "He" responds for all three and sometimes in the plural, when "they" respond as one.


All three angels are effectively repeats of the same figure, although with color alterations in their clothing. All three carry a rod or staff, surmounted by a cross, signifying that each is a Heavenly messenger. The central figure, dressed in court attire and formal hair-style typical of the emperor’s court at Byzantium, is understood to be Jesus. Jesus wears a dark purple chiton, or tunic, decorated with a gold embroidered clavis on the shoulder and a chlamys of intense blue. The wings depict them as an angels or winged messenger. Christ’s halo in this depiction is unusual in that the cruciform shape customary in iconographic representation  is absent. It appears that Rublev’s intent was to show all three persons of the Trinity as equal, even to the depiction of their halos. In the original all three halos were covered in gold, now lost (but above restored). Christ points to the vessel on the table and inclines his head and body in the direction of the angel to his right (the position of honor at table); this is understood to signify Christ’s acceptance of the Father’s will as the ultimate sacrifice.


The angel on Christ’s right, is understood to be God the Father. He is dressed similarly to Christ, but with more ethereal colors and a lightness of fabric. His chlamys is a paler purple with  gold highlights over an azure chiton. With his right hand God the Father blesses the chalice-like vessel containing the sacrificial calf (?). This symbolizes the Father ordaining the eventual sacrifice of sis son. This vessel and the white table-top are also seen as prefiguring the chalice and mensa, or altar, of the eucharist. The Father’s gaze is directed to the third angel…the third part of the trinity.


The angel on the viewer’s right is garbed similarly to the others…the ephemeral fabric and colors here represent the holy spirit descending and bringing new life to the apostles. In Russian Orthodoxy, the liturgical color for Pentecost is green; the Holy Spirit’s chlamys is a light green, as is the floor; symbolic of new growth.


In the background is the Oak Tree at Mamre, a precursor symbolic of the wood of the cross and the building is the home of Abraham and Sarah. On the viewer’s right, the mountain is shown bending down its top in an act of obeisance to and veneration of the Holy Trinity.


The First Council of Nicaea (325 AD)  promulgated the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity and was later reaffirmed by the First Constantinople Council (381 AD).




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