This is an icon (theology in painting) believed by many to represent the Holy Trinity. We're unsure of the iconographer, but it is believed to have been Andrei Rublev, many centuries ago.
The original depiction probably was the three angels who appeared to Abraham at the Terebinth (Oaks) of Mamre, to tell Abraham of Sarah's impending pregnancy (Gen 18:1).
But for centuries people have seen the Trinity depicted in this icon. Theologically, we can hold on to both ideas. Three angels visited Abraham, and angels always represent God, for, although God and His angels are completely separate beings, God's angels are His messengers and they say and do only what God commands them to say or do. To look at an angel and hear his words is tantamount to seeing God and hearing His words. The three angels could have been sent to represent the Three Divine Persons, relaying their message of joy intended for Abraham and Sarah.
Three persons, but one God. So we must see indications of this unity in essence, in being - in this icon.
- all 3 angels look more or less similar in over-all features : physical dimension, facial aspects, hair, halos, wings, clothing (an inner tunic and a cloak).
- all 3 wear a touch of blue, representing the blue heavens, the place of God
- all three hold a staff, a sign of authority. God again!
- all three form a kind of circle, or triangle, depending on your perspective. Either way, all 3 make one geometric figure.
The Father (The Angel on the Left)
- this angel (representing God the Father) holds His staff with both hands; full authority is with the Father. That's what makes Him Father. As Father, He is greater than the Son in terms of order and relation, but the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are equal in divinity, power, wisdom and so on. This is why Jesus always said He obeyed His Father.
- He is the only one of the three who is not touching the table. The table represents creation. God the Father never became man (the Son did); He never descended on humans (the Spirit did). Though He is our creator and sustainer, the Father is above and beyond us. Of all 3 persons, He is the most mysterious to us, though Christ solves that dilemma as we will see. That is why the Church has always been cautious and reserved about making images of God the Father.
- His blue is greatly reduced by an unusual, ethereal color in the cloak. This points to the Father's more mysterious personality. More of the blue is hidden, to signify the Father's more mysterious personality.
- of the three, He appears the most independent. He neither bows to the 2nd nor the 3rd angel. His gaze is in their direction but somehow not strongly focused specifically on either. This is the grandeur of the Father, who occupies first place as Father even within the Trinity.
- behind Him is a house. This represents the tent that Abraham built at Mamre, but let us also remember what Jesus said, "In my Father's house, there are many rooms."
The Son (The Middle Angel)
- He wears two colors of equal amount; heavenly blue for His divinity and the reddish brown of the earth - His humanity. A gold stripe from the shoulder on down represents His kingship.
- He taps the table (creation) with two fingers. In Christ, God became man; He took on the nature of a creature. But He did not lose His divinity in the process. Two fingers, two natures : divine and human. He "touches" the table and becomes one of us.
- His fingers point in the direction of a cup; the chalice which represents His sacrifice.
- Behind Him is a tree, perhaps the Oak of Mamre, but also signifying the cross. Sin entered the world through eating the forbidden fruit of a tree in the Garden of Eden (Adam and Eve). Salvation comes from Christ (New Adam) drinking the chalice of sacrifice while hanging on a tree (of the Cross).
- At the Oak of Mamre, Abraham and Sarah were overjoyed upon hearing from the angels that they would have a son. This son (Isaac) was born partly through nature and partly beyond nature, since Sarah was barren. Jesus is the Son born partly through nature (He had a human mother) but also in a miraculous way - a virgin birth! And Jesus is the cause of our joy.
- He bows His head in the direction of the Father. Christ loves and obeys His Father; He is the revelation of the Father (He who sees Me sees the Father) because Christ is the Word, the Logos of the Father. Christ also comes from the Father - and thus is Son. He nods towards the Father as if to say to us, "Look at me, and I will point you in the direction of My Father."
The Spirit (The Angel on the Right)
- He wears divine blue, but is also clothed in green, the color of life. The Holy Ghost is the life of the Church. When the soul leaves a body, the body dies. When the Holy Ghost came upon the Church on Pentecost, the Church came alive! Pentecost is the birthday of the Church.
- He touches the table with His finger. The Holy Ghost descended on the Church. He is the Sanctifier.
- Behind Him is a mountain. God appears on mountains. Think of Moses and Mt Sinai. Our Lord and Mt Tabor (Transfiguration). Though disguised by blood and spittle, God is nailed to a cross on Mt Calvary. God is the meeting place of God and man. It is the Holy Ghost who sanctifies us, who brings us to God. When Elijah was on a mountain, he did not perceive God in the violent earthquake, howling wind or fierce fire, but only in the gentle breeze. This is the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of love and peace.
- He bows His head towards the two figures on the left. This is because the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. He is the love between the Father and the Son. It can also be said that He points slightly more in the direction of the middle angel. The Spirit leads us to Christ, who in turn leads us to the Father.
Notice how the scene, though forming a circle or triangle, also opens up to you, the viewer. There is an empty space in the middle, towards the bottom. A place where you or I may sit.
You and me - miserable, sinful creatures! Made of flesh and blood, which dies and decays. Burdened with the guilt of so many sins. Yet, God made us for Him. To know, love and serve Him, and be somewhat happy in this life and perfectly happy in the next life.
Jesus said, "Those who love Me will keep My word, and My Father will love them; and We will come to them and make Our home with them." We are being invited to become part of God's divine family, as adopted children of the Father, through the rebirth by water and the Holy Ghost, made possible by the suffering, death and resurrection of God-made-man, Jesus Christ.