LAMENTATION – Emmanuel Lambardos the Younger
(after the prototype in Crete; done about 1640 C.E.)
In accordance with traditional Byzantine Orthodoxy’s rubrics of iconography, to which Trinity’s Iconography Institute has chosen to adhere, an authorized prototype icon was sought from among several on which to base this re-creation. The image chosen was “The Lamentation” by Emmanuel Lambardos, the Younger, (Crete, about 1640 C.E.) Lambardos’ original, measuring 52.5 cm x 41.5 cm (about 20.5 inches wide by 16.5 inches high) now hangs in The Byzantine Museum, Athens, Greece. This re-creation is 44 inches wide by 37 inches high.
This icon-scene contains 10 figures in addition to the Body of Christ. To the far-left (from a viewer’s position) Mary, the “Theotokos” (The One who bore God) is seated; she cradles the head of the dead Christ. Behind the Theotokos, Mary Magdalene throws up her hands and arms (in anguish or a futile attempt to hold away the horror and fear of the moment?) The other women are professional mourners or “Wailing Women” who tear their clothes and undo their hair in grief.
In the center, St. John the Evangelist mourns, while Joseph of Arimathea, who provided Christ’s burial cave, holds a winding cloth and shroud to wrap the Sacred Body. On the right, Nicodemus peers through rungs of the ladder that he used to lift Christ down from the Cross. In the foreground is a basket of tools he used and the nails he took from Christ’s hands and feet. Beside the basket is a large two-handled vessel of ointment used to embalm the Sacred Body.
Colors used for virtually all garments of the women, are values of the same color used for the stone slab on which Christ’s Body rests. The Theotokos’ garments, by tradition, are in the style typical of a Byzantine Empress’ court dress. Stylized mountains at each side tell us that the icon’s action takes place outdoors. In accordance with stipulations of the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 C.E. the name of Jesus Christ, in abbreviated Greek form (IC – XC), is shown on the arms of the Cross. Essentially a “Good Friday” image, nevertheless Christian belief in the Resurrection to come underlies “The Lamentation” itself. Again, in accordance with Orthodox traditions, there is no banner with the letters INRI above the Cross; this is a later, Western Christian adaptation representing abbreviated Latin for “Jesus of Nazareth, Rex (King) of Jews”. (In Roman/Latin calligraphy, “J” was always shown as “I”.) The inscription is attributed to Pontius Pilate’s edict.
ST. THOMAS THE APOSTLE
(After the prototype of Christ; Istanbul, 13th Century C.E.)
This icon was created as a gift to the people of the Madhya/Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India (CSI) as a means to let them know of the concerns and prayers of the Diocese of Oregon for them as they recover from the devastation of the December 2004 tsunami.
This icon shows St.Thomas as he might have looked after spending several years in India. He is shown as a man in the prime of his life; energetic and a great builder of Churches throughout the region. St. Thomas was known as an architect and Church builder, as well as an Apostle. The icon is configured as a 14″ diameter circle within a 16″ x 16″ square. These are two of the most powerful symbols in architecture. Placing the circle in the square also produces the third very important architectural “icon”; the bracket, often found in church buildings supporting roofs and vaulted ceilings. The four brackets surrounding the circle of the icon are filled with scrollwork derived from carved marble decoration found in the Taj Mahal in India. Included within the scrollwork are logos representing Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Oregon and The Church of South India, Kerala.
There is no reliable historical fact concerning Thomas’ date of birth; he was undoubtedly Jewish and his martyrdom is recorded as having occurred in 72 C.E. at what was said to be an advanced age. Thomas was with Jesus, whose life and ministry ended, perhaps, in about 30 C.E. so at the time of Thomas’ ministry with Jesus, it may be concluded that Thomas must have been an adult, perhaps similar in age to Jesus. Historical references purport to show that Thomas was in India for a total of some 17 years.
Working in the Byzantine tradition, Iconographers are obliged to seek prototype images within the Canons of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Those of Thomas that are extant show him as a very young man; none show him in or after his later years in India.
The Government of India in 1964 and 1973 issued postage stamps to commemorate anniversaries of St. Thomas’ life and work in India. On one of those stamps Thomas is shown as an elderly man, with his facial hair very reminiscent of historic and contemporary hair and beard styles of older Indian men. This icon uses that stamp’s image for the face of Thomas rather than using a more readily available youthful European or Mediterranean Saint’s face. St. Thomas’ main body form is taken from a 14th Century C.E. icon of Christ Pantokrator…a full frontal Byzantine presentation, copied from a 13th Century C.E. mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Byzantium (by then, renamed Constantinople – modern-day Istanbul, Turkey).
The Saint is dressed in non-clerical garments typical of the Byzantine era. Thomas carries an open scroll, that of a philosopher, on which it is customary to write portions of Scripture. In this instance the words are the response that Thomas gave to Christ’s challenge – “My Lord and My God”. He is no longer the “Doubting Thomas” but the believer. The Saint’s halo is of pure gold, as is the background of the larger circle.
Surrounding the halo are 12 red garnets representing the 12 Apostles and a red fire opal, in the flame of the Holy Spirit above St. Thomas’ head, symbolizes the blood of martyrdom.
Thomas was slain by a spear or a lance and his remains are reputed to now rest in Ortona, Italy, having been translated there (after 5 or 6 other resting-places) in, perhaps, the 12th Century, C.E. Some of his remains are also believed to be in the Cathedral of Mylapore, India, having been found by some Portuguese in 1522 C.E. and taken there by them.
Legends survive to this day, that Thomas’ footprint was embedded in the rock on which he was slain. Other legends claim that he carved a cross on the rock where he was subsequently slain. A cross, similar to an ancient 6th Century C.E. cross – believed to be the one carved by Thomas, is reproduced on the back of this icon. A dedication “carta” is also affixed to the back of the icon.
St. Thomas is the patron saint of India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Pakistan, architects, builders, carpenters, stone-masons, surveyors, geometricians, theologians, blind people and people in doubt.
CHRIST PANTOKRATOR; CHRIST ENTHRONED
(After the prototype in Crete; 15th Century C.E.)
The “Pantokrator” and its companion piece, “The Hodegetria” were created as a pair of icons, or “diptych” as gifts to the Cathedral from the Iconography Institute, to commemorate Bishop Johncy Itty’s Consecration as Oregon’s Ninth Bishop, on September 20, 2003, and his Cathedral Enthronement on September 21 of that year.
This icon may correctly be referred to by either of the two names in the title above. The term “Pantokrator” translates to “Ruler of All” or “All Powerful” or “Lord of Hosts” and is a common icon, found almost universally in Orthodox Churches. Often, the Pantokrator occupies the entire dome of a church over the altar. The Pantokrator is often shown full-length, but also, frequently, half-length.
The earliest prototype version of this Pantokrator icon is part of a “triptych” (a three-part icon, hinged together) that pre-dates the 15th Century, C.E. and originating in Palermo, Italy. In the mid-15th Century C.E. an unknown iconographer in Crete, using the Palermo version as his basis, created a similar prototype, the central part of which was selected as the subject for this icon. The 3-part prototype icon measured approximately 41cm. x 36cm. (16” high by 14” wide) while its central portion was some 28cm. x 18cm. (11” high by 7” wide.) This icon measures 36” high by 26.5” wide. Present locations of both prototype icons are unknown.
The icon shows Christ enthroned and vested in the Sacerdotal garb of an Orthodox Bishop. In some prototypes Christ is shown wearing the Byzantine “crown” or mitre, typical of an Orthodox Bishop or Patriarch. In this image, Christ does not wear crown or mitre. Orthodox Bishops traditionally wear all the vestments that a priest would wear, plus a seamless over-garment, or “saccos” representative of the garment worn by Christ. In this icon, the saccos is covered by small blue crosses. A Bishop also wears two “stoles”, the “epitrachelion” of a priest (in this icon it is red, under the saccos) and an “omorphion” – the stole of a Bishop – over the saccos. The white omorphion in this icon is also decorated with crosses, this time of gold.
Christ’s right hand (left to the viewer) protrudes from the saccos, showing one of the two liturgical cuffs worn by priests; His hand is held in the traditional “IC-XC” (the abbreviation of “Jesus Christ” in Greek) style blessing. Christ’s left hand holds the open Book of Gospels. It is traditional to select any quotation attributable to Christ, to be placed on the open Gospel’s page. Often, the donor, or whomever commissions an icon, will choose some appropriate quote. The symbols “Alpha” and “Omega”, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, were selected for this image because of the powerful statement that Christ made with respect to the significance and infinite scope of His Ministry “I am the Beginning and the End”.
Note that on each side of Christ’s head are parts of His abbreviated name. On the arms of the Cross in Christ’s nimbus (“halo”) are Greek characters, in abbreviation of His statement “I am who I am”. (Ex. 3:14). The throne, which is repeated in the “Virgin Hodegetria”, has finials on the ends of the back-rest; these finials are done in a blood red and gold, symbolizing the flames of martyrdom which many Bishops throughout history have had to endure. The throne rests on a pure lapis-lazuli floor; the gemstone was ground to a fine powder and mixed with a medium to create a paint. This gemstone used in an icon always indicates Heaven and pure gold represents Heavenly light.
There are twelve gemstones mounted into the nimbus of Christ in this icon; they are those specified as required to be on the “Pectoral of Judgment” or “breastplate” of Aaron, the Hebrew’s first High Priest. (Ex.28: 15-21) The 12 pearls in the nimbus refer to the 12 gates of “New Jerusalem” that are said to be pearls. (Rev.21: 21) Pearls also symbolize wisdom and purity.
This symbolism of the twelve gemstones was chosen by the iconographers to create a direct link between Aaron, Judaism’s first High Priest – the first “Bishop” and Johncy Itty, Oregon’s newest Bishop. The twelve stones are “…carnelian, chrysolite, emerald, turquoise, sapphire, amethyst, jacinth, agate, crystal, beryl, lapis-lazuli, jasper”. (Torah/Tanakh.) Although there are some discrepancies in the names of the gemstones cited in various Christian translations of the Bible, there is a similar symbolic association of twelve gemstones in Rev. 21:10-21, where these same gems are listed as the foundation stones for the City of the “New Jerusalem”.
Besides the 12 gems specified as being on Aaron’s breastplate, there are 12 Princes of Israel, 12 Tribes of Israel (representing the whole of Israel) 12 sons of Jacob and 12 Chief Priests. There are 12 Gates of “New Jerusalem”, the 12 pearls that are those Gates and 12 foundation stones of “New Jerusalem” (the same gems as are on Aaron’s breastplate). There were, of course, also 12 Apostles.
In Hebrew tradition, the number 12 is representative of all that is perfection and totality. The number 12 appears with great frequency in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, including the squaring of 12 (144) in reference to the multitudes saved, in Revelation (Ch. 7). This squaring represents the quality of absolute totality.
VIRGIN HODEGETRIA; THE WAYSHOWER
(After the prototype in Greece [Mt. Athos]; 1629 C.E.)
The term “Hodegetria” is Greek and translates to “One who Shows the Way”. The Virgin is shown presenting Christ to the viewer and Mary’s fingers, unnaturally elongated, point to Christ as “The Way”. Although the Virgin is the largest subject, the principal person in the icon is, of course, Christ who is shown as a miniature adult philosopher. It is typical that the Virgin is never shown in any icon without Christ also being present. She is “only” revered as the “Theotokos”, the One who Bore God.
The earliest prototype version of the Hodegetria icon dates from around the mid 6th Century, C.E. However, the one used here is that from the Mt. Athos Monastery in Greece dating from 1629 C.E. The Mt. Athos prototype measures approximately 19″ high by 13″ wide. This icon measures 36” high by 26.5” wide.
The Virgin is shown enthroned and as usual, dressed as an Empress in the Byzantine Court. On each side of Christ’s head are the Greek letters “IC- XC” – these are the customary abbreviations of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ”. On the arms of the Cross in Christ’s nimbus are Greek characters, in abbreviation of “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14). On each side of the head of the Virgin, are the Greek characters that, in abbreviation, denote “Holy Mary” and “Mother of God”.
While the throne in the “Hodegetria” icon is virtually identical to that used in “Christ Pantokrator”, the finials of the Virgin’s throne are of white gold, symbolizing purity. The Virgin is crowned with a replica of the Byzantine Empress’s crown; Mary’s crown, which is also made of white gold, includes the gemstones sapphire, amethyst, red garnets and peridot. The many Baroque pearls used in Mary’s crown allude to her purity. A large ruby brooch at the Virgin’s throat is symbolic of the Passion and Blood of Christ.
Typically, the Virgin is always shown in icons with a starburst on each shoulder (one is often hidden by Christ’s body) and one on Her forehead. These starbursts symbolize the Church’s pronouncement of Her virginity before, during and after Christ’s birth. In this icon each of these starbursts is an iolite gemstone; in ancient mythology it is said that iolites were used by Vikings to refract light and so became navigational aids. Use of these gemstones alludes to Mary’s title of the “Wayshower”.
On Mary’s halo single roses (Rosa Rugosa) are incised into the gold, referencing Her title of “The rose without a thorn”. The floor under the footstool on which the Virgin’s feet rest is of pure lapis lazuli.
ST. CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA
St. Catherine is revered as a very learned person, a virgin and martyr born of a noble (perhaps Greek) family. Although some accounts attribute to her the title Princess, there appears to be no historical, factual data to support this claim to Royalty. In fact, little of anything factual exists with respect to her life or death; she does not appear in any written history prior to the ninth century of the Common Era (C.E.). Legend has it that Catherine was born in Egypt in the latter part of the third century C.E. Eusebius, sometimes referred to as the father of Church historians and Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, records her death date as 305 C.E. in the city of Alexandria. She was approximately 18 years old. The Eastern Church celebrates her feast day on November 24 (Slavic) or November 25 (Greek). In 1969 the Roman church expunged her feast day from the Western Calendar.
It is believed that Catherine was a great beauty and very learned. The pagan Emperor Maximinus (reigned 305 – 315 C.E.) propositioned Catherine and, in refusing his advances and offer of marriage, she angered him and was called before a tribunal. At her trial Catherine upbraided the Maximinus for his torturing and slaughtering of Christians. She is said to have preached to him to give up his worship of false gods. Maximinus brought in 50 wise (pagan) scholars to refute her arguments but instead, her rhetoric persuaded the scholars to accept Christianity. In his outrage, the emperor had all the scholars executed and sentenced Catherine to death on the spiked wheel.
There are at least two versions of her martyrdom. In the Eastern Church, it is said she (or a ministering angel) miraculously broke the spiked wheel—the intended instrument of her torture. Flying pieces of it were said to have killed some of her putative executioners. Many witnesses to this miracle (including the Empress Augusta and 200 soldiers) immediately professed their belief in Christ and were executed. When Catherine was then beheaded with an axe (or sword), legend says that milk flowed from her veins.
The Western Church attributes her death to her being broken on the spiked wheel (hence, a “Catherine wheel” —a popular firework in Europe). In the visual art of the West, St. Catherine is often depicted with a book (wisdom), a martyr’s crown, a broken wheel and an axe or sword—the latter three items referring to the manner of her death. Legend has it that angels carried St. Catherine’s body to Mount Sinai. Another legend has it that after her death, Catherine was transported bodily to heaven and betrothed to Jesus Christ, by action of the Virgin Mary. In the sixth (or eighth) century C.E. Catherine’s body (or head and left hand according to other legends) was found on Mt. Sinai. The relics were taken to the Byzantine Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration, built by order of Emperor Justinian (reigned 527-565 C.E.) on the site of Moses’ metamorphosis (transfiguration). Because of the monastery’s close association with her bodily relics, it is now referred to simply as “St. Catherine’s” Monastery.
There is an ancient Irish Gaelic poem in which Catherine is titled “Star of the World”; she is the patron saint of virgins, nuns, students, philosophers, orators, nurses, saddlers, rope-makers, librarians, lawyers, secretaries, spinsters, potters, mechanics and wheelwrights. She is also extremely popular in France (and is patroness of the University of Paris) and was one of the saints who spoke to St. Jeanne d’ Arc, giving her instructions, prayer support and help. St. Catherine is also patroness of Kappa Gamma Pi, the Roman Catholic Women’s Honor Society.
St. Katharine of Vadstena (c1331-1381)
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is named after the 14-century C.E. Swedish saint, the daughter of St. Bridget of Sweden [also Briggitta] – (1303-1373 C.E.) and her husband Ulf Gudmarsson, both of whom were active in the Swedish Royal Court. During their lifetimes, all of Scandinavia was united under the Crown of Sweden. In 1341 Bridget and Ulf went on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Typical of pilgrims of that time, they would have worn the scallop shell badge signifying their pilgrimage and then would have left their shell badges at the cathedral there. On their return journey, Ulf became ill and Bridget received a vision to preach the Word of God; shortly after their return to Sweden, Ulf died and Bridget founded the Religious Order of St. Bridget (the Briggittines) housed in Vadstena, on an estate granted to her by the King of Sweden.
While visiting Rome, St. Bridget was very active in trying to bring the competing popes of that time to a resolution of their conflict; and also with urging the Swedish king to respect the Word of God. Bridget’s daughter, Katharine, also a devoted member of that Order, succeeded her mother as superior general in 1373. St. Katharine’s Feast Day is March 24. Because St. Katharine of Vadstena was canonized by the Western Church after the Great Schism in 1054 C.E. (between the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman Empire and Christianity), we had to revert to St. Katharine’s namesake and martyr in Sinai for the prototype from which to create this icon.
Our iconographers are required by the Byzantine tradition, under whose Canons we have agreed to work, to always use an existing, Orthodox Church-approved prototype. There were many images of Holy Catherine from which to choose; this icon faithfully re-presents and combines elements of three originals in St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai.
Hagia Aekatarina Eikon
Hagia Aekatarina is a Greek phrase, literally translated as “holy, ever pure one, Catherine”. This icon is painted on a birch wood panel, measuring 18″ wide and 30″ high that has been prepared with many coats of gesso (a white paste made of calcium carbonate and glue). While principal elements of an icon must always remain unchanged, the iconographer may add secondary elements, often to recognize the recipient, donor, or allusions to relevant and appropriate events or places.
We chose to include symbols of the Saint’s and presiding bishop’s many major attributes: books (for their wisdom and scholarship), and an inkhorn and quill pen (as symbols of teaching and writing). A cartographer’s divider, armillary planisphere and astrolabe—ancient instruments used to navigate and determine altitude, allude to essential tools for a pilot—as our presiding bishop is now the Navigator of the Church.
The standing, full-frontal figure of the Saint comes from the two earliest (13th century) Sinai presentations of her. The clothing is taken from a third icon—a reclining image of St. Catherine by Victor of Crete (17th century). St. Catherine is shown standing in a stone niche, on a carpet, on a floor of lapis lazuli (the gemstone having been ground into a medium to make paint). The Saint holds a martyr’s cross, drawn from the Royal Doors of the Basilica of St. Justinian in St. Catherine’s, Sinai. Her bejeweled crown and the cross surmounting it (all crafted of 23-carat white gold) symbolize her dual royal and martyr status.
St. Catherine wears a chiton, the court dress of Byzantium; it is the blood-red color of a martyr. Over her chiton she wears a royal purple velvet chlamys, or mantle. The chlamys is lavishly embroidered in gold thread, which, when closed, displays the double-headed, crowned eagle of Byzantium. A jeweled clasp secures her chlamys. Catherine’s chiton is decorated with clavi—lavish areas of diapered gold and with large numbers of pearls and gems. Her loros, similar to a priest’s stole, extends around her back and drapes over her left arm.
The niche archway and cross-decorated plinth are architectural features copied from the Chapel of St. Tryphon in the St. Catherine Monastery at Mt. Sinai. Shown as carved into the stone arch are stylized scallop shells. A Primatial staff and the Episcopal Church escutcheon surmounted by a bishop’s mitre, denote Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori’s role as its primate. The logo of Oregon’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and a pastoral crozier, reference the diocese of the presiding bishop’s ordination and first years as a priest in Oregon. The Saint emanates a glow over the whole niche. Pink pearls surround the Saint’s nimbus or halo, while the floral motifs of gold pastiglia echo those of her chlamys.
The desk beside the Saint is decorated with stylized scallop shell motifs found on the iconostasis (icon screen) in the Chapel of St. Marina, Sinai. Ocean pearls and scallop shells throughout this icon, representing the genus phylum mollusca, also allude to the presiding bishop’s former professional life as an oceanographer. Scallop shells were also worn by pilgrims in Europe, either in their hat or around their neck, as symbols of their pilgrimage. True to the Orthodox tradition, this icon does not show any of the instruments of the Saint’s torture and death.
Since the end of the iconoclastic period, iconographers are required by edicts of the Second Council of Nicaea (787 C.E.) to show the name of the subject of an icon. Because of the many variants of this Saint’s name and in recognition of that which is used by Presiding Bishop Katharine, we have chosen to write it in paleographic Greek.
On the reverse of this icon and placed within the arms of a 12th century cross, copied from a church door in Christiansand, Norway (then part of Sweden), are a dedicatory carta and several prayers. Icons are always written anonymously, the iconographers whose hands worked on this icon are identified by first name only, as are those who contributed gems, pearls and gold. We ask your prayers for our institute’s work, mission and ministry.
Symbolism of Gold and Gemstones
Pure (23-carat) yellow gold used throughout the icon and on clothing signifies Heavenly light. In all, there are 94 gemstones and pearls embellishing this icon and they are all highly symbolic. The brow-band of the Crown has 12 black or pavonine pearls representing the Apostles. Four exquisite, un-drilled, perfectly round, matched white pearls appended to the crown points represent the four Gospel writers. In the center panel of the white-gold crown is an oval amethyst, with smaller ones on the sides, alluding to the Saint’s legendary royal status. The amethysts’ purple also refers to the fact that in the early Christian Church, members of cadet branches of royal or princely families were often made primates of a church or monastery. Two black pearls, amid four white Baroque pearls on the crown’s side panels represent the dual nature of Christ. Elsewhere, pink and white pearls denote the Saint’s purity and virtue, while also alluding to their source, the oceans—the study of which was our Presiding Bishop’s early professional life’s work.
The clasp fastening the Saint’s chlamys contains an iolite gem and four sea-green jade stones. Sea-green jade is a further reference to the oceans. Early Scandinavian sailors were said to have used an iolite gem to refract light, as a navigational aid. The iolite thus recalls St. Catherine’s guiding others to Christ and also foreshadows that same role that a presiding bishop must fulfill in the Church. Reference to the iolite’s provenance also reflects the Scandinavian origin of our presiding bishop’s patron, St. Katharine of Vadstena.
Red garnets set into the Martyr’s Cross, which the Saint holds in her right hand, symbolize the Sacred Blood of Christ and blood of the Saint’s own martyrdom.
Lapis lazuli, when used in an icon always symbolizes the floor of Heaven. Turquoise stones, which Native Americans use to symbolize heaven and the sky, decorate the equatorial band of the armillary planisphere.
St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai
The Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration was built at the foot of Mt. Sinai, Egypt by order of the Roman Emperor Justinian, between 527 and 565 C.E. It encloses the legendary site where Moses saw the Burning Bush; where he was transfigured and received the Tablets of the Law. It is now most often referred to by its more familiar name “St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai.” This name came about because the monastery is said to contain the remains of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Reputed to be the oldest continuously functioning Christian monastery, it houses many valuable works of art, codices and manuscripts (its collection is second only to the Vatican Library, in Rome). The monastery also contains probably the world’s finest, largest and oldest collection of icons, including the three prototypes of St. Catherine from which this icon is re-created. The monastery is a very popular site of pilgrimage for all Christians.
THE “HOLY TRINITY” ICON- THE “TROITSA”
The name “Troitsa” is the Russian name given to his icon by the most famous Russian iconographer, St. Andrei Rublev, who lived from about 1370 until 1430 C.E.; Rublev was a professed Orthodox monk living in St. Sergius Monastery, Moscow.
The “Holy Trinity” icon is the Patronal icon of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. The gift to the Cathedral by Trinity’s Iconography Institute of this icon commemorates the Ordination and Consecration of The Rt. Rev. Michael J. Hanley, as 10th Bishop of Oregon.
As iconographers, we must always refer to a prototype that has been approved by the Orthodox Church. Rublev’s icon was chosen as the prototype because it is the most well-known Russian icon, probably in the whole world, but certainly in Orthodoxy. In 1551 C.E. the Stoglav Synod, also known as the Council of 100 Chapters, decreed that henceforth, Rublev’s model was to be the prototype for all future Holy Trinity icons.
THE ICON PROTOTYPE
The original prototype of Rublev’s “Troitsa” is now housed in the Tretyakov Museum, Moscow. We are fortunate that it was not one of those looted by the Bolsheviks following the 1920s Revolution. Miraculously, it was spared the defacing and desecration suffered by so many icons at that time and the earlier, iconoclastic period. That it has survived, somewhat intact, for over 600 years is a great achievement. And while the icon has suffered at the hands of contemporary “restorers” and “curators”, nevertheless, we can still see some of the great master’s handiwork. In deciding to re-create this icon, we vowed to adhere as closely as possible to Rublev’s original, or the intent of the original. It is widely reported that most of Rublev’s icons did not come down to us intact and that in most, the gold was absent. We do not know if this was due to deterioration through age and storage, or theft. We have had to do some research into what might have been in the several voids in the surviving prototype – our decision to use gold as the “sky” or background is perfectly logical since gold in an icon always represents the “light of Heaven”. It has only recently come to our attention that iconographers of old were particularly adroit in using gold as a reflector of light, (especially light of candles and oil-lamps) in so doing, bringing alive the images shown.
TRINITY CATHEDRAL’S ICON
Rublev’s original, painted in egg-tempera, is some 56” high by 45” wide; ours is 48” high by 40” wide, closely approximate to the original. Our re-creation is written using acrylic paint and 23 carat gold, on a 7/8” thick wood panel., with a raised border surrounding the images. The “Troitsa” icon was written by Rublev in 1411 in commemoration of St. Sergeii Radonezh, (1314-1392 C.E.) to be installed in the newly-built, stone, Holy Trinity Cathedral in Moscow, replacing a wooden structure that had burned down. Although some 500 years intervened, both Trinity Cathedrals, the one in Moscow and the one in Portland, Oregon, share similar histories of their first wooden structures being burned down and, phoenix-like, replaced by new ones built of stone. In this, as in name, we share a common bond with Holy Trinity Cathedral, Moscow.
THE BIBLICAL STORY
In the Hebrew Testament, the animal of sacrifice was usually described as being a calf, whereas in the Christian Testament, the sacrificial animal is a lamb; this icon then refers us to the Hebrew Testament where this story is told.
Genesis 18 tells us of the recognition and veneration by Abraham of God as Three Persons. Depending on which Bible edition or translation one reads, the story tells of three handsome (beautiful) 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. Curiously, the Scriptures tell us that these three respond sometimes in the singular, when “He” responds for all three and sometimes in the plural, when “they” respond as one.
The First Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.) had promulgated the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity; it was later reaffirmed by the First Constantinople Council (381 C.E.). At the time Rublev wrote this icon, there was considerable discussion and heresy extant in the Russian Orthodox Church over the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity as required for all Christians.
THE ICON DEPICTS THE STORY
All three angels are effectively repeats of the central figure, although with color alterations to their clothing. All three carry a rod or staff, surmounted by a cross, signifying that each is a Heavenly messenger. In this way, we are able to represent those who have not been seen on earth, without violating Orthodox Church Canons regarding our being forbidden to actually depict God the Father or the Holy Spirit, since they have not been seen.
The central figure, dressed in Court attire of heavy, earth-bound, clothing and formal hair-style typical of the Emperor’s Court at Byzantium, is understood to be Jesus Christ. Jesus wears a dark purple chiton , or tunic, decorated with a gold embroidered clavis, (decoration) on the shoulder and a chlamys (heavy cloak) of intense blue.
All of Christ’s garments drape in stiff, formal, classical folds; wings depict Him as an angel or winged messenger. Christ’s nimbus (halo) in this depiction is highly unusual in that the cruciform shape customary in every iconographic representation of Christ’s halo is here absent. It appears that Rublev’s intent was to show all three persons of the Trinity as equal, even to the depiction of their nimbii. In the original, it appears that all three nimbii were once covered in gold, now lost (but here, now 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 His 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 “not of this world”. His chlamys is a paler purple with much gold assiste (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 His Son. This vessel and the white table-top are also seen as prefiguring the Chalice and Mensa (altar) of the Eucharist. The Father’s gaze is directed to the third angel…the third part of the Holy 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; the green symbolic of new growth. In its “home” Cathedral, Rublev’s icon was the Pentecost Festal icon.
In the background we see the Oak Tree at Mamre, a precursor symbolic of the ” Wood of The Cross” and the building, the home of Abraham and Sarah. On the viewer’s right, the mountain is shown bending down its tip in an act of obeisance to and veneration of, the Holy Trinity.
The rectangular space in the front of the table is a curiosity. Traditionally, icons are written in the Byzantine “flat” style, with no conventional perspective used at all. However, this “hole” is in perfect perspective…perhaps Rublev’s way of saying, “we know all about perspective but it is not what we show in icons…we show the spiritual world and the subject’s spiritual qualities”. In fact, it depicts the space on the Eastern side of a mensa where traditionally, relics of saints and reserved, consecrated Eucharistic elements were set. (Today, we use the aumbrie for reserving consecrated elements.) The overall composition is one of extremely elegant proportions and defined circular movement in the center of the icon created by the bending bodies, the feet and floor pedestals, inclining of the heads and the building, tree and mountain. This icon is especially effective at drawing in the viewer and capturing his or her meditation.
Students and their instructor donated their time, skills, paints and gold to create this icon as a gift from Trinity Iconography Institute to the Cathedral, in commemoration of Bishop Michael Hanley’s Consecration on April 10 and his Cathedral Seating on April 11, 2010. The icon was begun on February 1; it was completed on March 8 and was blessed by Bishop Hanley on April 11 during his Installation and Seating ceremonies. The Institute gratefully acknowledges the generous financial assistance from the Vestry and Family Ministry of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.