Trinity Icons in the Orthodox Iconography

Trinity Icons in the Orthodox Iconography

Trinity icons are a unique phenomenon in Orthodox iconography. While icons of saints can be conditionally interpreted as the images of the holy people depicted in them, it is pretty hard to present a clear image of the Trinity. The Trinity is not a saint, apostle, or even Jesus Christ in His physical incarnation. It is an abstract concept that depicts the unity of the three divine Natures of God: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Trinity icons have had a number of changes since the earliest images appeared. They had different iconographic versions, each trying to capture the essence of the unfathomable. Some of them were considered non-canonic, while others were accepted by the iconographic tradition.

Trinity icons. Canonic iconography

The Hospitality of Abraham

Trinity Icons in the Orthodox IconographyThe Hospitality of Abraham, or the Old Testament Trinity, is an iconographic version of the Trinity image, which has established itself as the primary, being widespread in the Orthodox world. The icon plot refers to the fragment from the Book of Genesis, where the Trinity appears in front of the Old Testament Prophet Abraham in the guise of three men/angels. This interpretation of the image of the Holy Trinity is most acceptable for the perception of believers since the human or angel form is an effective way to visualize immaterial ideas. Besides, the representation of three divine essences through the familiar images of the three figures is the best way to show their unity.

Paternity icon

The New Testament Trinity icons are represented by the Paternity icon. Its concept is more about simple perception than symbolism and philosophy as in the icon of the Hospitality of Abraham. Father and Son in this image are shown like father and son, literally. The Holy Spirit is depicted as a dove. There are different types of the New Testament Trinity iconography. In the Paternity icon, the Trinity is shown on the throne (Son is on His Father`s knees, and the Holy Spirit is in the sphere in Son`s hands). The Trinity is surrounded by seraphim and cherubim. In a similar type of iconography, Son appears as Christ the King, Father is shown next to Him, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a down is placed in the top center of the composition.

Trinity icons have different iconographic types, but all of them cause deep spiritual experience and the desire to understand the nature of the unfathomable.