Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trinity Sunday and the Hospitality of Abraham

Being Trinity Sunday, my mind turned to the fact that, within the Byzantine church particularly, the scene of the "Hospitality of Abraham" is particularly associated with the Holy Trinity. The reason for this, as Eastern Orthodox theologian Leonid Ouspensky notes in The Meaning of Icons, is that "many Church Fathers understood the visitation of Abraham by the three men as either an appearance, however indirect, of the entire Trinity; or as the appearance of the second Person of the Holy Trinity, accompanied by two angels."

The most famous iconographic depiction of this is, without doubt, Andrei Rublev's icon, though it should be noted this particular icon varies somewhat from the more classic iconographic depictions, which includes the figures of Abraham and Sarah.

Rublev's icon to the right. Another depiction to the left, which includes Abraham and Sarah

Evidently, we are predominantly familiar with this scene from such icons, but while looking into the symbolism of this icon today, I noted that both Ouspensky and other Eastern Christian writers make reference to a 5th century mosaic of the Hospitality of Abraham in Rome's papal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. I sourced out this mosaic and thought some of our readers would be interested in seeing it.

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