A few months after we had moved into our new home, one of my favorite monks, Fr. Thomas Leitner joined us for a special dinner and house blessing. After the introductory prayers and Scripture readings, Fr. Thomas sprinkled Holy Water that had been blessed at the Easter Vigil in each of our rooms—the living room, bedrooms, kitchen, upstairs, downstairs and even next door at Al and Beth’s house, our townhouse roofmates—and a little extra splash for our loyal Dachsy-Poo, Bailey. Our daughter, who was finishing her last year in college, would spend a few months living in our new home, but mostly it would become our empty nest. This blessing for our home was also a blessing for the next chapter in our lives.
Fr. Thomas also gave us a special gift, a replica of Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity Icon. An icon, an image or religious picture, communicates a deeper spiritual meaning often used in prayer and meditation for Christians throughout the world. It was a special image for him, used as the holy card for his ordination and First Mass in 1992.* He enthusiastically shared with us why he also felt it represented how we would welcome those who entered as guests and the hospitality we would extend in our new home.
The three angels in the icon symbolize the three strangers that Abraham welcomes into his tent in Genesis.
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent…he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them …He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice calf, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it. Then he got some curds and milk, as well as the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them, waiting on them under the tree while they ate (Genesis 18:1–8).
The three angels wear different colored garments representing their distinct role in the relationship of the Trinity. Viewed left to right, the angels represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “The first angel wears a blue undergarment, symbolizing the divine nature of God and a purple outer garment, pointing to the Father’s kingship. The second angel is the most familiar as he is wearing the clothes typically worn by Jesus…The crimson color symbolizes Christ’s humanity, while the blue is indicative of his divinity. The oak tree behind the angel reminds us of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden as well as the cross upon which Christ saved the world from the sin of Adam. The third angel is wearing a blue garment (divinity), as well as a green vestment over the top. The color green points to the earth and the Holy Spirit’s mission of renewal…The two angels on the right of the icon have a slightly bowed head toward the other, illustrating the fact that the Son and Spirit come from the Father.” (Source: The Russian Icon that Reveals the Mystery of the Trinity, Alteteia, Philip Kosloski, May 21, 2016)
A chalice sits at the center of the table representing both the literal meal the strangers were invited to and the table of the Eucharist we are invited to. It appears the Holy Spirit points towards an open space at the table, perhaps as an invitation to each of us, to all, to sit at the table—to be welcomed and received as Christ.
“At the front of the table, there appears to be a little rectangular hole. Most people pass right over it, but some art historians believe the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps once a mirror glued to the front of the table. It’s stunning when you think about it—there was room at this table for a fourth. The observer. You!” (Source: Take Your Place at the Table, Tuesday, September 13, 2016, Richard Rohr)
Fr. Thomas’ gift was a perfect expression of what Joe and I desire our home to be—hospitable and welcoming. Ironically, or providentially, a nail hung on an empty wall near where we opened our gift, so I placed the icon on it. It is the perfect place for it—in our living room where friends and family gather, and at the entry to our kitchen where most entertaining takes place.
Holy Trinity Sunday is celebrated in many churches this weekend. It is an opportunity to remember, “…this Table is not reserved exclusively for the Three, nor is the divine circle a closed circle: we’re all invited in.” (Source: The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell)
St. Benedict insisted that hospitality be one of the highest values for monasteries, writing “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” (RB 53:1) Being hospitable is our opportunity to respond to God’s great generosity towards us. If we are truly made in God’s image, lovingly invited to the Table and to dance with the Holy Trinity, then we are meant to extend that welcoming invitation to others.
*A note from Fr. Thomas: This icon, which is used to depict the Holy Trinity, originally was meant to show the three Divine visitors to Abraham (Gen 18:1-15). The day of my First Mass in Noerdlingen was the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C. On this day, Gen 18:1-10a is in the Lectionary in conjunction with Luke 10:38-42, Mary and Martha. The topic of hospitality, that we find as we combine these texts lent itself so well for the homily (preached by my former novice master, Fr. Meinrad) and also for my little speech at the reception. We practice hospitality and, perhaps without being aware of it, receive God in the guest.
Read more about Icon of the Holy Trinity by St Andrei Rublev