Most of us have seen Rublev’s ikon of the Hospitality of Abraham in which the Trinity is portrayed as three angelic persons in communion around a table. Now, of course many of us are predisposed to immediately point out the theological problems with the ikon, the most glaring of which is its seeming portrayal of the persons of the Trinity as three separate individuals. However, to enforce such theological specificity into an ikonic witness to the Trinity is to make a distinctly Western theological mistake, namely the mistake of thinking that we can univocally represent God in any form whatsoever, be it verbal or pictorial. What I find more illuminating and provocative about this ikon is actually its name. This is not simply an ikon of the immanent Trinity (how I think it is usually read), but of “the hospitality of Abraham.” I find a couple of insights in that.
First, the ikon is making a statement about how we encounter the fellowship of the triune God. In the ikon, we encounter the persons of the Trinity in and through the practice of hospitality to the stranger. Abraham’s encounter with God as recounted in Genesis 18 takes place in the context of the extension of table fellowship. The ikon seems here to be making a profound statement about where and how we are going to experience the life of triune communion. It seems to be implied that it is in extending hospitality to the stranger, opening up one’s life to the outsider that we commune with the triune persons.
Second, the table as portrayed in the ikon is clearly eucharistic in nature. This seems to say something about the eucharist and about hospitality. First, it seems to say that something central about the eucharist is the reality of hosting and being hosted by the triune God. The eucharist is an event of divine and human hospitality. While the ikon is of Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers, the presentation of the ikon has the front end of the table open to the reader of the ikon, beckoning the reader to see himself as being invited to the table. The eucharist, then is simultaneously the act of God’s hospitality, of welcoming created persons into fellowship with God’s triune life and the church’s act of opening our lives to God, offering him our gifts and begging him to remain with us. Conversely, the ikon also seems to be saying that hospitality is eucharistic. It seems to intimate that the offer of hospitality to the stranger is itself a sacramental and eucharistic reality in which the triune God comes to meet us. In and through the offer of hospitality and the act of eating together in peace, the reality of the Trinity is present among us in and as our koinonial and agapeic fellowship.
What I find most compelling about the Rublev ikon is the way in which it rightly portrays the relationship of giving and receiving hospitality to the fullness of the Christian mystery. For us to know the life of the Trinity in our midst is to live a life that embodies the traversal between the giving and the receiving of hospitality.