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I’m far from alone in treasuring Andrew Rublev’s The Holy Trinity more than any other work in the rich iconic tradition of the Orthodox Church. Painted in the fifteenth century, it depicts three angels sitting around three sides of a square table on which a chalice representing the Eucharist stands. The angels’ bodies and heads are inclined so that they inscribe a perfect circle, symbolizing the perfect unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is because the inner unity of God’s Trinitarian nature can’t be imaged that tradition has these three angels representing it.

A feature of Rublev’s Trinity often commented on is the empty place along the fourth side of the square table, the side closest to the viewer. This empty place is generally seen as an invitation to the viewer to join in God’s inner life — especially as the Eucharistic chalice stands close to the edge of this side of the table.

All these features of this famous icon inform Carrie Purcell Kahler’s poem, “After Rublev’s Trinity” (Image 99). The first lines’ inner rhyming of “face” and “space” invites us to picture ourselves as the “one more” welcomed to fill the empty space at the divine table. Then the poem imagines this space as a door that’s always “open” for us to “run through” for our safety. (There’s also a literal open door in the background of Rublev’s icon, in a house identified as Abraham’s when the angels visit him in Genesis 18.) Kahler’s poem ends with her interpretation of the hand of one of Rublev’s angels, a hand which — as she puts it — “ever reaches down.” That is, it reaches down to touch us, take our own hand, and draw us upward into the divine life. –Peggy Rosenthal

After Rublev’s Trinity

Each face turned toward
a face at table leaving
always a space for

one more. An open
door to run through when someone
can’t quite make it home

on their own. Though the
wings work, humans haven’t got
them, and it’s hard to

converse from heights so,
in one hand a staff to lean
on. The other hand
ever reaches down.

— Carrie Purcell Kahler


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