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The Mystery of the Holy Trinity: A Divine Project for the World of Man

A Theological Contemplation in the Light of the Holy Trinity Icon In the Context of the Arab World and its Churches. Fr. Rafiq Khoury

by mPeNDayu

The mystery of the Holy Trinity is in the heart of our Christian faith, and it is in the East in the core of our Christian witness. Dealing with it in a place like this which attempts to read the Christian faith in the context of the present and the historical calls in our East and in the world can open boundless horizons of contemplation and thinking to reach a church and societal commitment in the world of today and in our world in particular.

          On a personal note I say that when I read the title of this conference, that is “Unity and Trinity,” the icon of the Holy Trinity by the Russian monk, Andre Roublev, imposed itself on my mind, heart and imagination. I wanted my talk to be a theological meditation in the light of this icon, in the context of the Arab world and its churches considering that the icon is contemporary for us and addresses us in our realistic historical circumstances. I am not a specialist in the art of icons, but this icon has been talking to me since the beginning of my priestly and pastoral life. It addresses me, dialogues with me, challenges me, provokes me and calls me by the splendor of its mystery which cannot be fathomed.

          There is no doubt that this icon opens the doors wide before theological study, spiritual and emotional contemplation, mystic awe and poetic and imaginary ecstasy. In all cases, it puts us before a world which immerses us with its light and joy. It leaves us in a state of bewilderment, tranquility, silence and yearning. Are not the words in some instances a reduction of the width of the mystery, so that they are unable to fathom the richness of its meanings and the fertility of its vitality? This icon carries the divine mystery from the abstract strata of the mind to the existential extent which is flowing with life and vitality. What we cannot recognize by the abstract wind is said by the icon in colors which address the heart through the eyes. It had been said that the icon is theology for the eyes.

          It was possible – or perhaps more useful – to suffice ourselves by presenting the icon for silent contemplation so that it reveals for us its secrets in all the directions. The icon is nearer to  prayed contemplation than to  mental analysis. The richness of the symbols in it cannot make stops at each of them.

          As the title indicates, this contemplation attempts to connect the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the icon of the Holy Trinity and the Arab world and its churches in a compre-hensive vision. Accordingly meditation is done on three levels:

1)     The level of the world in general and the Arab world in particular

2)     The level of the church and our churches

3)     The level of the other and the relation with him.

The icon of the Holy Trinity is before us with all of its splendor and calls. Therefore I invite you to contemplate it during our talk and to listen to it more than you listen to me because it is more eloquent than all that I can say. If I call this talk meditation, it is because scientific theological study requires more accuracy and scrutiny, especially on a topic like this which we cannot come near except with humbleness and awe.

The First Part


Introductory Notes

I begin this meditation with a collection of quick notes which might help to put it in its correct framework.

The Arab World

          Our option is the context of the Arab world despite all the reservations which this option might bring about and which may be understood. The option is not ideological; rather it is faith-filled and theological if my expression is correct. It comes in the line of the pastoral letters of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East which do not hesitate in calling things by their names, starting from a theological vision the point of reference of which is the mystery of Incarnation, God’s will in us and the evangelical witness. We are a church embodied “in this area of the world in which God wants us to live  our faith and our message.”1 Our Christian community is “the yeast which finds its natural position in the human dough”2 and lives in it “by the guidance of its faith and His will on it.” 3

The Trinitarian Theology in Our Churches

          The Trinitarian theology, in the churches of the East in particular, went through two basic stages:

  • The Stage of Christological Conflicts: it is the stage extending between the fourth century and the eight century, beginning with the heresy of Arius and ending in the war of the icons, from the council of Nicaea (325) to the seventh ecumenical council in Nicaea (787). In this period, the church was exposed to several heresies through which its creed about Christ, and subsequently its Trinitarian creed, were crystallized.
  • The stage of the Islamic rule: it is the stage which began with the Islamic conquest and which we can say  still exists today. In this period the Christians continuously confronted the challenge of questions related to the Holy Trinity – among others – knowing that the new religion strongly excludes believing in the Holy Trinity.

What is important for us here to say is that the Trinitarian creed was crystallized in apologetic and defensive atmospheres. It was maintained also in a similar atmosphere. Doubtless these two stages produced theological thought and an extensive and creative church heritage of which we are still proud and by which we are guided. It suffices to mention here the writings of the church fathers in the first stage, and also the writings of the theologians of “the Christian Arab heritage” in the second stage. However, we cannot disregard the real danger latent in such atmospheres. The obsession of argument and defense with its urgency and legitimacy might limit the horizon of thinking and put it in certain corners which might preclude stopping thoroughly at other aspects of the mystery of Christ and the Holy Trinity which are no less than the obsession of argument and defense in importance, richness and wideness. Regardless of the argument and defense which characterize much of the Christian literature in the East concerning the Holy Trinity the basic question remains: what does the Trinitarian mystery tell us and our churches and our societies today under the present realistic historical circumstances? Here it is possible to say that the icon of the Holy Trinity which is before us now gets us out of the plights which we may find ourselves in. It prompts us to areas of thinking and contemplation which are more expansive and wider than what we were familiar with. It calls us to go deeply in a generous way to other dimensions of the fertility of this mystery in our individual and collective life.

The Icon/ Mystery

          Our theological thinking got accustomed to start from what is seen to what is not seen. The icons depict what is not seen which in turn leads us to what is seen. Instead of moving from the perceptible reality to the mystery, we move from the mystery to the perceptible reality. And here lies the mystery of the icon. The icon is a divine presence in the world of man and  is an inspiration. 4 When we contemplate the icon like Moses in front of the bush which is ablaze but does not burn (see Exodus 3:1-6) and contemplate it deeply in the amazement of children (see Mathew 11:25), it occurs that the roles are suddenly and spontaneously overturned. It is no longer that we are ones who contemplate in the icon, rather the icon itself  contemplates us, talks to us and immerses us with the lights of its peace, warmth and purity. And look, the mystery lying in it becomes active and takes it course in us to purify and purge us. And this is what we observe in the icon of the divine Transfiguration whereby the three apostles roll down the mountain because of the profusion of light flowing from the divine mystery. However, as soon as the moment of amazement transpires, we see that the mystery penetrates their entire entity to form it and to revive it from inside. And this is what appears in the external form of the apostles, each in his own way (Peter seems as if he is saying: Be remote from me, O Lord, because I am a sinful man, Jacob is amazed but he looks intently even with bashfulness in the mystery of the divine light, and John began to contemplate without looking at the light as if he is asking: what is the meaning of all of this?). In front of the icon we become what we see5 according to the grace given to us.6 The icon which is addressing the eye is transformed into a living spring which gives life.7 Saint Gregory of Nicaea says: “When we approach light we become light.”8 In Roublev’s icon it is the Trinity who seeks His image in us, and contemplating us drives us to discover the internal icon residing in us. In the icon there is a new and renewed birth .9

The Icon of the Holy Trinity in its Historical Context

          When we contemplate the icon of the Holy Trinity, it seems to us that the world which it represents is a rosy and imaginary world which cannot be attained, and is alien from the reality, history and life. Here it is inevitable that we stop quickly at the circumstances in which this icon was drawn so that we dissipate this impression and give prominence to the role which this icon played in Russian history. This might help us in putting it in the context of our Arab world and its churches.

          Russia in the Middle Ages lived in tragic and bloody historical circumstances. Starting from 1238 the Tartars invaded it. They burned churches and monasteries, killed people and left the country in a state of utter misery. In addition epidemics, famine and poverty spread. After the victory over the Tartars, the Russian national conscience began to form around Moscow amidst bitter and bloody conflicts between the different feudal princes.

          In the midst of all of this, the monastic movement became active in Russia and formed a living and effective element in the religious, social and national texture. Here shines the face of a prominent monk who played a basic role in that epoch of time, Saint Serge de Rodonege (1314-1392). Rodognsky is a small village sixty kilometers to the east of Moscow, and near it rises the Holy Trinity monastery which was established by Saint Serge. It can be said that this age was the age of Saint Serge par excellence, for his holiness and spirituality shone on all of Russian history throughout this period. Saint Serge was fascinated by the Holy Trinity. He lived all his life under the sign of this great mystery, which was the topic his contemplation, spiritual life and service for people. With him the Holy Trinity was transformed into a spiritual renewal, a national revival and a peace project.10 Starting from this Trinitarian spirituality, he worked on confirming unity on the image of the Trinity beginning from his monastic order and reaching the Russian political life at his time. The mystery of the Holy Trinity was transformed into a social and political project. This saint taught peasants a way to improve agriculture. He interfered to reconcile the warring feudal princes, and blessed Dimitri, Prince of Moscow, in his war against the Tartars. It can be said that “he gathered all fourteenth century Russia around his church which was devoted to the Trinity.”11 After his death he became the heavily protector of the homeland for the Russian people.12

          Saint Serge left a spiritual current in which many disciples became involved. Andre Roublev (around 1360-1430) was one of them. Roublev lived in the atmosphere of this spiritual current which was charted by Saint Serge. He became involved in it, was affected by it, and followed it. The documents of his time describe him as being model and full of joy, transparency and spiritual childhood. This was reflected on his iconographic art. Abbot Nicon, one of the disciples of Saint Serge invited him to the Holy Trinity Monastery to decorate its church which was recently built on  the debris of the original church burnt by the Tatars, to decorate it with holy icons including the icon of the Holy Trinity to be “the spring of every unity and its model.”13 Roublev had reached the summit of his spiritual and iconographic maturity. Thus in 1415 he drew the icon of the Holy Trinity which summarizes the holiness of Serge and his spiritual and social inheritance. 14 Roublev witnessed and lived all the pains of this troubled and tragic period in the history of Russia. He passed by the ordeal of fire and was burnt by its furnace. In this troubled climate, he wanted to depict — let us say through the eyes of children — the opposite of the world of death, destruction and ugliness in an icon which shines harmony, peace, light and transparency which combined artistic sublimity, theological depth and divine inspiration. 15

          The international Russia movie producer, Andre Tarkovsky produced a long and wonderful film entitled “Andre Roublev” in 1966. He focused in this film on that troubled period in Russian history. He also revealed the discrepancy between the troubles of this age on the one hand, and peace and harmony emanating from this icon on the other hand. It is as if he wanted to say that this icon is a call to humanity to build a better future after the image of the Holy Trinity. 16

          All of this has been presented so that we can say that the Arab world also lives today in a similar state of trouble, agony and loss. So what does the icon of the Holy Trinity say to us in such an atmosphere?

The Second Section

A Divine Presence in the World for the Sake of Man


A Divine Presence in the World and in History

          Before we go to the icon, we turn to the daily newspapers and the different mass media to find ourselves in a world which is torn, confused, and lost in the vortex of a stormy and tumultuous ocean in which humanity has lost the compass of direction and which is tossed by the different mythologies, which attract it and play with its destinies. If this is the condition of the world, the Arab world is the focal point in which this state of loss and anarchy is gathered and which is particularly embodied in the Holy Land and its Palestinian question (in addition to Iraq, Lebanon and other areas of the Arab world) and in Jerusalem in particular as a model place  which is replete with symbolism. This is in addition to the large process of confiscating its identity, its vocation and its message to which it is exposed. Who among us, in front of this bloody Middle Eastern scene does not feel the sway of a blind fate which sweeps us and makes us succumb to  its futile drawings before which we stand helpless as if we are in a tyrannical Greek tragedy which knows no mercy?

          In this world and its contradictions we do not forget that humanity, on the other hand, is inhabited by an overwhelming longing and yearning for a different world, a reconciled humanity and a renewed creation which is fit to become a suitable abode. Humanity, and the creation behind it, moans from the pain of travail, hoping to be liberated from the slavery of corruption and waiting for the glory that is to be revealed to us (See Romans 8:18-25). Between loss and yearning, the area of our options lies.

          In the midst of all of this, the icon of the Holy Trinity takes its place as a divine presence in the human landscape to draw the separating limit between existence and nothingness, to plant in the heart of history a project for the world of man, and to put us before those options which issue death or spread life, and to delineate the features of our vocation, message and  witness in the heart of this world which is our world. The answer of God to this torn, lost and confused world is himself, his entity, his Trinitarian life whereby all human life, human history and all creation walk under the sign of the Trinity in all the economic, political, social, cultural, ethical and religious aspects.17

If these human domains become cut off from this divine spring, there is  produced the contrary of what they aim for; they are transformed into poisonous gases. Then the human person becomes individualism, the convictions fanaticism, the love of people chauvinism, culture alienation, relations conflicts, ethics selfishness and religions oppression. All the wars, exterminations and racial discrimination and other degradation are Satan’s war against the Holy Trinity.18 Paul Evdokimov says: “The image of the one God and the Trinity at the same time stands as a base for every existence. Therefore Christianity is called to copy the divine truth in its life.”19

The Holy Trinity icon inspires in us what we are. If we become detached from our image and our likeness we drown in the vortex of nothingness.

Before interpretation and explanation, it is enough for us to contemplate the icon in silence and devotion so we can glimpse in it the original and native image of humanity with its harmony, unity, peace, fertility and love. This is mysteriously manifested in the icon, in that circular movement which gathers the three hypostases, in the gesture of the head, in the peace which emanates from the clarity of faces, and in the mutual love which we perceive in the orientation of the one towards the other in an infinite tenderness, as if one cycle of love gathers them.

          The book of Genesis tells us (Genesis 1:27) that God created man on his image and his likeness, individuals and a community. This image and likeness are Trinitarian. For God is a community which forms the original and native model for every community, whatever its kind is. It is an image and likeness in the form of a call and a promise. For man is always the created man, and humanity is always the created humanity with its limitation, woundedness and fragility. However this humanity did not remain outside the Trinitarian circle. Rather the One and the Trinity called it to His circle or his divine environment to become participant and participating in this divine dynamisn.20 The Trinitarian life is the relationship of the three hypostases among themselves (towards the inside). This relationship is not closed; rather it is a relationship which goes to the world (towards the outside). Trinity (theology) has entered time and became economy and history, and this by creation (which is symbolized by the tree of life), redemption (which is indicated by the lamb) and the new humanity (which is symbolized by the temple — the church), not only for the creation alone, but for the entire universe (the rock on the right side and the rectangle drawn in front of the table which the interpreters say symbolize the universe).

Thus time entered the circle of eternity and eternity in the circle of time. The Trinity became a human environment and the human environment divine so dialogue or negotiation between them begins towards human reconciliation.21 The Trinity is a presence in the world and history, and history and the world is a presence in the world of the Trinity. The human adventure finds its echo in the heart of the Trinity, and the Trinitarian adventure finds its echo in the human adventure so it becomes a divine project for human history. Thus love has become a historical project, and adoration from which we derive this love has become a political action. The icon of the Holy Trinity transfers us from abstract mental concepts to the historical reality which has become capable of hosting the mystery in its dough. The Trinity is the grant, the grace and the greatest blessing for humanity, whereby “the three hypostases wanted to be with us as they are among themselves.”22

A Divine Presence For The Sake of Man

          God put man in the heart of the creation, the universe, the earth and history. The three hypostases in the icon are in a state of dialogue, consultation, exchange and negotiation, in a creative atmosphere of tenderness, mercy, love and mutual generous yes. In this dialogue there is a mutual Trinitarian praising (the movement towards the inside), and it is also dialogue, consultation and negotiation, the basic topic of which is man, the conclusion of the creation and its summit (the movement towards the outside). For man — as a person — and humanity — as a community — are God’s concern, his cause of joy, care and creative initiatives. In this sempiternal dialogue, man is formed and his identity is crystallized through permanent and renewed births. Youth flowing from the icon is God’s answer to the exhausted old age of the world. And this brings us back to the icons of the Mother of God, the pinnacle of which is the Virgin of Vladimir in which the fruit with complete splendor of that reconciled humanity is manifested, and which remains the most beautiful human echo of that Trinitarian model.

          The icon of the Holy Trinity is  a divine presence in the world of man, a living presence, active, effective, working and dialoguing to continuously renew this world from the inside in a dynamism of exchanging the images: the Trinity takes the image of man so that man takes the image of God through this salvation cycle represented in the creation, the incarnation, the redemption and the glory. The icon indicates and inspires all of them in one way or another. This exchange is transformed into a divine project, joint and joining, to the world of man. The Holy Trinity is an invitation for humanity to reconcile with itself, with its limitedness, with its being created, with its woundedness, because it is a sinful and a redeemed humanity at the same time.

          All of this is combined in the Eucharistic sacrament which occupies the central place in the icon, and to which the eyes and the movement of the hands are oriented. The Eucharistic celebration is the place in which this human/ divine project gathers in order to be transformed into a focal point in which this project is realized as a promise, a pledge of glory and a faith mystery in time waiting for a new earth and a new heaven. This does not mean that the borders between the divine nature and the human nature have been cancelled, but they have become open borders in a marvelous exchange which glorifies God and sanctifies man. Accordingly, the icon of the Holy Spirit — and other icons — is a liturgy in its descending movement and its ascending movement like Jacob’s ladder. It is not strange that the icons occupy their central and natural place in the Eastern holy place. In the middle of this dynamism, the word of Jesus assumes all its dimensions and meanings: “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16)

          All of this brings us back to the council document “The Church in the World of Today” and particularly all those wonderful conclusions which crown each of its chapters23 by a soaring vision in the mystery of Christ which enters all the domains of human life to fertilize it, give it its faith meaning and  renew it from the inside. The vision of the council might be affected by the cosmic view of the Teilhard de Chardin’s current which places the mystery of Christ at the heart of the development of the world. It is more of a Christological vision than a Trinitarian one, knowing that every divine action toward the outside is a Trinitarian action par excellence. The icon also brings us back to the letters of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East and particularly the second letter “Christian Presence in the East: A Message and A Witness.”

          So we are before a huge workshop and a Trinitarian divine project, and before a divine dynamism which swirls the three hypostases and sweeps in its current the universe, the world, the creation and the humanity which is saved and reconciled in the Trinity. This project derives from the Trinitarian life its meaning, its spring and its incentive. The vitality latent in the Trinity is a fertile dynamism which penetrates the believer himself and the believing community. The point of reference of the Trinity assures us that evil does not have the final word and that this last word is a Trinitarian word. Hope is transformed into work in all the domains of life and history including the family, economical, political, social, societal and cultural domains.

          The Trinity is life, fertility, blessing and grace which reminds us of that contract flowing from the side of the altar in the prophet Ezekial (47:1-13) which waters everything in its way, or those dry bones to which life returns through the action of the spirit (Ezekial, chapter 37), or to the flowing waters from God’s throne and the Lamb mentioned in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 23:1-2). When we contemplate the icon of the Holy Trinity with all the vitality and fertility in it, its splendor is transformed into holy fire in the heart of the believer and the believing community for entering in the dynamism of the Trinity and make the world enter with. Thus the place is for hope and not for despondency, despair or lethargy. In the Trinitarian circle as we see it in the icon, we glimpse tranquility; but this tranquility is not immobility; rather it is movement, vitality and fertility which calls people to translate this Trinitarian vitality into a project which renews the face of the earth. The angels were hosted by Abraham who ultimately became hosted by the Trinity with its fertility. When the Trinity is a presence in the world of man things cannot be as they are. For the Trinity is the focal point in which the universe gathers and from which it sets out. Teilhard de Chardin says:

“The divine environment, no matter how vast it is, is actually a center. And accordingly it has the characteristics of the center, that is, before everything, absolute and final ability to gather (and subsequently to complete) the beings in itself. In the divine environment, all the elements of the universe touch in their interior and final depth…without leaving the world. Thus, let us dive in God. There and from there, in Him and by Him we shall get a hold on everything and control everything.”24

          Who is the intermediary?  This question leads us to the third part.


The Third Part

The Church: A Trinitarian Icon

A Church or a Sect?

          In the East, our churches look for themselves amidst the debris of history and its precipitations and mud. If history has been the place of its embodiment and witness, it has also been a trap for them. They did injustice to life history and history did them injustice and put them in a freezer in which they froze and became a social and human body which lost living contact with its divine roots. So they were somewhat detached from their identity, vocation, mission and witness. So, they were transformed from a church into sects which revolve around themselves and chant in their cages without pleasing anybody. The letter of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East “Mystery of the Church” elaborated on its description of the reality of the sect and the sectarian mentality saying:

          “These same circumstances with their negative aspects and harshness pushed our various churches into fragmentation and self-enclosure. So they became sects in which differences and scars dominate and which concealed the profile of Christ from the faces and extinguished the flame of the Spirit in them. So they forgot that they are not for themselves but for God and for carrying the economy of salvation to the human surroundings in which they were formed and to which they were sent. All of this led to what we call  the sectarian spirit which remains a serious distortion of the concept of religion and an explicit contradiction of the concept of the church. For sectarianism means that the first concern is survival more than growth, defending the self and the acquired rights and privileges more than developing the faith itself and human achievements more than faith achievements. It is also interested in the features of religious rituals more than it is interested in their spirit. So it makes these rituals a prison which binds the believer to a remote past which is alien to the present life, instead of developing them to become a presence, energy and continuous renewal. Through this our churches by virtue of the sectarian canal have become groups which restricted most of their preoccupation to themselves and to their human dimensions.”25

          Contemplating the icon of the Holy Trinity guarantees the return of the church to itself for it places it before its true image and in communication with its pure original divine roots.

The Church is a Mystery of Trinitarian Communion

          The church was not made by humans; rather it is one of the dimensions of the divine mystery, the One and the Trinity, and enters in the circle of the Trinitarian mystery to derive from it its identity, entity and mission. The church is not a human institution; rather it is a divine reality whose roots are implanted in the Trinitarian Communion.

Thus the church is a mystery:

“The church is a mystery, that is, that wonderful divine plan which “was kept for long ages.” (Romans 16:25), and which God made us know it “when the time had fully come” (Galatians 4:4) “in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6). All of this means that God made the church, which is a community of people gathered by the grace of God first. It is not a group gathered by human ties. For they are those “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13)26

This mystery is a communion mystery, as Pope John Paul II says:

“It is the communion of every believer, a theological and Trinitarian partnership with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which overflows and realizes the communion of the believers among themselves, and gathers them in one people.”27

This communion is a Trinitarian communion. Paul Evdokimov says:

 “The church of the three divine hypostases represents the guiding image for the earthly church, a community of mutual love, and a unity in the several, and the unity of all human beings in one nature which gathers in Christ.” 28

This is summarized by the eighth ordinary preface of the in the Latin liturgy:

“And the peoples become united like the Trinity praising your divine wisdom, and it is known in every place and time as the church, the mysterious body of Christ and the altar of the Holy Spirit.”

The Catholic Patriarchs of the East say:

“It is God who gathers this new progeny according to faith from every race and from every country, city, village and house (Anaphora of Saint Serapion). Unifying these peoples in one people is a matter beyond the intelligence of man and his ability: for it is the work of the One and Only God who indicates that His sublime divine unity is at the same time the mystery of achieving self-perfection in the communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. So it is not formed by gathering the persons and accumulating them; rather it is a grant emanating from the unity of the one and indivisible Trinity. It gives people an example and a model to live according to it, “because life appeared, so we saw and we witness and bring you the good news of that eternal life which was with God and was manifested for us… so that you too have a communion with us, and our communion is a communion with God and His Son Jesus Christ.” 29

                In the icon of the Holy Trinity, the mystery of communion is manifested in its most sublime, eloquent and deep meanings. It suffices to contemplate it with silence and piety so that we internally, intuitively, directly and away from the limits of words and their ambiguity recognize the mystery of this Trinitarian communion which was granted to us in the mystery of the communion of the church. The communion is represented in this circular form which combines the three hypostases and which sets off from the tip of the right foot to reach the tip of the left foot passing by the head of each hypostasis, which makes them one in their Trinity. When we pour over the features of the faces, their gesture, calmness and tranquility, we recognize that this partnership is formed in the deepest internal levels to reach their essential entity. It is a perfect communion having no trace of tension in it, rather it is a permanent, mutual, deep and fertile “yes,” the one is for the other, rather the one is in the other. But this unity is not similarity, rather it is a variety. For the Trinity gathers in itself unity and variety, canceling, in a mysterious harmony and coordination, the contradiction between them. In the Trinity unity (the common color) lives together with variety (the special color for each hypostasis) and harmonizes, calls and communicates. The one and the several are reconciled in internal areas which are difficult to fathom their depth in words. The icon is sufficient itself to reveal them, for us in the form of a wonderful mystery in which the church sees its identity and vocation. Roublev became involved in the current of Saint Serge and made the Holy Trinity the topic of his silent, adoring and praying contemplation which enabled him to draw this communion with this degree of depth and interiority.

          This is the church of the heaven in its essence which was manifested in Jesus Christ in the earthly church which remains a sign of the Trinitarian communion, but in the form of a vocation, struggle, promise, grant and grace. For the Trinitarian communion is the mirror in which the earthly church sees itself and its image. The image of the heavenly church, the earthly church, although it is one, is also various: one people in various talents, various services, and various actions whose unity is Love (see 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and 13). This Trinitarian image is the image of the one church and the image of the local church which in the church tradition found its best expression in the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. On the earth, the church lives this partnership with tension because of the sins of human beings. But if it lives this tension in the Trinitarian spirituality evident in this icon, tension may be transformed into a paschal state which always secretes new forms of life.

          We do not get far from the icon if we say that this Trinitarian icon finds its loftiest and most sublime earthly image in the Eucharist celebration. For the Eucharist mystery occupies the central place in the icon. The one bread and the one chalice is the basis of this communion (See 1 Corinthians 10: 16 – 17). In the third Eucharist prayer in the Latin liturgy we pray and say:

“O God… grant us the grace

We who feed on the body and blood of your Son,

To be filled by His Holy Spirit,

So we become one body and one heart in Christ.”

Communion For Life

          The Trinitarian communion is a communion towards the inside (ad intra), but it is not a closed partnership, rather it is open towards the outside (ad extra). The circle has openings towards the outside from all directions and in all directions. It is a communion of mutual praising and a communion of joint sanctifying.30 It is a communion for life: communion /giving, communion /overflowing, communion /flowing, communion /generosity. In its giving, overflowing and flowing it does not decrease, rather it realizes itself in the most perfect way. Life towards the inside is transformed into fertility towards the outside. This is what is represented in the tree of life (emanating from the middle hypostasis and which sends its roots in the earth), in the altar/the church (which points to the reunion of humanity), and in the lamb in the middle of the whole icon (redemption and the pledge of glory).

          Accordingly, the church of the earth, like the church of heaven, is

w   A Partnership which Gives Life:

“This means that the church does not exist for itself, rather for God and for all the people for whose sake Christ came as a servant and a savior. It is communion for life which is expressed by the icon of the Holy Trinity in the tree of life the roots of which are firmly established in the communion of the Holy Trinity.” 31

This communion realizes itself to the extent it is open towards the outside,  realizing itself by sacrificing itself.

w  A Communion of Gathering: it is a communion for communion, that is, it is called to unify human beings who were scattered by sin, in the Son who came “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”(John 11:52)

The Second Vatican Council says:

“Since this church is in Christ similar to a mystery, that is, the sign and the tool in the innermost union with God and the unity of the entire mankind, it desires to clarify more accurately for its believers and all mankind the nature of itself and its one message, especially because the current circumstances make it urgent  to fulfill this duty so that also the people can achieve their complete unity in Christ.”32

w  A Communion for Salvation: The chalice in the middle of the table forms the focal point to which the entire icon of the Holy Trinity is directed. This focal point is the slain lamb who carries the sins of the world. The Trinitarian communion granted to the church is a communion for the sake of salvation, its salvation and the salvation of all humanity in it and by it. It is a community of saved and saving people. This what makes the Eucharist mystery (like the rest of the divine sacraments) the sacramental manifestation (in the meaning of the sign and the tool) for this salvation. It is the summit and it is the spring. This what makes the theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church start from the Eucharist mystery to reach the mystery of the Holy Trinity.33

It seems that we are lost in a metaphysical world which is remote from the perceptible reality. This is not true. Contemplating the mystery of the church in its original and native icon, is but the fulcrum and the starting point from the pure springs to the human reality of the church with all its branches, tributaries and extensions. So it gives it a new meaning in which there is an invitation to go back in the vision, the conduct and the behavior in all the aspects of the life of the church. Here we indicate that this Trinitarian model for the church finds its best expression in the first Christian community which the Book of Acts describes for us (in particular 2:42-47 and 4:32-35)


“So That Thy Be One”

          The ecumenical affair in the world in general and in our countries and our churches in particular falters and goes astray. Perhaps it recedes in front of  narrow human considerations, the records of gain and loss according to the spirit of the world, the wounds of collective memories, and the psychological and social precipitations left in us by centuries of divisions and remoteness. The matter might go to the extent that we are comfortable with our divisions more than we are comfortable with the return of complete communion among our churches. Approaching the ecumenical affair from the human angle puts us in a deadlock from which we cannot get out. We will not get out of it unless we work on getting healed from these human preoccupations (the icon too is healing) through contemplating the mystery of unity existing in the Holy Trinity, which is manifested in the icon of the Holy Trinity. The church is “one of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”35

“From the icon there emanates a persistent call: “Be one as I and the Father are one.” Man is in the image of the Trinitarian God: The church/communion sends its roots firmly in Him, that it is His true reality. All humans are invited to gather round the same chalice and to be elevated to the heart of God and to participate in the Messianic feast.36

          The church is a family born of the Trinity family. The unity for which the Son prays and which He grants us is the unity existing in the three hypostases. In order to save the unity communion, we have only to transfer from our wounded hearts to the depths of the heart of the Trinity.

“The entity of the church is based on that reality that it is ‘a communion’ (Koinonia in Greek), I mean one common spiritual life among many persons. This communion is not only a matter of human understanding or compassion. Rather, its basis is the prayer of Christ and what he asked from the Father for his disciples: “That they may all be one; even as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17: 21).  The mysterious communion existing between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit is the example and the spring for the communion in the church. Thus the Christians are a partnership in the image of the Holy Trinity because they participate in the divine life which we said is a partnership in itself… Thus every division is contradictory to the Christian call for unity and contradictory to the communion to which the church is called by the example of the unity of the Holy Trinity, its example and its spring.”37

                It suffices here to pray with Jesus His permanent priestly prayer for the sake of unity. In front of the icon of the Holy Trinity, this prayer brings us back to the icon, and the icon brings us back to the prayer of Jesus. The echo of the prayer and the icon is repeated the one in the other, so the two declare the mystery of the unity which is firmly rooted in the Trinitarian communion. The icon sees itself in the mirror of the word, and the word in the mirror of the icon, and the believing community in both of them.

“Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…

 Sanctify them in the truth;

thy word is truth.

As thou didst send me into the world,

so I have sent them into the world.

And for their sake I consecrate myself

That they also may be consecrated in truth.

I do not pray for these only,

But also for those who believe in me

Though their word

That they may all be one;

Even as thou, Father art in me, and

I am in thee

That they also may be  so

So that the world may believe that thou hast sent me…

I am in them and thou in me,

That they may become perfectly one

So that the world may know that thou hast sent me

And hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:11,17-21,  23)

From this interlocking between the icon and the priestly prayer of Jesus we may conclude the following:

  1. The mystery of church unity is established and realized in the mystery of the unity existing in the Trinity which is embodied in a miraculous way in the icon of the Holy Trinity. For unity is implanted in the entity of God the One and the Trinity. Subsequently it is implanted in the mystery of the church. It is a unity in the entity, the relationship and in the message. The divisions in the body of Christ are not a reality with which it is possible to live comfortably because they negate and contradict the mystery of unity in the Trinity to which the church is called. We cannot be a Church with its full meaning unless we are in the heart of the Trinity communion. Accordingly, the ecumenical matter cannot be coincidental in our church life towards which we turn  on occasions and from time to time in our leisure time; rather it is in the heart of our church life.
  2. What the churches are afraid of is that one church dissolves in another, and that one church swallows the other. This is not what we contemplate in the icon of the Holy Trinity. In the Trinitarian communion unity does not cancel variety, and variety does not preclude unity. In the One and  Triune God, the mystery of unity in variety is complete without contradiction, canceling, containment, swallowing or dissolving. It is the unity of the one in the other and the unity of the one for the sake of the other. It is unity in variety, whereby the unity of the hypostases does not cancel their variety, and their variety does not cancel their unity. If we live this variety in this Trinitarian spirituality it will become a source of mutual richness instead of being a cause of disagreement and division.
  3. In the East, Christian witness passes through the communion of unity. Our witness will remain missing, wounded and crucified unless it becomes a witness in unity and community: “So that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21)

The icon of the Holy Trinity in turn brings us back to the traditional icon which represents the two brothers, Andrew (the church of the East) and Peter (the church of the West) in a brotherly embrace. This icon may be considered an extension of the icon of the Holy Trinity and in turn forms a permanent call for the complete partnership which is possible in the Trinity between the two lungs of the church: the Eastern church and the Western church. 38


Trinitarian Community for the Sake of Man

The Trinitarian deliberation seen in the icon of the Holy Trinity has the topic of man and his salvation. It is as if the question which is exchanged by the three hypostases is: What shall we do for man? Man is in the heart of the Trinitarian mystery because the divine nature has become a salvation economy that is a history for the sake of man. In the Holy Trinity we find the man who is created in the image of God and His likeness.

          Self-seclusion made us leave man aside so that we become interested in ourselves or get near to him from the angle of ourselves. History put us far away from the image of man. This image we find it anew in the icon of the Holy Trinity. The icon of the Holy Trinity makes the face of God human –  so that the face of man become God-like.

          Of course the intended man is every man. However, he is also this man, the man of our Arab world; otherwise we will remain in the generalities and abstractions which do not go to any goal. We mean by the Arab man that “actual segment (…) of humanity which speaks a certain language and has a certain cultural heritage. He also has his own view to the world and his historical past and a special human makeup.” 39

And it is the people whose reality we address. We use his language, signs and symbols. We respond to his queries. We become integrated in his actual life, with the freedom which Christ granted us and which does not tarry from positive criticism in order that we contribute to his growth, development and progress. 40

          One of these courageous prophetic positions is that which we find in the second letter of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East which calls us to get out of ourselves and out from the obsession of defending our rights, privileges and gains, and to meet this man who is in pain. For the first time we find this description of the Arab man in himself, away from

“the concern for defending our rights as minorities and sects… to reach the extent of participation in defending the rights of man, the liberation of peoples and their right to dignified living, contribution in their developmental projects and working to affirm the dignity of man in the face of all internal and external forces which humble and oppress him and stand in the way of achieving his legitimate human wishes.” 41

          In this connection, it is inevitable to refer to that paragraph which is characterized by prophetic sense which we have not yet comprehended all its dimensions and which is entitled “A Man in Pain”:

“Man, in our area, is a man in pain. For ordeals have banded together against him from every side of his contemporary history. So he came to live under the sign of pain and suffering. He walks in the Via Dolorosa carrying his cross. He is in pain in his internal entity because of the psychological and social restrictions from which he sometimes finds no exit, in the circumstances of his daily living whose conditions he struggles to improve in a situation of limited possibilities, in his human, political and civilizational aspirations whereby he sees that the others refuse him this right and want to reduce him in size and subdue him, and in his desire to have a place for himself at the table of peoples so he contributes in their development and growth. He is in pain due to his internal fetters or because of what is imposed on him, or because the intervention of others in his affairs, or due to the oppressive tools he is exposed to every day by his household and by the others. He looks at his glorious past, his difficult present and his obscure future and he is in pain. In the midst of all of this, he yearns for freedom and liberation so that he realizes his humanity and makes it capable of assuming its role in the march of the present world. Thus we see him anxiously searching for his identity and his originality, for his personality and his message. In the outbreak of his anger and his distress we sometimes see him resorting to express himself in a negative way by means of violence, extremism, aggressiveness or fanaticism whereby he observes that the world threatens him in his identity, personality and entity. Perhaps such attitudes are an explicit expression of his hidden fear, his anxiety and his instability.” 42

In one of the gardens of the Municipality of Nazareth there is a huge statue entitled “Hagar’s Tent.” It represents Hagar raising her child in the face of heaven in a state of rebellion and supplication. It seems that our Arab man is still Ishmael about whom the bible says:

“He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” (Genesis 16:12)

And in his suffering he awaits salvation from himself and from the others. And this is the man whom the fourth letter of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East calls us to “be in solidarity with him and serve him, so we are always in the forefront to defend him when he is hungry, sick, outcast and is exposed to all kinds of subjugation, oppression, injustice and suffering.” 43

          It seems that we went far, but definitely not outside the boundaries of the icon of the Holy Trinity. Isn’t this icon a divine liberation project for the sake of man? 44


The Churches of the East: Which Presence?

          Christian presence in the East is a basic obsession for our churches and is frequently repeated in our church meetings, conferences and meetings. It is known that the Catholic Patriarchs of the East devoted their second pastoral letter to this subject under the title: “Christian Presence in the East: A Witness and a Mission.” Which presence in our world?

          Doubtless history wronged us and we wronged it. It concealed our mission and reduced our presence to the concern of surviving. We believed at some times – and perhaps we still believe – that what secures for us this presence are figures, number, material power, fascinating appearances, huge institutions and dazzling and splendid parades. This orientation is but an extension of the sect mentality which is still resisting the work of the spirit in our church body.

          The letter of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East starts from the concept of “the presence” to define the meaning of our presence in the East, with the density, depth, interaction and spiritual and human momentum which are in the word presence. Existence is something and presence is something else. 45

          The icon of the Holy Trinity is the most profound expression of God’s presence in the world of man. In it we read the presence of the Trinity in the world of man and the presence of man in the world of the Trinity and their different, rich and abundant meanings. This is the presence which God granted as a trust in the hands of the church to transform it into a formula of witness in the world of man, in our world and our societies. In the icon we directly and without interpretation read those human and divine meanings of this presence. The icon lets us enter into a different and a new world which the world does not know and does not recognize. When the church delves in this world in contemplation, adoration and prayer, the Trinitarian mystery penetrates to the veins, arteries and pores of its body and purifies it from the inside and heals it. Then this mystery sends the church to witness to this different world amidst the storms of history and its waves. We read in the icon the divine/human meanings of kindness, tenderness, mercy, communion and love. In a cruel world which does not know mercy and in the world of exclusion and canceling, the church witnesses to the comprehensive and gathering love of God. In a world which puts borders and dams among humans, the church witnesses to communication among humans. In a world which considers love an unnecessary emotion in the age of technology and science, the church testifies that love is the driving force for the life of the Trinity and the driving force for the life of the world and that it is a historical energy which makes the event and opens in history currents which man cannot live without. Subsequently it is the testimony of the church par excellence.

          Here it might be useful to go back again to the historical circumstances in which Andre Roublev drew his icon. Andre Roublev did not live on the margin of history; rather he saw all the ugly things which the period in which he lived knew and which  might hit him too in his body. When he drew his icon, he did not want to draw a rosy imaginary world; rather he wanted to draw the opposite of this world and a different picture of what it is possible for this world to be and what it should be. He wants to tell us that the final word is not for ugliness, rather it is for beauty (“Beauty will save the world,” as Dostoevsky says), and that love enters into the dialectic of history to break violence, cruelty and hatred which are in this history. “And of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:32)

          In the film “Andre Roublev” which we previously mentioned, the Russian producer Tarkovsky depicts all these ugly things such as wars, epidemics and enmities among the competing princes. At the end of the film, it suffices for him to depict on the entire screen several icons including the icon of the Holy Trinity from its different sides on a background of expressive religious music. Perhaps he wants to say that this is the answer of God the One and the Trinity to all these ugly things. In the film, Roublev killed a soldier while he was defending a girl whom the soldier wanted to rape. This incident shook him and prompted him to stop drawing. However, when he saw a young man casting a huge bell and defying death, hope awakened anew in him and he returned to drawing. So he embraced the young man and told him: “You return to casting bells, and I return to drawing icons.” It is as if the producer wants to say to his viewers that the flame of hope cannot be extinguished.

          These meanings which Roublev drew by his pen, were drawn by Christ in words in the evangelical Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). What we contemplate in the icon we find its meanings in the beatitudes which draw in words the features of the testimony which Christians are called to perform in the world. In the East, these blessings acquire a special meaning. Here we quote from the letter of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East when talking about our relationship with Islam:

“The relationship between Christians and Muslims will not assume a positive and decisive orientation unless the Christians on their part return to the pure springs of the evangelical values which are represented in the Sermon on the Mount (See Matthew, chapter 5-7) and in particular the evangelical beatitudes with which Jesus began this Sermon and which remain the life method for the Christian. Saint Paul summarized these evangelical values in his epistle to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (5:22)” 46

          Since the conversation here is about our witness in the Islamic world, it can be said that our Christian pens have been worn out in vain in the East while we were explaining to our Muslim brothers the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and we are still where we are. It is time that we talk less about the Holy Trinity and witness to it more in our live, behaviors and  values derived from the life of the Trinity. If explanation is inevitable, it needs a support from our life witness. The silent witness of the meanings latent in the icon of the Holy Trinity is a real declaration through life. From here it can be said that monastic life is the most sublime form of our presence in the East. This is what prompts us to view again the monastic life to be what it used to be in all ages – including the age of Andre Roublev – a living witness to a different thing which the world does not know but for which it yearns and calls from the depths of his conscience without knowing it. The monastic witness finds its extension in Christian testimony in  daily life which derives its momentum from contemplation and prayer. 47


The Fourth Part

The Holy Trinity And The Reconciled Otherness

Otherness… This Greater Issue

          Otherness is the greater issue which confronts humanity in every time and place. It is the greater issue which confronts humanity today in a more persistent form than any time in the past because of the means of communication and transportation and mixing among the nations and the continuous movement of peoples in directions between the East and the West going and coming, between the North and the South going and coming, and between the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea in all directions. It is the issue of issues in our Arab world and in its churches, for it is the issue in the pluralistic societies, in our churches (in each church separately and among the church families which are homogeneous in faith and among the divided church families), and also in the heart of each one of us. It seems that we as societies and churches have not yet become quite reconciled with this otherness which it seems  we consider a wound from which we have not been healed and a cross in which there is no glory because we reject it (See Mark 8: 31-37). This is what puts us in a plight. We are unable to manage this otherness or plurality in a feasible, sound and fertile way.

          In the midst of this problem, the icon of the Holy Trinity comes as a sign of light, as a call and as a witness. The icon is a call to come out of the self to what is more beyond us. When we contemplate the face of the One and Triune God, we discover our face and the face of the other under the illumination of a new light.

          In this last part, we confront this problem in the light of the icon of the Holy Trinity, through a group of dualities which seem contradictory and which find their reconciliation in the Trinitarian mystery.

Between The One and The Pluralistic

The question which is latent in the otherness is:  how is it possible that the pluralistic be one? How do we reconcile between pluralism and unity? To answer this question, we find ourselves before two basic directions which lead to death, and a third which brings the good news of life. The first is to cancel pluralism for the sake of unity, taking into consideration that the pluralistic is a threat for the one, and subsequently should be cancelled even if by brute force (racial discrimination, genocide, racial purgation. The second is to cancel the one in order to preserve the pluralistic, taking into consideration that unity is a threat to pluralism.  This leads to fragmentation, remoteness, enmity and aggressiveness. As for the third option, it is the option of the one and the pluralistic together. It is the option which holds the two ends of the equation, the one on the one hand, and the pluralistic on the other hand, without the one being at the expense of the other. This is the option represented in the icon of the Holy Trinity. We have already dealt with the harmony of the unity and pluralism or the variety in the Holy Trinity when we talked about unity and variety in the church. This also applies to unity and pluralism in  society. There is no need to return anew to the discussion of this harmony between the one and the pluralistic.

Between Adjacency and Living Together

          The three hypostases sit around one table. However the internal movement coming out of the entire icon clearly shows that they are not adjacent to each other. Rather the one is in the other without dissolving in him and without separating from him. More than the one being in the other, the one is for the sake of the other, and the giving does not lead to decrease, depriving or loss. For each hypostasis realizes the fullness of his self in the other, thanks to love which transforms the relationship into fullness. This what Trinitarian theology expresses by the word circumincession – (perichoresis), which means the existence or living together or the interlocking of the one in the other in a mutual interiority.48 By adjacency, the one is beside the other without true partnership or participation. He may be in a state of alienation from the other. Living together means that the one lives in the other (“The Father is in me and I am in the Father” John 10:38, and also 14:10, 11; 17:21). In living together there is permanent communication in the depth, like the connected vessels in which life creeps from the one to the other in a movement of mutual love. In living together I open my internal extent to the other and he also opens his internal extent. So we share in the richness latent in both of us. In this case, the richness of the one does not contradict the richness of the other and does not cancel it. Living together is the walking of the one in the other, and the walking of the one for the sake of the other in a dynamism of life and generosity of love which does not decrease and does not diminish.

Between Similarity and Distinction

          The relationship with the other comes under the dynamism of similarity and distinction. It is accepting the common denominators between me and the other. Accepting them is not always easy because what is common between us might challenge my identity and my originality and shake it. Accordingly I do not want to see in the other what is in me. And this leads to competition. However, the antithesis is the desperate search for the perfect similarity so that I cancel all that is different between us on the basis that difference is remoteness. In order that I enter into a relationship with the other, he should be like me in every thing, otherwise I am inclined to cancel him and he is inclined to cancel me, because we see the difference as mutual aggression and threat. From here it is necessary to comprehend the common and the different at the same time. The sound relationship is established on accepting the difference and rejoicing in it, on the basis that the other is different, otherwise he would not have been other.

          This amazing, intimate and unique harmony between the common and the different we find in the Holy Trinity, where the common does not cancel the distinction and the distinction does not cancel the common; rather the two harmonize in an amazing way which makes the relationship a continuous dynamism whose momentum the different or the common does not prevent; rather, it contributes to its growth and development. The one is similar to the other by virtue of the one divine nature; and the other is distinct from the other by virtue of the three hypostases. For the one color does not cancel the different colors. Human brotherhood is a testimony for that mutual relationship between the three hypostases in the fullness of similarity and distinction.

Between The Close Identity and the Relational Identity

          In the world of today there is emphasis on the collective identity under a globalization which wants to settle everything. The religious element began to assume a large size in specifying this identity. Here problems begin, that is, conflicts between the different identities. For the identity of the one is inclined to cancel the identity of the other as if it is a threat to his identity. Identities here are repellant, fighting and exclusionary. This is what Amin Malouf calls “the killing identities.”

          Here it is inevitable to distinguish between the closed identity and the relationship identity. The closed identity develops in a closed circle and leads to in-fighting because it puts itself forward as an absolute thing in front of another absolute. There is no way that the two may meet, coexist or have one life. In this case, the door is wide open for competition, enmity and cancellation. The “conflict among civilizations’ is put in this framework. The relational identity is based on the notion that I cannot develop my identity except in a relationship with the other. For the other enters in the internal makeup of my identity without threatening, diminishing or canceling it.49 The relational identity combines the identity on the one hand and the relationship on the other hand in a growing continuous dynamism. From here it is possible to say that there is no identity which is fixed in an immobile way; rather every identity is continuously growing and developing in the framework of continuous negotiation between me and the other.

          It must be said that we are in front of an exact, arduous and difficult dialecticism, but it is possible. This is what is manifested in the Holy Trinity where the one finds his identity in the other without dissolving or canceling or separation. This makes the Holy Trinity a model for any relationship with the other. For the identity and the relationship harmonize in deep internal levels, and this is the mystery in itself. Here it is inevitable to add what is important. The identity comes from “who” which is ambiguous, equivocal, remote and non-personal. If this “who-ism” which has no face is not transformed into “you-ness” (from “you”) which is personified, it is difficult to become transformed into “we-ness” (from “we”). For the relational identity is done between persons, or between personified groups 51. In the relational identity, the identity does not dissolve; rather it is transformed into partnership.

Between Condemning and Tenderness

          The other is condemned because he is different from me, and he is also condemned because he is like me. I do not permit him to be different from me nor to be similar to me. In both cases, we find ourselves in a state of conflict between those who are similar and those who are different.

How do we go beyond this conflict? By tenderness. Tenderness gives the other a face and takes him out of ambiguity and non-personality, and makes him a face and a person.52 Tenderness makes the other a human being. This is what Mahmoud Darwish calls the human other.53 When we contemplate the icon of the Holy Trinity, we find it fragrant with humaneness and tenderness which is shown on the faces of the three hypostases, a tenderness towards the inside and a tenderness towards the outside (the two movements are correlative and integrated), as if the one says to the other “you” and as if the one says to the other “yes.” When  God created man in His image and His likeness He made a face for him and distinguished it by tenderness which He personifies: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion for the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16). It seems that Roublev intended to give the faces of the three hypostases a feminine appearance which expresses this tenderness. And this is what appears in Rembrandt’s portrait “the Prodigal Son” where he drew the two hands of the father which embrace the returning son, one hand in the form of a man’s hand and the other hand in the form of a woman’s hand.54

Between “face to face” and “together for the sake of”

          Dialogue puts forward two opposite parties. The danger is that this dialogue becomes transformed into narcissism in the two whereby the one contemplates his image in the other or mutual selfishness, so the one searches for his interest in the other while the world is burning around them. Dialogue gets rid of this narcissism or selfishness when the dialogue is “for the sake of” or “towards” and not “against” or “at the expense of.” In the icon of the Holy Trinity the dialogue between the hypostases (towards the inside) is transformed into a dialogue for the sake of or towards (towards the outside). The same movement which pushes the one towards the other is that which pushes all of them towards the outside, that is, man. The letters of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East very often use this expression “for the sake of man.”55 In this case the dialogue is transformed, not against a third party, but rather into a common testimony before the world and a common commitment for the sake of the poor, the marginalized, the outcasts, the suppressed and those lurking under all forms of suppression and deprivation. When the dialogue is not transformed into “for the sake of”, it is possible that it will end revolving in a boring vicious circle.


In the icon there is a touch of sadness and dejection, as if it is an unconscious expression by the painter of the icon of the yearning for this beautiful world which seems to be out of the reach of humans. Here it is inevitable to distinguish between the historical stamp of the icon and the other world stamp. The icon is not a formulation of an imaginary world which is difficult to attain, rather it is an icon for the world of man. The believer contemplates this icon to derive from it hope and expectation which he transforms into a daily commitment in history. However, the image in this history remains incomplete. This leads us to the other world stamp of this icon whereby it will be manifested with all of its splendor and fullness at the end of times when God may be everything for everyone (1 Corinthians 15:28). On the earth we contemplate this icon in the darkness of the senses, amidst the turmoil of this world and in a clay vessel. However, in the heavenly kingdom we will live its fullness in the eternal wedding celebration around the Lamb (see Revelation 19:1 – 10). And this is what combines hope and work.

          In 1937 the international Spanish artist Pablo Picasso painted his famous portrait “Guernica” in which he depicted the ugliness of the Spanish Civil War. In this portrait it is possible for us to have a glimpse of a triangular shape consisting of the severed limbs which are scattering in the portrait as if it is a death triangle. With the icon of Roublev move from the triangle of death to the Trinity of life. If the portrait of Picasso is hanging in one of the halls of the United Nations, it is necessary to hang the icon of the Holy Trinity beside it so that the nations remember that the final word is for the Trinity of love and not for the triangle of death. On the door step of the third millennium the icon of the Holy Trinity by Roublev is still performing its message: with its joyful colors it confronts death with life, darkness with splendor, and ugliness with beauty.

You are holy, O God

You are holy, O you the Mighty One

You are holy, O you who do not die

Have Mercy On Us



1)     The Second Vatican Council, Constitutions, Resolutions, Statements, Translation under the supervision of Father Hanna Fakhoury. The Pauline Library Publications, 1992 and in particular: A Creed Constitution in the Church, p.33 – 116;  The Church in the World of Today, p.199 – 314

2)     Synod of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East, The joint Pastoral Letters, and in particular The First Letter (1991), the second letter: Christian Presence in the East: A Message and a Testimony (1992), the third letter: Together Before God for the Sake of Man and Society: Joint Living Among Muslims and Christians in the Arab World, (1994), the fourth letter: The Mystery of the Church (1996), the fifth letter, The Ecumenical Movement (1999)

3)     The Synod of the Heads of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land, The General Pastoral Plan, Jerusalem 2000, and in particular the fifth chapter: Community in the church and its tools, p.65 – 74

4)     Boris Bobrinsky, Le Mystère de la Trinité, Cerf 1986

5)     J.Mollmann, Trinité et Royaume de Dieu, Cerf 1984

6)     A group of authors, Studies on The Trinity: Contemporary Approaches, Middle East Council of Churches, 1994

7)     A Group of authors, Presenting the Holy Trinity to Contemporary Thought, Middle East Council of Churches, 1991

8)     Paul Evdokimov, L’art de l’icône: théologie de la beauté, Desclée 1972

9)     Daniel-Ange, L’étreinte de feu: l’icône de la trinité de Roublev, Le Sarment, 2000

10)      Frére Benoit Selbire, Roublev’s Icon of the Trinity: An initiation into the mystery of God, Translation from the French original by R.S, article polycopié

11)      Daniel Rousseau, The Icon: Splendor of Your Face, Translated into Arabic by Muslim Basil Aoun, Al-Kaslik, Lebanon 2004

12)      Sister Marie Paul, The Icon: An Inspiration, Translated into Arabic by Bishop Franics Al-Baysari. Publications of the Catholic Center For Christian Education in Lebanon, 2005

13)      Emma Ghrayib Khoury, The Icon: Explanation and Contemplation, Al-Nour Publications, 1999

14)      Le Hiéromoine Cyrille, l’icône de la Trinité de Roublev dans la tradition orthodoxe, trouvé sur Internet

15)      Père Lev Gillet, La signification spirituelle de l’icône de la Sainte Trinité d’André Roublev, trouvé sur internet

16)      Leonide Ouspensky, André Roublev, trouvé sur Internet

17)      Andre Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema, translated from the Russian by Kitty Hunter-Blair, The Bodly Head, London, 1987

18)      Francis Moury, Andrei Roublev de Tarkovski, trouvé sur internet

19)      Maximilian Le Cain, Andre Tarkovski, trouvé sur internet




  1. The first letter of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East (1991), paragraph two
  2. The second letter of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East Christian Presence  in the East: A Witness and a Message (1992) number 13
  3. Ibid, number 13
  4. See Sister Marie Paul, The Icon An Inspiration, which was translated into Arabic by Bishop Francis Al-Baisari, publications of the Catholic Center for Christian Education in Lebanon 2005, pp7-8, 30-31
  5. See Daniel Rousseau, The Splendor of Your Face, translated into Arabic by Mushir Basil Aon, publications of Al-Kaslik University 2004, p.178-180
  6. Perhaps one objects and says: if the divine nature cannot be fathomed, why do we talk about it? Is it because I cannot drink all the river I cannot take from it what I need? And is it because all the capacity of the eyes cannot absorb all the sun I cannot look sufficiently at it for my benefit? If I enter a great garden and cannot eat from all of its fruits, do you want me to get out of it and be hungry? Therefore let me praise and glorify our Creator. I seek praising the Lord and not interpreting Him.” Cyril of Jerusalem, the Sermons, sixth sermon , then 5, translated into Arabic by Father George Nassour, Al-Kaslik 1982, M 91-92
  7. Sister Marie Paul, ibid, pp.8, 31
  8. Cité par Daniel-Ange, L’étreinte de feu: L’icône  de la Trinité de Roublov, Le Sarment 2000, p.68
  9. Contemporary documents mention how Andre Roblev, like his colleague in drawing the icons, used to spend his leisure and feast days before the holy icons, contemplating their immaterial and divine light. See Daniel-Ange, op.cit.p.91
  10. In one of his weekly meetings (Wednesday, 29 March 2006) Pope Benedict XVI in talking about partnership in the church, referred to this Russian ascetic to say how the Holy Spirit was transformed in his life to a peace project, because partnership with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit prepares human beings for peace because it gathers nations and cancels isolation which threatens the entire world.  From Zenit
  11. Emma Ghrayib Khoury,The Icon: Explanation and Contemplation, publications of Al-nour 1999, p.116
  12. See, Leonide Ouspensky,André Roublev, trouvé sur Internet, Daniel-Ange, op.cit, pp.89-105, and also Emma Ghrayib Khoury, Ibid, pp.115-117
  13. See, Frère benout Sebire,Roublev’s Icon of the Trinity: An Initiation into the Mystery of God. Translation from the French original by R.S. , article polycopié, p.5
  14. Andre Tartovsky, the Russian producer of the film “Andre Roublev” says: “This is the Trinity, which is ultimately, the summit of Andre Roublev’s life and its meaning. That great quiet Trinity in which rapture permeates vis-à-vis human brotherhood. It is a bodily division of one being into three, and a tripartite union in which a unity is prominent which looks in wonder at a future which is still scattered between the centuries”. “It was mentioned in Rousseau, ibid, p.212. The icon was removed from its natural environment which is the iconostas pf the Holy Trinity and today it finds its place in the Tertiakov Corridor in Moscow.
  15. See, Leonide Ouspensky, ibid. In 1904 a specialized committee renovated the icon. When it appeared in all of its original splendor, they said: “We can certainly say that there is nothing like this artistic masterpiece in terms of theological summary, symbolic richness and artistic beauty.” See Emma Ghrayib Khouri, ibid, p.115
  16. See Andrey Tarkovsky,Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema: London 1987, p89 On the meaning of the film for the producer, see pages 34-35, 78-80, 168, 186, 205. On the experience of Andre Roublev, the producer says: “Only after he passed through the circles of pain like his people, and after he lost his faith in the idea of the good which will not agree with the reality, Andre returns anew to the starting point: to the idea of love, good and brotherhood. He has now experienced personally the great and sublime truth of this idea which expresses the aspirations of his tormented people. ibid, M. 89-90
  17. Boris Bobrinskoy says: “The anthropological dimensions of the mystery of the Holy Trintiy are boundless, Boris Bobrinskoy,Le Mystère de la Trinité, Cours de théologie Orthodosce, cerf 1986 p.12
  18. See, Daniel-Ange, op.cit.p.66. Saint Sergius says: “contemplating the Holy Spirit makes us overcome the hateful absurdities of the world, “cite par Id., p86
  19. See, Paul Evdokimov,L’art de l’icône, Théologie de la Beauté, Desclée 1972, p.205
  20. “The icon of the Holy Trinity best expresses the circle of divine love which is open to host humanity and calling it to the eternal Trinitarian table.” Bobrinskoy, op.cit.p.20; aussi p.145
  21. Perhaps John the Theologian is the evangelist who best expresses this negotiation by his repeated use of the expression “as….also” (see, for example, 6; 57; 10:14-15; 17:18, 21)
  22. Daniel-Ange, op.cit.110
  23. Number 22 (“Christ the New Human Being”  at the conclusion of the first chapter on “the Incarnated Word and the Human Person”, number 32 (“the Incarnated Word and Human Solidarity” at the conclusion of the second chapter on “The Human Community”, number 38 and 39 “ The human Activity and Its Completion in the Mystery of Easter”, “A New Earth and a New Heaven” at the conclusion of the third chapter “The Human Activity in the Universe”, number 45 “Christ the Alpha and the Omega” at the conclusion of the fourth chapter “The Role of the Church in the World of Today,” number 57 “Faith  and Culture” in the context of the second chapter of part two on “ The Setting of Culture”, number 72 (“Economic Activity and the Kingdom of Christ” at the conclusion of the third chapter on “ Economic and Social Life”), number 93 (“The Necessity of Building the World and Moving it to its Purpose,” at the end of all the document
  24. P. Teilhard de Chardin,Le Milieu Divin, Seuil 1975, p.137-138
  25. Catholic Patriarchs of the East, The Mystery of the Church(1996) number 11. See also Father Rafiq Khoury, Churches or Sects.., A Future Vision, Al-Liqa’ Journal 1-2/2005, p.32-54
  26. Mystery of The Church, number 17
  27. Ibid, p.18
  28. Evdokimov, op.cit.,p.205
  29. Mystery of the Church, number 22
  30. See:Mystery of the church, number 22
  31. Ibid, number 35
  32. The second Vatican Council, a creed constitution in the Church, number 1
  33. See the first document of this dialogue:The mystery of the church and the Eucharist in the light of the mystery of the Holy Spirit, is: Al-Liqa’ Journal (Jerusalem, November 3.94, P.42-51. We read in this document: “The Eucharistic celebration in its entire form clarifies the Trinitarian stamp of the church. In the Eucharist the believers are united in Christ who gives Himself to the Father with them. This completeness in unity which is made by the Father, the Son and the Spirit who are united and acting according to the plan of the Father and in connection with him is the Church in its full completeness.” (P.44-45)
  34. See,The Mystery of the Church, number 32 – 38
  35. A creed constitution in the Church, number 4
  36. P. Evdokinov,op.vit. p. 205
  37. The mystery of the Church, number 25
  38. It is the same icon which we see the embrace of the Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras on the Mount of Olives in 1964
  39. Paul VI,Apostolic Call for Declaring the Gospel, number 62
  40. See the same references number 63. This is the man whom John Paul II calls us to witness for Him by paying attention to persons and being committed to the issues of man, his rights and progress, taking our the prophetic courageous positions in confronting the political and economical authority and standing beside the poor, the young and those in pain, so that the Christians become biblical signs in their homeland and in the middle of their people. See: John Paul II,The Mission of the Redeemer, number 42 – 43
  41. Christian Presence in the East, number 55
  42. Ibid, number 53
  43. Catholic Patriarchs of the East:Together Before God for the Sake of Man and Society: Joint Living between Muslims and Christians in the Arab World, (1994), number 47
  44. Leonardo Boff says: “The Trinity is our true social project.” See:On the Trinity: Contemporary Approaches, p.113
  45. See:The Christian Presence in the East, number 17 – 20
  46. Together for the Sake of Man and Society, number 46
  47. See:The Christian Presence in the East, number 24 – 25
  48. See: K. Rahner/ H.Vorgrimler,Petit dictionnaire de théologie catholique, “circumincession”, p.76, The word is Greek and  implies dancing
  49. Here we draw the attention to what the Catholic Patriarchs of the East say in the context of their presentation of the Islamic-Christian relations in the Arab world: The Christians in the East are an inseparable part of the civilizational identity of the Muslims. Also the Muslims in the East are an inseparable part of the civilizational identity of the Christians:The Christian Presence in the East, number 48
  50. See: Father Rafiq Khoury,The vocabulary of entering the world of the other in: The Embodiment of the Churches of the East in the Arab Tent, Publications of Al-Liqa’, p.293-305
  51. See: P. DuBrul,The Holy Trinity: Obstacle or Path to Interreligious Dialogue with a commentary on John  Millbank’s Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, Al-Liqa’ Journal , 14-15 (2000) pp. 203-219
  52. On ‘the culture of the face; see:Together Before God for the Sake of Man and Society, number 24
  53. See:The dialogue with Mahmoud Darwish, in: Masharef Magazine , number 3 (1995), p.74
  54. Saint Clement of Alexandria says: “By His mysterious divinity, God is a Father. However the tenderness He has for us makes him a mother. The Father becomes feminine when he loves. “Cité par Daniel-Ange, op.cit, p108
  55. See, for example, and not exclusively:The Christian Presence in the East, number 155.Together Before God for the Sake of Man and Society, number 47


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