Icon of the Holy Trinity by Vladimir Moss

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Icon of the Holy Trinity by Vladimir Moss

May 16, 2015

 

In recent years, the icon of the Holy Trinity in which the Father is portrayed as an old man with white hair, the Son as a young man, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, has been characterized as “deception” and “cacodoxy” by some Orthodox writers, especially the Greek-American George Gabriel.

The arguments Gabriel brings forward are essentially three:-

1. It is impossible to see or portray the Divine nature. Only the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, can be portrayed on icons, for He took on visible, tangible flesh in His Incarnation. Therefore the portrayal of the Father, Who has not become incarnate, is forbidden and speedily leads to the heresy of the circumscribability of the Divinity.

2. The icon of the Holy Trinity in question is supposed to portray the Prophet Daniel’s vision of “The Ancient of Days”, the old man with white hair being a depiction of the figure called “The Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7). However, the Ancient of Days, according to the Tradition and hymnology of the Church, is Christ, not the Father. Therefore the icon is based on a false interpretation of the prophetic text.

3. The icon of the Holy Trinity in question is a western invention, and has been forbidden by the Councils of Moscow in 1666 and Constantinople in 1780. These councils are authentic witnesses of Holy Tradition. Therefore their decisions should be respected and the icon condemned.

In this article I propose to show that these arguments are false and should be rejected. In doing so I shall rely largely on the excellent work, The Holy Trinity in Orthodox Iconography, produced (in Greek) by Nativity skete, Katounakia, Mount Athos. The present article is essentially a synopsis of the main arguments of this work together with a few observations of my own.

Continue reading….

 

NFTU: There is additional documentation and investigation into this question here.

  • John Collis

    I am somewhat confused by what appears to be a paradox. I can understand the Canon that says that “God the Father” cannot be depicted, and the justification here for the historical depictions.
    Can someone provide me a clear example of what the Canon was intended to prohibit?
    If I draw an old man with a long beard and say that is God, it would be absurd, since nobody has seen God, so my depiction is contrived and therefore, I wouldn’t be breaking any Canon. Or, I draw God the Father with a long beard, call him the Ancient of Days, and am not contravening the Canon.
    Why have the Canon in the first place, if there is no practical means of violating it?

    • BD

      John,
      I think your recent experience with revisionist history, caused by joining the GOC-K, has clouded your judgement.
      The fact that the Father is depicted in an icon and venerated is a violation of the canons.
      You jumped on Name Worshipping and that has been condemened by councils. The Trinity icon was condmended by the similar councils, but yet you try and make the issue insignificant to justy your GOC-K. Be consistant and you won’t be confused.

      • John Collis

        BD:

        Christ is Risen! Peace, brother or sister!

        I respect your anonymity, but wasn’t looking for a venomous response. Everything I have written to date has been over issues, with never any hatred towards my fellow Christians.

        I am seeking an example to better understand this. I think this would best come from someone sympathetic to V. Moss’s opinion above. I am not saying that I would swallow it whole, just that I need to understand the different perspective.

        What is a clear example, of the depiction of God the Father, that would have violated the canons?

        Cheers,

        John Collis

    • HmkEnoch

      Christ is Risen!

      John,

      Can you tell me what Canon in the Pedalion you are referring to? As V. Moss points out, when you get the canons of some local councils in the 1500s and 1600s you have different views expressed.

      In Christ,

      Fr. Enoch

      • John Collis

        Fr. Enoch:

        Truly He Is Risen!

        Thank you for your response.

        My understanding was that there was a Canon from the 7th Ecumenical Council specifically dealing with this issue. I have been trying to find something from the web and have been unsuccessful. I visited

        http://www.intratext.com/X/ENG0835.HTM
        and nothing is clear to me. Can you suggest a better source for understanding what the Canons of the 7th Ecumenical Council were?
        Cheers,
        John Collis

        • HmkEnoch

          John,

          The Canons of the Seventh Ecumenical Council do not mention this issue per se. The argument has always been that the Ancient of Days as the Father is not a depiction of the Divine Essence (which is impossible), or of any ‘incarnate Hypostasis’ of the Father, but, of a vision in Daniel. While it is true that the Presentation services present the Ancient of Days as the Son of God, which is absolutely true; other services and many Fathers interpret as having a simultaneous application as a ‘vision’ of God the Father.

          I do seem to have some vague reference in my mind to a letter by Pope St. Adrian that may touch on this issue, but, I’ll have to find it.

          What you are thinking of, I believe, would be a decree or canon from the 1666-7 Council of Moscow. It sought to prohibit the New Testament Trinity icons, and, seemingly, any kind of representation of God the Father, though, what people miss is that it does mention that God the Father can be represented as He is in the Apocalypse. This decision sought to overturn a previous Russian Orthodox Council in 1557 or so, held by St. Macarius of Moscow, which approved New Testament Trinity icons. After the 1666 Moscow Council, there was an attempt to prohibit the images, though they were never successful, and by the end of the 1700s, the Russian Church and Synod had simply ‘moved past’, you might say, this issue and the anathemas passed as against the Russian Old Ritual (i.e., the Holy Synod, in fact, began printing books with the New Testament Trinity Icons [I believe Menologion, etc] in this period, as well as starting the Edinoverie in 1780).

          For example, the Kursk Root Icon and other wonder-working icons have the “Old Man” (i.e. vision depiction of the Father) in them.

          Unlike other local Councils and their prohibitions, and their addressing of doctrinal and praxis questions (which are, of course, connected), such as Imaslavism, etc, there was no large scale attempt on the part of the Hierarchy after the 1667 Synod to excommunicate and depose large numbers of clergy and laity for use of this icon; an attempt, I believe by the Holy Synod in Russia was made int he 1720s or so to discourage it, but, after a large scale failure took place, and the resistance of many people, the issue was dropped. In that sense, it seems the iconographic issue, though suffused and root in controversy among some, has simply been left ‘as is’ by Church practice for some time (I say this above, b/c attempts to connect this issue with Imiaslavism in regards to the 1912 and 1913 Synods are not accurate, as there were previous Councils to 1667 which approved both the Hospitality of Abraham [which has never been controversial, as I understand] and the New Testament Trinity, in theory; while Imiaslavism was condemned in quick succession, clergy and laity were deposed and excommunicated, and the Russian hierarchy continued to oppose it, such as St. Tikhon, Met. Anthony (Khrapovitsky), etc; the exact opposite attitude was taken to the iconographic issue]).

          If one opposes the depiction or is against it, it was certainly not treated as a matter that was worthy of the treatment of heresy. [It is not worth much at all, but, I and many others only ‘came to the defense’ of this representation in a ‘reactionary’ sense, i.e., it seemed that the opponents of the NT Trinity were oftentimes associated with various attempts to indiscriminately attack Church Tradition. ]

          In Christ,

          Fr. Enoch

  • highlander

    Unbelievable.

    This icon is teaching the heresy “filioque”, that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son.

    • HmkEnoch

      Which one? There are multiple ones. The one attached to the post is several hundred years old that has been venerated by the Fathers of Mt. Athos for those hundreds of years; I don’t believe they interpreted it as filioquism.

      • highlander

        Any icon with the dove in the middle. How old is “filioque”? ~1000 years. I would never venerate such “icon”. Even theologians in ecumenist churches teach that this icon is a heretical. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in a prefect triangle which shows that the Holy Spirit, God forbid, comes from both of them. Ask a good iconographer if there are any left.

        • HmkEnoch

          Obviously, the Athonite Fathers did not believe in the Filioque heresy. Obviously they had this icon made in Vatopedi Monastery entrance way hundreds of years ago. The only conclusion is that the Fathers were just so stupid and ignorant as to not know it was teaching the filioque heresy, or the Fathers of Athos understood it was not teaching the filioque heresy.

          The Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon has an image of God the Father on it, yet, no one has accused it of heresy.

          Here is a link from the Fathers and Orthodox writers about this: http://www.saintjonah.org/articles/ancientofdays.htm

          No one said they accepted the filioquist heresy; but, it is wrong to attribute to the Kursk Root Icon, or the Athonite Fathers of hundreds of year, or other ancient icons, that these are blasphemous and heretical, otherwise, the Lord would not have worked miracles from them.

          • highlander

            Forgive me, I did not want to make you angry. I will keep my opinion because I am right, and in this text that you sent the link nowhere says that the image of God Father can be painted. Yes, Holy Fathers did have the visions, but the canons do not say that we may paint the image of God Father. Holy Fathers are not stupid, I did not say that, but even Holy Fathers made mistakes, as we all do. Miracles happen all the time, even in ecumenical churches, but that does not give us any proof that they are on the right path. About this icon, I believe it is not coincidence that it is promoted more than ever before, it also appears in many modern books. Well educated iconographer would never paint this icon, as they strictly follow the canons. It is not known who exactly painted these icons before. Latins always used to infiltrate the orthodox monasteries and try to push their teachings. Anyway, forgive me a sinner.

          • HmkEnoch

            Highlander,

            I’m not ‘angry’, simply irritated, because the same people in the US and other places that have attacked the New Testament Trinity icons, have generally been the same people who attacked as ‘heresy’ the telonia.

            However, it is wrong to say the Kursk Root icon, which was made in the 1200s, and has played such a positive and Orthodox role in all of Orthodox Christian Russian history is simply ‘Latin heresy’, or to attribute the miracles God worked in it to be the same with the demonic false miracles of the RC and Protestant churches.

            If multitudes of Orthodox saints, confessors, clergy, laity, venerated the Kursk Root Icon for the past 750+ years, without anyone anathematizing or excommunicating a single person over it then it seems these saints knew better than we.

            In Christ,

            Fr. Enoch

          • highlander

            Do not be irritated, also. I will explain, if I can.
            There is the difference between the Kursk Root Icon and the one that has been popularized recently. The first one, shows God Father and The Holy Spirit coming from the God Father. In the icon that you say is named the New Testament icon, the Holy Spirit comes from both of them. The new icon originates from the baroque era, and that is where the Russians started importing things and teachings from the west. I really do not believe that the icon which shows the Holy Spirit that comes from both God Father and God Son is correct, and this has nothing to do will telonia. I believe in toll houses, and do not have problem with that.

          • highlander

            The Seventh Council (Second Council of Nicaea) is specific regarding icons.
            Oros of Seventh Councils says that beside the Holy Cross, these icons are to be in use: Icons of Jesus Christ, Icons of Holy Mother of God, Icons of Angels and Icons of Saints.
            Professional iconographers are strictly following the Canons, and do not paint the image of God Father.

          • HmkEnoch

            I see what you are trying to say.

        • HmkEnoch

          Perhaps you endorse defacing the depiction of God the Father on the Kursk Root icon since it is ‘blasphemous’ and ‘heretical’, and the iconographer who made this God blessed icon did not ‘stick to the Holy Fathers writings’?