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