Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Abraham, Sarah, and the Trinity
(A Tree at the Heart of St. Francis House)


The icon of the Holy Trinity (above) hangs on the west wall of the St. Francis House chapel and is an anonymous gift of friends of St. Francis House, given in honor of Fr. White, Bishop Hallock and his son, Peter, and Mrs. Yvonne Otto, longtime housemother at St. Francis House. The icon will be dedicated as part of the community's 100th anniversary celebration, on the weekend of April 23rd.

The beautiful new icon in the St. Francis House chapel tells the story of Abraham, Sarah, and the three visitors they welcomed in their home under the oaks of Mamre (Gen 18). The icon-writing tradition is notoriously reluctant to visually depict the persons of the Trinity together, but the tradition finds a lone exception in depicting this visit to Abraham and Sarah. 

Just after he hung the icon in the chapel, the iconographer - Drazen - explained what he considered to be the key features of the icon. He started with Christ, the central of the three figures. The meal of the three individuals at the table prefigures the Eucharist that, weekly, the icon will oversee in the chapel. Drazen moved from Christ directly to the napkins. "The napkins?" I asked. "Yes!" he said, with a broad smile. Drazen explained that, in Middle-Eastern culture, to eat with neatly folded napkins in one's lap is to express dissatisfaction with the hospitality one has been offered. To keep too neat a napkin is an indication that one will not come to a given home again. The napkins in the figures' laps are emphatically not neat. The hospitality has been gladly accepted, Drazen explained, and the figures express their intention to continually visit the home. This is both a profession that "Christ will come again" and a communication of what happens in the Eucharist, as God gives God's people the food - God's own self - that we need. Finally, it is noteworthy that in many icons of the Trinity, Abraham and Sarah appear off to the side or not at all. Here, in keeping with the scriptural account, they are serving at the table. In their service, they have taken their place in a circle of friendship with God; it is a circle that the viewer completes, as one who stands on the fourth side of the table.

The story of Abraham, Sarah, and the Trinity carries a special significance for the faith community at St. Francis House today. Everywhere in the House, you will find pictures and metal sculptures of trees, recalling this story in which the welcome of the stranger became an occasion for encounter with God. It is a story that lifts up the baptismal promise to "seek and serve Christ in all persons," and which well fits a community whose doors are continually open to the thousands of students, faculty, and staff, to whom we daily extend our hospitality and for whom we gladly open our lives.

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