In a previous posting I discussed the icon type known generally as the New Testament Trinity. Here is an example of the basic type:
It depicts the three persons of the Trinity seated in heaven. Jesus is at left, and to the right is God the Father (Lord Sabaoth) depicted, as was common, as an old man with a white beard. Above them is the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. In a ring around them are cherubim and seraphim, and in the outer points are the symbols of the Four Evangelists.
There is a slightly more detailed type that, while utilizing the same basic image, adds to it Mary at the left and John the Forerunner (Baptist) at the right, approaching the Trinity on behalf of mankind. This makes the New Testament Trinity into a kind of Deisis variant.
The image below is an example of that. The inscription painted at the top gives it the rather grand title, “IMAGE OF THE THREE-HYPOSTATIC GODHOOD.” The royal orb at center, surmounted by a cross, symbolizes divine rule over the world. So we can see that when we look at New Testament Trinity icons, we are supposed to be seeing the heavenly court, which believers pictured very much in the likeness of the earthly court of a Byzantine Emperor or a Russian Tsar, with supplicants approaching to ask favors.
There is an even more complex and interesting type of the New Testament Trinity that is popularly called the New Testament Trinity “AMONG THE POWERS.” What are these powers? They are the various ranks of angels, also found in the heavenly court, who are also referred to as the “Bodiless Powers,” because unlike humans, their forms are not material.
In the example below, we see angels (at top) and archangels (at the sides), as well as cherubim and seraphim and the odd kind of angel called “Thrones,” which are seen at the feet of the Trinity. The “Thrones” are those odd, winged wheels.
The archangels bear the symbols commonly associated with each. If you look closely at the angel just to the left of Mary, you will see that he has a small boy with him, and the boy holds a fish. That angel is the Archangel Raphael, and the boy with him is Tobias, from the apocryphal Book of Tobit, which tells the peculiar folk tale of how Raphael told the boy Tobias to catch a fish and to remove its organs, which turn out, when burnt, to be able to drive out demons.
Here is another example of the New Testament Trinity “Among the Powers.” This example adds a few saints to the angels at the top.
We also see Raphael and Tobias again, and Tobias still has his large fish, better seen in this detail:
At the lower left is a Guardian Angel leading the small figure of a girl before God (it is a boy in some examples). This is a generic figure representing the soul of the Christian believer, and is here given the title, “The Righteous Soul” (Dusha Pravednaia). There is also an angel at lower right with a boy. Customarily this boy has no halo, and represents the “Sinful Soul” (Dusha Greshnaya) being led before God by the generic figure of the Angel Khranitel, the Guardian Angel who watches over each Christian person in Eastern Orthodox belief.
Here is another example — a 19th century icon from a workshop in the Urals. It again bears the title “Image of the Three-Hypostatic Godhood, Father and Son and Holy Spirit” (ОБРАЗ ТРIИПОСТАСНАГО БОЖЕСТВА ОЦА И СЫНА И СВЯТАГО ДУХА — Obraz Triipostasnago Bozhestva Otsa i Suina i Svyatago Dukha).
This example puts strong emphasis on the Archangels, their names and actions in its inscriptions. In these more detailed “Three-Hypostatic Godhood” versions, one often finds a Church Slavic text in a rather baroque-looking cartouche at the bottom (as in the above icon), reading:
Отца Безначальна, Сына Собезначальна, Духа Соприсносущна, / Божество Едино, / херувимски славословити дерзающе, глаголем: / Свят, Свят, Свят еси, Боже наш, молитвами всех святых Твоих помилуй нас.
“Beginningless Father, co-beginningless Son, co-eternal Spirit, one Godhood, we glorify in the manner of the Cherubim, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy are you, our God; through the prayers of all saints have mercy on us.”
It is from a Hymn to the Trinity (a Троичен — Troichen), tone 3:
Троице Единосущная и Нераздельная, / Единице Триипостасная и Соприсносущная, / Тебе, яко Богу, Ангельскую песнь вопием: / Свят, Свят, Свят еси, Боже наш:
Слава: Отца Безначальна, Сына Собезначальна, Духа Соприсносущна, / Божество Едино, / херувимски славословити дерзающе, глаголем: / Свят, Свят, Свят еси, Боже наш, молитвами всех святых Твоих помилуй нас.
“O Trinity, of one essence and undivided, three-hypostatic and co-eternal Unity, to you as God we sing the Angelic hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy are you, our God.
Beginningless Father, co-beginningless Son, co-eternal Spirit, one Godhood, we glorify in the manner of the Cherubim, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy are you, our God; through the prayers of all saints have mercy on us.”
In a future posting I may talk more about the ranks of angels, their textual origins, and their role in icons. But for now, if you have read this posting you will be able to recognize the New Testament Trinity type and its variants.
Just one final word: Why is it called the New Testament Trinity? That is to distinguish it from the Old Testament Trinity type, which shows the three persons of the Trinity represented as the three angels who visited the Patriarch Abraham at the Oak of Mamre as recorded in the Old Testament. The Greeks call that type the “Hospitality of Abraham.”