Friday, September 25, 2009

Anton Rublev

Twenty years ago I first saw the Russian film Rublev. It is the story of the monk and icon writer Anton Rublev. The film was shot in black and white as it relates his life in an incredibly violent age but then at the very end as some of Rublev's icons are shown in switches into colour. I still remember how overwhelmed I felt sitting in the theatre seeing the beauty of Rublev's icons. But icons aren't meant to be works of art but rather windows to another reality.

Here are Henri Nouwen's words on Rublev's famous icon of the trinity from today's post on "Speaking to the Soul."

Hardly a day passes in our lives without our experience of inner or outer fears, anxieties, apprehensions and preoccupations. These dark powers have pervaded every part of our world to such a degree that we can never fully escape them. Still it is possible not to belong to these powers, not to build our dwelling place among them, but to choose the house of love as our home. This choice is made not just once and for all but by living a spiritual life, praying at all times and thus breathing God’s breath. Through the spiritual life we gradually move from the house of fear to the house of love.

I have never seen the house of love more beautifully expressed than in the icon of the Holy Trinity, painted by Andrew Rublev in 1425 in memory of the great Russian saint, Sergius (1313-1392). For me the contemplation of this icon has increasingly become a way to enter more deeply into the mystery of divine life while remaining fully engaged in the struggles of our hate-and-fear-filled world.

Andrew Rublev painted this icon not only to share the fruits of his own meditation on the mystery of the Holy Trinity but also to offer his fellow monks a way to keep their hearts centered in God while living in the midst of political unrest. The more we look at this holy image with the eyes of faith, the more we come to realize that it is painted not as a lovely decoration for a convent church, nor as a helpful explanation of a difficult doctrine, but as a holy place to enter and stay within. As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in the intimate conversation that is taking place among the three divine angels and to join them around the table.

From Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons by Henri J. M. Nouwen (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 1987).

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