Feast of the Most Holy Trinity Saint Andrei the Icon Painter

Russian Hagiography

Feast of St. Andrei Rublev in the Eastern Church, July 4

RublevTrinity copy

In the City of Spice and Gold

Byzantine Tales and Parables

St. Andrei, the Icon Painter is included in the eBook Story and Prayer. (Click on the bookcover below.) The book is a retreat resource with eleven stories to facilitate (1) Lectio Divina, (2) Centering Prayer, and (3) Praying with Icons. St. Andrei, the Icon Painter is in the section on Praying with Icons.  All stories can also be heard, as well as read, with Robert Béla Wilhelm narrating these tales. A perfect resource for retreats, prayer days, and spiritual direction.

Story and Prayer

Lectionary Images

2 Corinthians 13: 11-13

Revised Common & Roman Lectionaries

2 Corinthians 13: (5-10) 11-14

Episcopal Lectionary

Brothers and sisters,

Mend your ways.

Care for one another,

live in harmony,

and rest in peace.

Greet one another

with the kiss

of peace.

John 3: 16-18

Roman Lectionary

And to Nicodemus,

Jesus said:

“God so loved the world

that he gave His Son

to the world.

And whoever knows the Son

will not die,

will have eternal life.”

The Story

Storytelling is spoken communication not written communication. If you wish to learn the story, listen to it a few times. That way you first hear it with another teller’s voice, rather than interpret it by hearing your own inner voice while reading. Then, you will find your own voice when you first tell it.  

Yes, it will take more time, but remember that storytelling and storylistening is the oral form of Lectio Divina.  Take your time to meditate, and to pray.  Take the story into your heart first.  Your head will catch up later. — 

Robert Béla Wilhelm

How to Tell Sacred Stories


The art critics call Andrei Rublev’s “Old Testament Holy Trinity” the greatest icon ever painted. This needs some explaining.

An Icon, in the tradition of the Eastern churches, is not just a picture but a presence. It does not portray some reality that is somewhere else -- like a photo snapshot. Instead, the Icon is a manifestation to this world of a sacred presence that is normally hidden from our eyes.

In the religious art of the West, we are accustomed to think of ourselves as looking into a picture as a viewer outside a house might peer into that house.

This is partly because he have inherited the great Renaissance discovery of “perspective.” Until the coming of modern art, all art seemed to be three dimensional. It had depth, and it filled a space.

But the Icon is flat and has no normal perspective. Indeed, iconographers use a technique of “reverse perspective” — giving the effect of a telephoto lens, so that the subjects in the back loom larger than the subjects in the front.

This creates the illusion that the picture is moving towards us. It approaches us. We do not see the Icon. The Icon sees us.

And this is the spirituality of the Icon and the Eastern church. If we try to grasp or see the Holy through our own efforts, we are voyeurs peeking through the window into Paradise. But if we are receptive -- in our simplicity, our repentance, our humility — than the Holy gracefully reveals its mysteries to us.

Andrei Rublev’s Icon is called the “Old Testament Holy Trinity” because it is based on the Biblical tale of God visiting Abraham and Sarah in the desert in the form of angels. Christian exegesis saw them as symbols of the Triune God.

When iconographers first portrayed the story, they included Sarah and Abraham in their art. Rublev transformed the image by simplifying it into three figures. He thereby made “Three ness” clear and evident.

At the time other iconographers portrayed one of the angels as larger and dominant, reflecting a theology that described the Father as the divine source -- sending the Son and sending the Spirit. A long-standing dispute (Is the Spirit sent by the Father alone, or the Father ‘AND THE SON’ -- Filioque (in Latin)?) had already bitterly divided the Western and Eastern Churches.

Andrei Rublev offers a solution through his image of the three angels, none dominant, relating to each other in a flowing dynamic. They form a dynamic circle with their energies flowing between each other and through the center as well.

Rublev portrays the humility of the Divine Persons and this picture move out of the Icon towards us. We are invited through simplicity and humility to fulfill the hope of Saint Sergei (or Sergius) that

“Contemplation of the Holy

Trinity would conquer the

hateful fear of this world’s dissensions.”

Andrei may have entered the Holy Trinity Monastery when St. Sergei was a venerable old man. And so he might well have seen in the life of Sergei the presence of the “Life-Creating Trinity” (a phrase constantly prayed in the Byzantine liturgy) -- simplicity, reconciliation, and humility.

The Icon is presently in the Tretyakov Museum in Moscow. Sergei was officially declared a saint soon after his death. His feastday is September 25.

Andrei was declared a saint by the Russian Orthodox saint soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Svyatoy Andrei Rublyov (or, more commonly in English, St. Andrew Rublev) has his feastday on July 4.


Wheatberry Porridge is called “Kutya” in Russian. It is an ancient dish, eaten especially at sacred times of birth and death.

The recipe is both simple and humble, and it brings reconciliation to those who share it: 

Gently simmer whole wheat

grains in water for two hours.

Sweeten with honey. Eat.


Learning to be a storyteller requires a discipline to which few people are willing to subject themselves.

First, there is a submission to the stories themselves. Tellers learn not to tamper with tales to “make them better” nor to impose their own opinions and ideologies. Stories are not tools for indoctrination or propaganda for advancing agendas.

Then there is the submission to the Self. Not to the Ego, but to the Self. The storyteller is not the center of attention. The story is. And the story cannot be heard unless it is told selflessly.

The teller loves her or his tale as if it were a person. For it is a person, or at least populated by people. The storyteller is at the service of the tale and the characters who live in it.

And finally there is submission to the craft of storytelling. The subtle techniques of creating, shaping, and sharing the stories. And it is this craftiness that often eludes us.

It took me decades to learn the craft of cuisine and I practice it every day. I prepare meals from scratch, and it typically takes me one or two hours to cook an evening meal. Working in the kitchen during that time, chopping food, making sauces, tending the stove, and most importantly cleaning up. Cooking is not knowledge, but craft.

The craft of the Icon is the same. I remember my first Icon workshop. I did not sand the surface carefully. I skimped on the number of layers of undercoat. I chose my brushes carelessly. I did not wash my brushes carefully when done. And this lack of good technique still hinders my ability as an iconographer.

Last year I took to fly-fishing for the first time. First you practice casting, then you practice casting, and then you are finally ready to practice casting. Again and again and again.

In creating the story of “The Birchwood Icon,” all the issues of technique badgered me. How would I layer tale upon tale in the story as an iconographer layers gesso on gesso to properly prime the wood or the canvas?

How would I have sets of three characters reflecting other sets of three characters throughout the story as I sketched the outlines of “trinities-ofpersons?”

How would I let the light infuse word-picture so that its colors glowed in our imaginations? I had great difficulty with this tale because its crafting was so demanding.

But it was the crafting that gave me joy. In the crafting I aspired to be like the artist -- Andrei, who in the story aspired to be like the Saint -- Sergei.

And Sergei? The ancient manuscripts tell us his only desire was 

“…baking bread, cooking porridge, hiring

himself out as a laborer when the

brothers had no food.” 

He aspired only to ply his crafts.

-- Robert Béla Wilhelm

Click on the bookcover to access this eBook.



© Robert Bela Wilhelm 2016