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Review – The Circle of Love; Ann Persson (The Holy Trinity by Andre Rublev)

August 11, 2010 4 comments

I can think of at least two paintings that have impacted me spiritually over the years. The first is The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt; wonderfully explored by Henri Nouwen in his well-known book of the same name. The second is a 14th century icon – The Holy Trinity – painted by Russian Monk Andre Rublev, a superb copy of which hangs in my office at work. The original is displayed in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

I was given this beautifully haunting image of the Trinity a number of years ago by Kevin Mayhew on a visit to his offices in Suffolk. I happened to admire the icon hanging behind Kevin’s desk and commented on it during the meeting. Kevin stood up, took it down and handed it to me – an act of great generosity – one which resulted in not a little embarrassment on my part! 

However, I’m so glad that he did as it’s become an important part of my professional life, displayed as it is in my office.  When I moved jobs, it has moved with me. I think I’ve learnt to ‘read’ it. I understand its beauty and what the iconographer attempts to communicate about the Godhead in this vibrant, visual image containing so much Christian faith and truth.  I am constantly surprised by how many people comment on it – it has a capacity to arrest – and I never tire of it.

There are so many articles on the internet about this icon but I’d always hoped that someone would do for Andre Rublev in a book what Henri Nouwen had done for Rembrandt.  However, I’ve concluded sadly that this book by Ann Persson is not it – that book is still to be written.  

Circle of Love is not a patch on Nouwen’s treatment of his famous subject. The book, in places, is positively lightweight and would benefit from much tighter editing. However, it’s not all bad and I ended up enjoying it, if only for two excellent chapters; No’s 3 and 5.   Overall, it’s a helpful piece of devotional reading which can most certainly lead to a deeper understanding of Christian icons in general and Andre Rublev’s The Holy Trinity in particular.

One point is worth making. If this book can lead to a greater acceptance and understanding of icons by the evangelical community then it will truly have done the wider church a great service. I was delighted to find – and buy – Circle of Love in a CLC Bookshop (of all places). Why do I say that? Well, for many evangelical Christians; Icons = Idolatry. In fact, I mentioned I was writing this review to Christian friends recently and they raised their eyebrows and their concerns!  

One thing the book makes very clear is that ‘worship belongs to God alone, so icons are not to be worshipped, only venerated’.  There is a big difference.

The book starts well and chapters 1-5 are well worth reading. I regard the rest of the book as optional as, after this, the book tends to peter out.

Here is my star rating of each chapter with a quick content resume:

Chapter 1 – The long look – a personal intro – how the author came to study the subject **

Whatever we gaze at for a long time, we remember’

Chapter 2 – History and ‘writing’ of icons – from the early church to Russian Orthodoxy ****

‘The space and silence of an icon invite contemplative prayer’

Chapter 3 – To Russia – a visit to Tretyakov and the St Sergius Monastery *****

‘Contemplation of the unity that exists between the Trinity destroys all discord’

Chapter 4 – A look at Genesis 18 – The Hospitality of Abraham; the subject of the icon ***

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality … as some have entertained angels unawares’

Chapter 5 – Rublev’s Holy Trinity – contemplates this magnificent icon in detail *****

‘Let the icon serve as a bridge into prayer and the worship of God’

Chapter 6 – Exploring the Trinity – this is not a theological treatise – more of a homily *

‘The magnificent vision of God that transcends our capacity to understand’

Chapter 7 – The Divine Dance: Prayer – God’s world – Called to care – Church community **

‘Perichoresis – the Dance of Relationship taking place at the centre of God’

Chapter 8 – Now and forever – I’m afraid I gave up at this point – sorry! *

However, after reading this, I too feel the urge to make the trip to Russia. First I’d go to St Petersburg to view the Rembrant in the State Hermitage Museum, and secondly to Moscow to see the Rublev at the State Tretyakov Gallery.

Anyone want to join me?

 www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/03/hm3_3_1_4d.html

www.tretyakovgallery.ru/en/collection/_show/image/_id/70

The Circle of Love – Praying with Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity

Ann Persson

2010  96pp  BRF

ISBN 978-1-84101-750-1

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