Monday, November 3, 2014

Abraham’s Hospitality

In Genesis, chapter 18 we read about Abraham’s hospitality. The Ecumenical Patriarch describes this hospitality and talks about the icon we have from this event in his new book ‘Encountering the Mystery’. He states:

“Sitting under the shade of the oak trees at Mamre, Abraham received an unexpected visit from three strangers. He did not consider them a danger or threat to his ways and possessions. Instead, he spontaneously and openly shared with them both his friendship and food, extending such a generous hospitality that, in the Orthodoxy spiritual tradition and commentary, this scene has been interpreted as the reception of three angels, who are by extension symbolic of the Holy Trinity. In fact, the only authentic image of the Holy Trinity, of God as communion, in the Orthodoxy Church is the depiction of this scene of encounter from rural Palestine…
Moreover, in the orthodox icon of Abraham’s Hospitality, iconographers traditionally depict the three guests on three sides, allowing an open space on the fourth side of the table. The icon serves as an open invitation to each of us…The icon of Abraham’s Hospitality is a powerful symbol of the presence of God among us when we welcome others without inhibition and without suspicion. It is an image of encounter and communion. It is an icon of religious tolerance, the reverse image of the foreigners, or xenophobia”. (p.191-192).

Many, however, understand this icon differently. Despite being widely used as the depiction of the Holy Trinity, another exegesis is that it depict Jesus Christ (as the central angel) while the other two angels are merely that, angels. In any case, the idea of religious tolerance, of encounter and communion enriches not only the Biblical image, but also Orthodoxy’s belief of economy and inclusiveness, emphasised through its iconic tradition.    

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