07/19/2022, 10.15
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Rublev's Trinity comes home in the middle of the war

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Moscow Art Museum has temporarily allowed the Orthodox Church to move the icon to the Lavra where it was originally located. This is the first time since 1918: until now, all requests had been denied. Propaganda tool to feed the myth of Russian "Victory" in Ukraine.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow's main art museum, has temporarily allowed the Orthodox Church to take Andrei Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity. Perhaps the most important work of art in the whole of Russian history, it will be exhibited during the celebrations for the 600th anniversary of the translation of the relics of St. Sergius of Radonež, to the Lavra (monastery) dedicated to the Trinity 70 km from Moscow. It is the most symbolic monastery in the entire country, which remained open even during the Soviet period, when it was called 'Stalin's Vatican'. The translation has already taken place.

The icon was painted in the first half of the 15th century by Rublev, a monk and disciple of Sergius,for the veneration of the great monastery, where it hung above the entrance. It depicts the scene from the Book of Genesis of the three pilgrims visiting Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre, the only biblical subject that the Eastern Church admits as a representation of the Trinitarian communion. The Russian Church engaged in great debates for centuries on the exclusive importance of this very image, and at the Council of the Hundred Chapters in 1552 consecrated the icon as the most precious symbol of the Orthodox faith.

St. Sergius is in turn the saint who re-founded Christian Russia after two centuries of Tatar invasion, having inspired the victory of the Russian armies of Prince Dmitry of Moscow against the Mongols on the banks of the Don, so much so that he was called 'Donskoj'. The saint's remains rest in a church inside the Lavra, and are the main destination of Russian pilgrimages in the affirmation of true faith along with national identity. The feast therefore takes on a special symbolic significance in the context of the war in Ukraine, in which Russia intends to reaffirm the founding principles of its history.

The Moscow Patriarchate tried several times to obtain the icon from the Gallery, but had so far always met with a total refusal, due to the delicacy of transporting and displaying such an ancient and fragile artistic object. The icon rooms were constantly closed in Soviet times, except for a few foreign delegations, and now they have become not only a place to admire art, but also a place of true devotion, the icons being objects closely linked to the celebration of the Orthodox liturgy. The other very famous icon of Our Lady of Vladimir was removed from the room to be placed in a special chapel in the museum courtyard, so that anyone wishing to contemplate it must also prostrate themselves in prayerful recognition of its ecclesial dimension.

Art critics and restorers unanimously rose up against the decision to transfer the work, which could cause irreparable damage to the icon. Transporting and displaying the icon in a church does not permit the right temperature and humidity regime, indispensable for the preservation of the 'Trinity'. On the other hand, the icon had remained in the Lavra until 1918, and was saved from destruction thanks to the work of knowledgeable and self-sacrificing men such as the famous theologian and priest Pavel Florensky, who chose to remain in Soviet Russia, even obtaining the position of Superintendent of Fine Arts, precisely to save the Lavra and its treasures. He later died a martyr's death after being imprisoned in the Solovki concentration camp.

Permission was granted by the Ministry of Culture, under the direct inspiration of President Putin, to gather the people engaged in the great war around the sacred image with the goal of re-establishing their identity as a people and as a Church. There had also been talk in Yeltsyn's time of returning the icon to the Church, but it was a prestigious academic, Valentin Janin, who convinced the then president not to put it at risk.

This year, the request was again made in June for the liturgical feast of the Holy Trinity, and again it was rejected. Now, after further calls for mobilisation to crush the adversaries, the three persons of the divine Trinity have also been enlisted in the Russian war, and art and science bent to the greater demands of Victory.

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