Icons of the Fatherhood

Images of the Fatherhood and the bearded Lord Sabaoth are know from ancient times but need correct iconological interpretation to be canonically acceptable. They must not be seen as depicting the Trinity theologically or the person of the Father whom “no one has seen” [Gospel of John]. The Prosopon School proposes to consider this icon rather as an image which helps the viewer to meditate on the methods of the divine revelation of the Trinity rather than on the Hypostases themselves. What we have here is a picture of the divine oikonomia, of how the triune God reaches down to man. It is an image bringing to our attention the divine theurgy (“activity” or “working of God,” in Dionysius the Areopagite). The triadological elements can never be completely evacuated from this icon, but they are not the subject at the forefront here. This is similar to how in the icon of the Old Testament Trinity, the viewer is not looking at the persons of the Trinity directly, but gains some measure of the knowledge of the Trinity through the image of the three Figures’ unity, and certain attributes associated with each Person. Alternatively, in that icon, the viewer beholds the energies of the Trinity in angelic, messenger-like form.

And so, in the Fatherhood icon, the figure of the “Elder of Days” or “Lord Sabaoth,” attested to and actually seen by certain prophets, is an image of the triunity of God, since the celestial powers in the book of Isaiah address him with a “thrice-holy hymn.” The youthful Logos on his lap is the divine seed sent down to creation and into man. The small angelic figure (which replaces the dove in ancient variants in order to highlight anthropomorphic equality between the figures) represents the outpouring of the spirit on man [Book of Joel]. In this way, the three figures represent three stages of revelation: the original Source, the seed-like Logos, and the outpoured Spirit of the Logos. The viewer of the icon is invited to make the reverse journey up into this offered revelation, ascending back into the “heavenly fatherland” [St. Paul]. Thus, the icon is perhaps best entitled “Fatherland” (Patria) rather than Paternitas.