The Orthodox Church surpasses all other Christian groups in the richness of her Tradition. The Protestants want only to adhere to Holy Scripture. But, not even Holy Scripture can be interpreted without Tradition. The Apostle Paul himself commands: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
The tradition of Prince Abgar, without doubt, is of Apostolic Tradition even though the apostles do not mention him in their writings. The Apostle Thaddaeus, did not write anything at all and, according to Protestant thinking, did not say anything and neither did he teach the faithful. According to what then was he an apostle of Christ? St. John Damascene mentions the tradition of Prince Abgar in his defense of the veneration of icons. How wonderful and touching is the letter of Abgar to Christ. And since he previously wrote that he heard of His miraculous power, that He cures the sick and since he implored Him to come and to heal him, Abgar further writes: “I also hear that the Jews hate You and that they are preparing some evil against You. I have a city, not large, but beautiful and bountiful in every good: come to me and live with me in my city, which is sufficient for the both of us for every need.” Thus wrote a heathen prince while the princes of Jerusalem were preparing death for the Lord, the Lover of Mankind.
Prologue by St. Nikolai Velimirovitch
And what happened to this sacred relic?
Maker of all, my Christ, a tile once made By hand now bears your form not made by hand.
The Holy Keramion (Ceramic Tile) of Edessa
When King Abgar received the Holy Mandylion (Napkin) from the Lord, he kept it in a gold frame adorned with pearls, and placed it in a niche over the city gates. On the gateway above the icon he inscribed the words, “O Christ God, let no one who hopes on Thee be put to shame.
For many years the inhabitants of Edessa kept a pious custom to bow down before the Icon of the Lord Not-Made-by-Hands (acheiropoiton), when they went forth from the gates. But one of the great-grandsons of Abgar, who later ruled Edessa, fell into idolatry. He decided to take down the icon from the city wall. In a vision the Lord ordered the Bishop of Edessa to hide His icon. The bishop, coming by night with his clergy, lit an oil lamp before it and walled it up with a board and with bricks.
Many years passed, and the people forgot about it. But in the year 545, when the Persian emperor Chozroes I besieged Edessa and the position of the city seemed hopeless, the Most-Holy Theotokos appeared to Bishop Evlavios and ordered him to remove the icon from the sealed niche, and it would save the city from the enemy. Having opened the niche, the bishop found the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands: in front of it was still burning the oil lamp, and upon the ceramic tile closing in the niche, a copy of the icon was reproduced.
Reports suggest the Holy Keramion was brought to Hierapolis, where it was obtained by Emperor Nikephoros Phokas in October 966 before he besieged Antioch, and then brought to Constantinople on 24 January 967. Other reports suggest these were two different Tiles, with the one in Hierapolis originating from the time of Christ when Ananias was returning to Edessa with the Mandylion and he placed it in between two baked tiles, thus creating the Keramion that way. One tradition also states that the Ancha icon of the Savior in Georgia, which was brought there to escape Iconoclasm, is in fact the Holy Keramion from Edessa. Phokas had the Holy Keramion from Hierapolis placed in the Blacharnae Church in a golden box ornamented with precious stones and later had it deposited in the Church of All Saints. In the eleventh century it joined the Holy Mandylion in the Pharos chapel where it was displayed in a golden capsula suspended from the ceiling on silver chains. When Constantinople was overrun by the Crusaders in 1204, the Holy Keramion became lost to history.
This ceramic tile, known as the Holy Keramion (or Keramidion), is honored by the Church on August 16th, together with the Holy Mandylion.