The Transfer from Edessa to Constantinople of the Not-Made-by-Hand Image of our Lord Jesus Christ
Commemorated on August 16
The Transfer from Edessa to Constantinople of the Not-Made-by-Hand (in Greek Acheiropoieta) Image of our Lord Jesus Christ occurred in the year 944. Tradition relates, that during the time of the preaching of the Saviour, King Abgar ruled in Edessa. He was stricken all over his body with leprosy.
Reports about the great miracles worked by the Lord, spread throughout Syria (Mt. 4: 24)and reached even King Abgar. Without having seen the Saviour, King Abgar believed in Him as the Son of God and wrote a letter with a request to come and heal him. He sent with this letter to Palestine his own portrait-painter Ananias, having commissioned him to make a depiction of the Divine Teacher.
Ananias arrived in Jerusalem and caught glimpse of the Lord, surrounded by people. He was not able to get close to Him because of the large throng of people listening to the preaching of the Saviour. Then he stood on an high-up rock and attempted from afar to render the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, but this for him turned out in no wise successful. The Saviour Himself caught sight of him, called to him by name and gave him a short letter to deliver to his master. In the letter the Saviour praised the praised the faith of this ruler and promised to send His disciple for both healing from leprosy and guidance for salvation. Then the Lord asked that there be brought Him water and a cloth. He washed His Face, drying it with the cloth, and upon it was imprinted His Divine Countenance.
Ananias took the cloth and the letter of the Saviour to Edessa. With reverence King Abgar took the holy cloth and he received healing; only a small part of traces of the terrible affliction remained upon his face until the arrival of the disciple promised by the Lord. He was the Disciple from the Seventy Saint Thaddeus (Comm. 21 August), who preached the Gospel and baptized the believer King Abgar and all the people of Edessa. Having inscribed upon the Image Not-Made-by-Hand the words “O Christ God, let no one hoping on Thee be ashamed thereof”, King Abgar adorned it and placed it in a niche over the city gates.
For many years the inhabitants kept a pious custom to bow down before the Image Not-Made-by-Hand when they went forth from the gates. This changed when one of the great-grandsons of Abgar, fell into idolatry. He decided to take down the Image from the city wall. In a vision the Lord ordered the Edessa bishop to hide His image. The bishop, coming by night with his clergy, lit a lambada before it and walled it over with a pottery-board and bricks. Many years passed, and the people forgot about it.
In the year 545, when the Persian emperor Chosroes I besieged Edessa and the position of the city seemed hopeless, the Most Holy Mother of God appeared to Eulabios and ordered him to secure the Image from the walled-in niche, and it would save the city from the enemy. Having opened the niche, the bishop found the Not-Made-by-Hand Image: in front of it was burning the lampada, and upon the pottery-board, closing in the niche, was the imaged likeness. After the making of procession with the Image Not-Made-by-Hand along the city walls, the Persian army withdrew.
In the year 630 Arabs seized hold of Edessa, but they did not hinder the reverencing of the Image Not-Made-by-Hand, the fame of which had spread throughout all the East. In the year 944 the emperor Constantine Porphyrigenitos (912-959) wanted to transfer the Image to the then capital city of Orthodox Empire and he paid a ransom for it to the emir-ruler of the city. With great reverence the Not-Made-by-Hand Image of the Saviour and that letter, which He had written to Abgar, were transported by clergy to Constantinople. On 16 August the Image of the Saviour was placed in the Tharossa church of the Most Holy Mother of God.
There exists many traditions concerning the future disposition of the icon Not-Made-by-Hand. According to one, – crusaders ran off with it during the time of their rule at Constantinople (1204-1261), but the ship, on which the sacred thing was taken, perished in the waters of the Sea of Marmora. According to another tradition, the Image Not-Made-by-Hand was transported around 1362 to Genoa, where it is preserved in a monastery in honor of the Apostle Bartholomew. It is known, that the Image Not-Made-by-Hand repeatedly gave from itself exact imprints. One of these, named “On Ceramic”, was imprinted when Ananias hid the image in a wall on his way to Edessa; another, imprinted on a cloak, wound up in Gruzia (Georgia). Possibly, the variance of traditions about the original Image Not-Made-by-Hand derives from the existence of several exact imprints.
During the time of the Iconoclast heresy the defenders of Icon-Veneration (Ikonodoules), having their blood spilt for holy icons, sang the troparion to the Not-Made-by-Hand Image. In proof of the veracity of Icon-Veneration, Pope Gregory II (715-731) dispatched a letter to the Eastern emperor, in which he pointed out the healing of king Abgar and the sojourn of the Not-Made-by-Hand Image at Edessa as a commonly known fact.
The Image Not-Made-by-Hand was put on the standards of the Russian army, defending them from the enemy. In the Russian Orthodox Church it is a pious custom for a believer, before entering the temple, to read together with other prayers the troparia of the Not-Made-by-Hand Image of the Saviour.
According to the Prologue there are known four Not-Made-by-Hand Images of the Saviour:
- At Edessa, of king Abgar – 16 August;
- The Kamulian, – Saint Gregory of Nyssa (Comm. 10 January) wrote about its discovery, while according to the Monk Nikodemos of the Holy Mount (+ 1809, Comm. 1 July), the Kamulian image appeared in the year 392, but it had in appearance an image of the Mother of God – 9 August;
- In the time of emperor Tiberius (578-582), Saint Mary Syncletika (Comm. 11 August) received healing from this;
- On ceramic tiles – 16 August.
The feast in honor of the Transfer of the Image Not-Made-by-Hand, made together with the After-Feast of the Dormition, relates to the third image referenced above -the “Saviour on Linen Cloth”. The particular reverence of this feast in the Russian Orthodox Church is also expressed in iconography – the icon of the Not-Made-by-Hand Image was one of the most widely distributed.
Translated Fr. S. Janos.
Edited by Fr. Dcn. Alexander