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 Image of our Lord Jesus Christ occurred in the year 944. Tradition relates, that during the time of the preaching of the Saviour, Abgar rules 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 Abgar. Without having seen the Saviour, 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 over to him for Abgar a short letter in which, having praised the faith of this ruler, He 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 (linen, or washcloth). 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 Abgar took the holy thing 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 baptised the believer 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", 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. But one of the great-grandsons of Abgar, later ruling Edessa, 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 lampada before it and walled it over with a pottery-board and bricks. Many years passed, and the people forgot about it. But in the year 545, when the Persian emperor Chosroes I besieged Edessa and the position of the city seemed hopeless, the MostHoly 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 church 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 of Orthodoxy 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 MostHoly Mother of God. About what happened later with the Not-Made-by-Hand Image there exist several traditions. 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 honour 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 tropar 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 tropar of the Not-Made-by-Hand Image of the Saviour.
      According to the Prologue there are known 4 Not-Made-by-Hand Images of the Saviour:  1) at Edessa, of king Abgar – 16 August;  2) the Kamulian, – Sainted 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;  3) in the time of emperor Tiberius (578-582), Saint Mary Syncletika (Comm. 11 August) received healing from this;  4) on ceramic tiles – 16 August.
      The feast in honour of the Transfer of the Image Not-Made-by-Hand, made together with the After-Feast of the Dormition, they call the third-above Saviour Image, 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.

© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.