Gallery The Icon „Made without hand“ Image of the Saviour

7. august 2020

Among the icons of Christ, the icons of the Saviour written "without the help of hands" are of fundamental importance for iconography (Greek: "ά χειροποίητός"), which are attributed to Christ himself in both the West and the East. For the icons of the image of the Saviour created without hand, the well-known name is “The Image not created with hands of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, we also come across icons whose description in Greek is TΟ ΑΓΙΟΝ ΜΑΝΔΙΛΗΟΝ, mandylion (the Greek word μανδίλιον probably comes from the Semitic word mindil “handkerchief.” The literal expression СВЯТЫЙ ОУБРУСЪ has the same meaning, “handkerchief, which we encounter in Russian icons of this type.

For the defenders of the Holy Icons during the times of iconoclasm, the icon of this very type was one of the arguments in the struggle against iconoclasts.  The argument line goes:  Christ himself left us an icon of his face and thus the very depiction of Christ through the image is justified.

In the East, this icon is associated with the event of the leper King Edessa in the Kingdom of Osroen, Abgar V, who wrote a letter to Jesus asking him to come and heal him. The letter was delivered to him by the painter Ananias with an order to paint a portrait of Jesus. However, he did not succeed, but the Lord wiped his face on a canvas on which remained miraculously imprinted His image, which he sent to Abgar, who was healed by the sight of Him.

This image was carefully preserved and revered in Edessa, the capital of a small kingdom between Tigris and the Euphrates. The historian Evagrius, who lived in the 6th century, reports that one of King Abgar's successors returned to paganism. Therefore, in order to protect the Lord's face from desecration, the bishop of the city had it walled up with a lighted lamp in a gap above the city gate. Later in the 6th century, when the Persians circled the city, Bishop Eulalios saw in a dream the place where the painting was hidden. He opened the gap and found a lighted lamp, a holy face, and an imprint of the holy face on one of the tiles. Both images were transferred to Constantinople in the 10th century, where they were worshiped as the palladium of the empire. After the looting of the city by the Crusaders in the 13th century, the icon was irretrievably lost.

            In the West, the icons of this type appeared after the return of the Crusaders, who reported news about them. The origin can be traced back to the legends of St. Veronica, who wiped His face with a headscarf during the Saviour’s crucifixion on Golgotha. This name was probably created by shifting consonants in the words “vera icons” (the true icon). This legend appeared among Franciscan monks in the 15th century, but we find no basis for the legend of Veronica, neither in the Gospels nor in the Apocrypha.

The peculiarity of these "Veronica's canvases" is that they represent Christ with a crown of thorns (crown), pointing to His suffering, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

This depiction of the Holy Face is not to be understood in a naturalistic form, but as a revelation of the eternal Word inextricably linked to human nature. This image of the Divine Person, who has become visible and tangible, is a clear testimony that God has become man. It is such an image through which it is possible to turn through prayer to his divine foreshadowing. It is not just a matter of worshiping the human appearance of the Son of God, but also an opportunity to approach Him face-to-face: "... the awe-inspiring image that we, who have been recognized as worthy of seeing him face to face, celebrate.” The deep spiritual significance of this icon points this way: The gradual spiritualization and deification of the people in Christ. Within the icon, it is necessary to look for an inseparable connection between dogma and spirituality, between theology and spiritual life.

And both the revelation and the human face of the Word reveal their inexhaustible wealth in the work of every iconographer, which is always different and always similar. “The image of Christ created without hands is like the original seal and source of every image. Every image is based on it and is born in it. It is like the source of a river that carries its waters into endless life. There are innumerable icons in these waters, born and coming from the unformed image of the Savior” writes the monk Gregor Krug.

The Description of the Icon:

The icon depicts the face of Christ on canvas. Around the head is an aureole with an inscribed cross and the letters Ω (omega), Ο (omicron) and Ν (nu) and IC XC (Ιησούς Χριστός / Исус Христос), which confirm his name according to the Old and New Covenants: "I am who I am" and Jesus Christ (Exodus 3:14). The face of Christ is depicted on a canvas decorated with flowers. The icon is held by three angels. In the aureoles they have two letters A and Г as the abbreviation of the two words Ángel Góspodeň - Angel of the Lord. Their blue and red robes are a symbol of the two natures of Christ - the Divine and the human. The names of angels to the right of Christ's face were St. Michael the Archangel, St. Archangel Gabriel to the left, and St. Raphael the Archangel in the middle above Christ.

At the bottom of the icon are three circles with three stories associated with the icon. On the right is a scene where Addai (the apostle Thaddeus) shows a scarf to King Abgar and he recovers without medication from leprosy. In the middle circle, the scarf is shown above the entrance gate to Edessa. The healed Abgar decided to accept a new faith and removed the pagan idol "from the city gate," before which everyone who wanted to enter the city had to bow." He replaced the Greek god with the Image not created with hands of the Saviour, and, moreover, had the image gilded and wrote in golden letters, "Christ God, whoever believes in you will not die" (John 11: 25-26). The third circle, depicting the Western tradition, features Christ on the Way of the Cross and Veronica handing him a scarf to wipe his tortured face.

In connection with the depicted saints on the sides of the icon, we believe that the donor or orderer of the icon had it painted as a thank you for healing and salvation, which highlights the presence of the guardian angel and the doctor St. Cosmos (1.7). At the bottom is an icon of an unknown monk and Honourable Xenia (24.1), probably the personal patrons of the client.

The icon seems calm, even therapeutically, faithful to its healing mission. The icon of the image of the Saviour created without hands is like the source of all icons. Every icon comes from it and is born in it.

The Spiritual Heritage:

"Loving Ruler, your providence is unfathomable. From generation to generation you overwhelm with grace your creation. You also made a picture of your pure face and sent it to the holy king Abgar, because he longed to see you whom even the cherubim do not see in God's glory, so that we may be burned with love for you by looking at your picture. After all, you became a man out of love for us. You have suffered voluntarily and shed your blood for us in your boundless mercy.” (Stichira of the evening prayer of the feast of the Transport of the Icon of the Image of The Saviour not created with hands, i.e. holy canvas from Edessa to Constantinople on the 16th of August.)