On August 16th we celebrate the Feast of the Image Not Made by Hands, the very first icon. We also know this icon by other names, including the Holy Napkin/Cloth, the Icon Not Made by Hands, The Image of Edessa, and the Mandylion (which is Greek for facecloth). This is the third Christological feast in August, with the others being the Procession of the Cross, and the Feast of the Transfiguration. Having three feasts of Christ in August is significant in the East because a triptych can be made with the corresponding icons.
Aside from being a part of a triptych of Feasts, this day is specially because it occurs in the after feast of Dormition, the repose and assumption of the Theotokos.
I have found several versions of the tradition behind the Image Not Made by Hands, but the following is an account of the details that all sources seem to agree on.
The icon was formed during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Abgar, a Syrian king in Edessa, was afflicted with leprosy. Upon hearing of Christ, he sent a messenger to ask Jesus to come and heal him. When the king’s messenger came, Jesus said he would not come now. But, Jesus promised that he had plans to send a disciple to Syria later. He sent the messenger back with those words of hope, and with a facecloth (or towel). Tradition is Jesus pressed his face into this facecloth, and that His image miraculously transferred onto the cloth.
Then, the messenger returned to the king, who was healed upon viewing this icon-not-made-by-hands. The image not made by hands stayed in Edessa for a while, then was moved to Constantinople and later lost.
Ways to Celebrate
This is not a day of obligation, but attend a nearby liturgy if you can.
Get or print an image of this feast’s icon if you don’t already have one. We have several of this icon in our home, since it is one of the Badger Dad’s favourites. Place the Image Not Made by Hands in your icon corner and pray the troparion and kontakion for this feast.
Troparion: (tone 2)
We venerate Your most pure image, O Good One, and ask forgiveness for our transgressions, O Christ our God. Of Your own will You were pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, to deliver Your creatures from bondage to the enemy. Therefore, with thanksgiving we cry aloud to You: You have filled all with joy, O Savior, by coming to save the world.
Kontakion: (tone 2)
Uncircumscribed Word of the Father, as we behold the victorious image of Your true incarnation, not made by hands, but divinely formed in Your ineffable and divine dispensation towards us, we honor it with veneration!
The Byzantine Life
Thank you for checking out this week’s article. If you haven’t already, you can read our article about the Feast of the Dormition and what to do with blessed flowers. Or our article on the Dormition Fast.
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