The Feast commemorating the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands is celebrated the day after the Dormition of the Theotokos. It also falls on the same day as the repose of St. Gerasimos of Kefalonia. The Feast of the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands is the third “Feast of the Savior” in August. The first is the Procession of the Holy Cross (August 1) and the second is the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration (August 6).
The Feast of the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands is also known as the Feast of the Holy Napkin. The name of the Feast comes from the Greek word Αχειροποίητος
and relates to the cloth that miraculously revealed the face of Christ; the imprint of His face.
During Christ’s earthly ministry, Abgar was the ruler of Edessa. He was afflicted by leprosy but believed in Christ and sought His healing. Abgar sent his servant Ananias who was a painter to capture an image of Christ, along with a letter asking Jesus to come to him and heal him.
Unfortunately, due to the large crowd that circled around Jesus, Ananias was not able to paint a portrait of Him. However, Jesus noticed Ananias and gave him a letter to send to Abgar and promised that His disciple would come to him to heal him of his leprosy.
At the same time, Jesus requested from the crowd that some water and a cloth be brought to Him. Jesus washed His face and dried it with the cloth. Miraculously the image of His face was imprinted on the cloth which became known as. the Holy Napkin. When Abgar received the Holy Napkin and placed it on his face, he was only partially healed. He wasn’t fully healed until Saint Thaddeus was sent to him as Jesus had promised.
Thaddeus was Apostle of the Seventy, not one of the Twelve Apostles. Thaddeus baptized Abgar and the entire city of Edessa. The Holy Napkin was placed in a gold frame adorned with pearls and placed over the city gates. In the year 944, per the request of the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos, the Holy Napkin was transferred from Edessa to Constantinople and kept in the Pharos Church of the most Holy Theotokos.
The icon of the Holy Napkin, Αχειροποίητος was the very first icon. All images such as mosaics and frescoes came after. This Feast tends to go unnoticed, especially being celebrated the same day as St Gerasimos and being the day after the Dormition. Nevertheless, it is an important Feast dedicated to Jesus and we should celebrate with joy and awe. Awe because the Savior Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ miraculously provided for us the very first icon.
Once again, the godlike day of the Master's festival is here; for he who is seated in the highest has now clearly visited us through his honored Image; he who is unseen by the Cherubim above appears through painting to those to whom he has become like, formed ineffably by the immaculate finger of the Father according to his likeness. As we worship it with faith and love we are sanctified (from the Festal Ainoi).
In the 8th and 9th Centuries a heresy arose called the Iconoclast Controversy. Those who were against icons were known as Iconoclasts and claimed that icons were a violation of the Second Commandment: thou shall not make unto thee any graven image. They considered it a form of idolatry. Those in favor of icons were known as Iconodules who rightly upheld that the Incarnation of Christ made it possible for us to have icons.
The Divine Logos, Jesus Christ, took on a material substance, flesh, and dwelt among us. It is through the material of the icon that we venerate the prototype or person that the icon depicts. We venerate icons, not worship them, for worship is to God alone.
We have received the divine imprint of Your face, flashing with rays of life originating radiance, as a bearer of every gift. You, the very Creator, have assumed the form of Your image, and raised it to the archetype, for You are the only very merciful Lord (Festal Kontakion).
The icon is a window that connects us, the earthly to the heavenly. The 7th Ecumenical Council of 787 AD held in Nicaea upheld the veneration of the icons and condemned Iconoclasm as a heresy. Icons are an essential part of the Orthodox Church. They are not just artwork that we admire when we go into a church. We pray with icons and they teach us theology; thus they teach us about the True Faith.
On the first Sunday of Great Lent, known as Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Church celebrates the Restoration (Αναστήλωση) of the Holy Icons. In fact, the apolytikion we chant on that Sunday is the same as the one we chant today: We worship Thine immaculate icon, O Good One, asking the forgiveness of our failings, O Christ our God; for of Thine own will wast Thou well-pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, that Thou mightiest deliver from slavery to the enemy those whom Thou hadst fashioned. Wherefore, we cry to Thee thankfully; Thou didst fill all things with joy, O our Saviour, when Thou camest to save the world.
A Blessed Feast to All!
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.
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