By Archimandrite Nikodemos Pavlopoulos,
Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Saint Ignatius in Lesvos
Today, my beloved brethren, our holy Church honors, praises and venerates the fourth image of our Lord Jesus Christ not made by hands (acheiropoieton).
These images of the Lord are called "not made by hands" because they were not formed by human hands, but in a miraculous manner they were given by the Lord Himself.
The first image not made by hands was sent by our Lord to the local ruler of Edessa named Abgar, on a handkerchief that He had wiped His face on, in order to heal him of the leprosy of his body, which left him isolated in his palace. The miracle took place, it is celebrated on August 16th, and the image is known as the Holy Mandylion.
The second image is a wondrous imprint of the first onto tile, and is celebrated on August 16th.
The third is an imprint of the exquisite face of Christ, which was found miraculously on a white cloth by condescension for the sake of St. Akylina, and is celebrated on August 9th.
The fourth image not made by hands, which is celebrated today, is also an imprint of the form of our Lord presented by our holy Church.
In Constantinople, where the Holy Mandylion was treasured, during the reign of Tiberius (576), a pious woman named Maria, who was a rich official of senatorial rank and a Patrician, was sick with a difficult and incurable disease. The art of medicine could not cure her, nor were her wealth and many servants in a position to relieve her of her pain. But her piety stood capable of providing her treatment.
She sent news to the most-pious priests who served the holy icon not made by hands to bring it to her house in order for her to honor it for forty days and receive grace and mercy from its grace and power.
The priest, knowing the piety of the Patrician, carried in procession the icon not made by hands in its case to the house of Maria, and they deposited it in the chapel of her palace.
With tears and contrition and honor and abundant reverence the Patrician received the immaculate image of the Lord. She even opened the case and on top of the original icon not made by hands she placed a thin square cotton fabric and again closed it. For forty days she continued the censing, the prostrating, the venerating, the prayers and the chanting before the wondrous icon.
On the fortieth day however the pain of her body strengthened and she suffered by being unable to stand on her feet, thus falling onto a bed of pain being unable to honor the icon not made by hands.
From her bed she sent her purest and most pious servant to bring the Holy Mandylion to feel some consolation and forget about the pain in her body.
But what was it that the servant saw! A huge flame came out of the case of the icon not made by hands and it rose up to the ceiling of the chapel and it circled down touching the floor without anything burning inside the church. The miracle was immediately announced to the Patrician and she immediately sent for the priests to be called, who along with many pious people ran to see the miracle. And they saw it and they marveled.
A service was done before the holy icon, and after the prayer the flame became smaller and extinguished. The priests opened the sacred case and lifted the cotton cloth of the Patrician, and what did they see? It was another icon not made by hands, an identical imprint of the original was on Maria's fabric, which with faith was place on her much-suffering body. And oh the wonder! Immediately her pain left and the health of the Patrician was fully restored.
Then all the people led by all the priests of the City embraced the fourth icon of the Lord not made by hands, which afterwards performed innumerable miracles healing the sufferings of the soul and the body.
After a few years that pious woman Maria the Patrician knew that her death was imminent, and in order to protect her Holy Mandylion and keep it safe forever, she gave it to the noble Constantinopolitan nuns who lived in asceticism in the Monastery of the Ascension in Melitene of Armenia, where again numerous miracles took place.
In fact, Patriarch Sergius took the icon from the nuns against their will when they returned to Constantinople for fear of the Persians and had been given a new monastery from the Patriarch. At that time the Patriarch suffered many woes in his life, whether it was from the emperor, or the death of relatives, or troubles in the Church, and he wanted to know why he suffered so much. He thus saw in his sleep a fearful looking man, who told the Patriarch to return the icon quickly which he unjustly took from the nuns. And so Sergius returned the icon on November 29th, and he ceased to be afflicted.
Do you see brethren the miracles surrounding the icons of the Lord not made by hands? Many icons not made by hands have been given to us Orthodox Christians throughout the centuries, as well as some of the Theotokos and the saints and friends of the household of Christ.
Even in our days there are icons of saints old and new not made by hands, as a reward of the piety of those Christians who dedicate their lives to prayer and philanthropy, as an invitational to all who are indifferent and cold to the holy faith of Christ and His blameless religion.
Source: From the book Εορτοδρόμιον. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.