On the sixteenth of this month [August], we commemorate the entrance of the acheiropoiton (made without hands) image of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, brought from the city of Edessa to the God-protected Queen of cities (Constantinople).
For the Mandylion.
While alive your depiction was imprinted onto a cloth,
A final cloth before you entered death.
For the Keramion.
Maker of all, my Christ, a tile once made
By hand now bears your form not made by hand.
When our Lord and great God and Savior Jesus Christ was on the earth, He worked many and extraordinary wonders, in His goodness, as it is recorded in the divine and sacred Gospels, and when His reputation was spreading throughout the world, Abgar the ruler of Edessa heard of His reputation and wanted to go to Jerusalem to see the Lord with his own eyes, but was unable to do so because he was suffering from an incurable disease. For a black leprosy had burst out over all his body and had consumed him, and arthritis brought him unbearable pain. Because of these two reasons he never left his house and was unseen by all his subjects.
Around the time of the saving Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, he wrote a letter to the Lord and sent it by a certain Ananias, ordering him to depict with absolute accuracy the physical height of the Lord, the color of His hair and His holy face, and in short to depict His whole bodily appearance accurately, and to bring it to him; for he knew Ananias was a skilled painter.
The letter of Abgar contained the following words:
Abgar, ruler of the city of Edessa, to Jesus the Savior, the good Physician, who has appeared in Jerusalem.
I have heard about your reputed wonders, and about your cures, which are done by you with your words and without drugs. It has been said that you make the blind see again and you make the lame walk; you cleanse lepers; you drive out unclean spirits and demons; you heal those who have been tormented by disease over long periods; you even raise the dead. Having heard all these wonders which you do by your word, I had one of two ideas: either that you are the Son of God, who do these things, or that you are God. So then I write to you and ask you to take the trouble and come to me to cure my suffering. I have also heard that the Jews murmur against you and wish to do you ill. My city is very small but distinguished and adequate for both of us to live here in peace.
Ananias therefore departed for Jerusalem, and gave the letter mentioned above to the Lord. He then gazed intently at His holy face with great attention, but, since he was unable to get near Him because of the surging crowd, he climbed up onto a small outcrop of rock, and being able to behold the face of the Lord with his eyes, at once he began to press his hand to the paper to copy the appearance of what he saw, but he was quite unable to capture His exact form, because it appeared differently at one point and took on another appearance at another point, and with differing aspect. But the Lord, who knows what is hidden and searches hearts, knowing the intention of Ananias, asked for water to wash Himself, and while doing so He was given a cloth folded in four, and when He had washed He wiped His most pure and divine face with it. Thus His divine form and appearance were imprinted — O the wonder! — on the cloth folded in four. This he gave to Ananias saying, "Go, give this back to the one who sent you." He also gave him a letter in the following words:
Blessed are you, O Abgar, for you have believed in me, though you have not seen me. For it is written of me that those who have seen me, do not believe in me, so that those who have not seen me may believe and live. As to what you wrote about my coming to you, know that it is necessary that I accomplish all that I was sent out to do in the world by my Father and, after I have accomplished it, to be taken up to the heavens to the Father who sent me. Then I will send you one of my disciples, named Thaddeus, who will heal your disease and grant you and those with you eternal life and peace, and he will make your city of Edessa such that no enemy can prevail against it.
At the end He fixed seven seals in Hebrew letters, which when translated mean: Depiction of God divine wonder [in Greek a play on words: Theou thea theion thavma].*
Abgar received Ananias with great joy and fell down and worshiped the holy and immaculate icon of the Lord with faith and much love, and he was instantly healed of his disease. Only a small patch of leprosy remained on his forehead. After the saving Passion and Resurrection of the Lord and His Ascension into heaven, the Apostle Thaddeus** arrived in Edessa and brought Abgar and all those under him to the font, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When Abgar came out of the holy font he had been cleansed of the small remaining trace of leprosy which had remained on his forehead. From that time forward Abgar honored and revered in every way possible the divine depiction of the Lord and His form. Because he wanted all the inhabitants of Edessa to similarly honor and venerate it, besides the other good things he did, he gave the following order. For a former and distinguished Greek citizen of Edessa, had placed his own image over the public gate of Edessa, so that all those who entered would first venerate his image, and thus receive his blessing before entering the city. Abgar had this unclean image taken down and removed, and in its place was put the icon of the Master Christ made without hands [acheiropoiton], sticking it onto an embellished plank of wood, and had written over it the following words: "Christ God, those who hope in You will never fail."
He also released an order and law in writing, that whoever entered that gate of the city, should first ascribe reverence and veneration towards the wonderworking and honorable icon of the Lord, and then enter the city. This order and law of Abgar was kept until the end of his life and that of his son. When his grandson became the recipient of his paternal inheritance, he turned away from piety and voluntarily turned to the religion of idols. Wherefore he wanted to place over the gate of Edessa the image of a demon, and take down the icon of Christ. When the Bishop of Edessa found out about this by divine revelation, he showed the proper care and attention. Because the place above the gate was deep, made like a rotunda with a cylindrical roof, he lit a lamp before the holy icon of Christ, and in front of it he placed a ceramic tile (keramion), which he covered over with bricks and asbestos, thus closing off that place, making that section of the wall look even. Therefore, since the icon of the Lord could not be seen, the plans of the impious one were halted, and the holy icon was not taken down.
Many years passed, to the extent that the place where the holy icon was located became forgotten. When the king of the Persians Khosrow, during the reign of Heracleus the emperor of the Romans (610-641), fought against the cities of Asia Minor in 615, he arrived in Edessa. Having come against it with every instrument in his arsenal, he brought fear and anxiety to its citizens, who took refuge in God, and begged Him with tears so they could quickly find salvation. One night a glorious woman appeared to Bishop Eulavios, who told him that he would do much good if he took the icon of Christ made without hands that was hidden above the gate of the city, showing the location with her hand. The Bishop went to the spot and began digging until - O the wonder! - he found the divine icon of the Lord, whole and complete, and the lamp he still found to be lit after more than five hundred years. And the ceramic tile, which the Bishop then had placed before the Holy Mandylion, on this same ceramic tile he found imprinted another icon of the Lord, precisely similar to the Holy Mandylion. When the citizens of Edessa saw these two divine imprints and icons of the Lord, they were filled with spiritual gladness and rejoicing.
The Bishop took the holy icon of the Lord, and conducted a procession with it to the place in the city where the Persians were digging from the outside, knowing where they were by the sound of the copper instrument. As the Bishop approached near there, he sprinkled oil from the lamp on a fire prepared by the people of Edessa, and immediately the flame arose, causing the Persians to flee. And the fire that was lit outside Edessa by the Persians, which they tended with an infinite amount of wood from nearby trees, the Bishop straightway approached this flame with the divine icon, and immediately a strong wind came and turned the flame against the Persians, so they withdrew to no avail.
Because in the Queen of cities everything was running together well, it was God's will that this made without hands and immaculate icon of the Lord be treasured there along with the other good things, thus to this cause the then emperor of the Romans Romanos the Younger (959–963) made haste to enrich the Queen City with the wealth of this icon made without hands. Wherefore at various times he sent men to Edessa to ask for the divine-human icon of the Lord from Amir who was there, offering him for the treasure twelve thousand silver coins, as well as to free two hundred Saracens which he happened to have enslaved there. Not only this, but he promised security to many, so that the Roman soldiers would not fight against the Saracens. With these things he attained his request, and did all that he promised.***
Therefore, because Amir allowed Romanos to have the holy icon, the Bishop of Samosata, the Bishop of Edessa and other pious individuals took the holy icon of the Lord (as well as the letter written by Christ)**** and embarked on the journey to Constantinople. Many miracles took place along the way. When they arrived at the place called Optimaton, at the Church of the Theotokos known as that of Eusebius, many who were ill ran there with faith, to the holy form of the Lord, and they were healed of various diseases. Then one who was demonized came forward, and prophesied saying: "Receive O Constantinople glory and honor and joy. And you Porphyrogennitos, receive your kingdom." And immediately the man was cured of the demon. On the 6467th year from the creation of the world, on the fifteenth of the month of August, in the year nine hundred and fifty-nine, during the reign of Romanos, the above mentioned Hierarchs arrived in Constantinople, and they went to the Church of Blachernae, carrying with them the holy icon of the Lord, which was reverently and joyfully venerated, as much as from the emperor, as from the leaders and the rest of the people. The next day, namely the sixteenth of the month of August, Patriarch Theophylaktos and the young kings (Romanos was not present due to an illness), along with the senate and all the people of the Church, took the holy icon on their shoulders, and they conveyed the holy icon with proper guarding, until they arrived at the so-called Golden Gate. Then they took it from there while chanting psalms and hymns, with thousands of lamps and lights, and they went to the much famed and most grand Church of Hagia Sophia. There they made the preparation to go up to the royal palace, where they entered the Church of the Theotokos called the Pharos, and there they placed the holy and honorable imprinted image of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, to the glory of Christians, for the guarding of the empire, for the security of the entire city, and the Christian establishment.
* George Maniakes, who was a general of the Romans beyond the Euphrates, took Edessa and found this letter of the Lord, and sent it to Emperor Romanos III Argyros in the year 1028. And during the reign of Emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian a procession took place, at which time the brothers of the emperor were holding this letter of the Lord sent to Abgar as well as His swaddling-clothes.
** The Apostle Thaddeus was from Edessa and is celebrated by the Church on August 21 as one of the Seventy Apostles.
*** Reports suggest the Holy Keramion was brought to Hierapolis, where it was obtained by Emperor Nikephoros Phokas in October 966 before he besieged Antioch, and then brought it to Constantinople on 24 January 967. Other reports suggest these were two different Tiles, with the one in Hierapolis originating from the time of Christ when Ananias was returning to Edessa with the Mandylion and he placed it in between two baked tiles, thus creating the Keramion that way. One tradition also states that the Ancha icon of the Savior in Georgia, which was brought there to escape Iconoclasm, is in fact the Holy Keramion from Edessa. Phokas had the Holy Keramion from Hierapolis placed in the Blacharnae Church in a golden box ornamented with precious stones and later had it deposited in the Church of All Saints. In the eleventh century it joined the Holy Mandylion in the Pharos chapel where it was displayed in a golden capsula suspended from the ceiling on silver chains. When Constantinople was overrun by the Crusaders in 1204, the Holy Keramion became lost to history.
**** St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite suggests this is an error, since as we said previously the letter was brought to Constantinople in 1028.
Apolytikion in the Second Tone
We worship Thine immaculate image, O Good One, and ask the forgiveness of our sins, O Christ our God; for of Thine own will Thou wast pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, to deliver from slavery to the enemy those whom Thou hadst created. Therefore we thankfully cry to Thee: Thou hast filled all things with joy, O our Savior, by coming to save the world.
Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The uncircumscribable Word of the Father, was circumscribed when He took flesh of thee, O Mother of God; and when He had restored the defiled image to its pristine state He suffused it with divine beauty. And as we proclaim our salvation we record it by word and deed.