Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Encomium on the Lord, and on that Cloth that touched His Immaculate Body

Icon depicting the Mandylion of Christ and His Passion (source)
Note: Elsewhere, the possibility that the famed Mandylion of Edessa (the original now seemingly lost to history) is one and the same as the Shroud of Turin, has been discussed (for example, see here for a talk by an Orthodox presenter on the subject). There are many places where the history and science that supports this are discussed and disputed at length. In this post, however, I humbly aim to use the style of the Byzantine Encomium to accomplish several things. First, may we ever give thanks to our Lord and Master for all His many blessings to us, and especially for enduring His Passion for our salvation. Also, I intend this to prayerfully contemplate the Cloth (or Cloths) that touched His Immaculate Body, and both the immense theological implications of this, and the many wonders that He worked and continues to work throughout the world for those simple and humble of heart, who are seeking His face. Finally, I aim to marvel at even the possibility that the Lord, in His love for man, could have somehow left us a vivid Icon of His Passion and Resurrection, and allowed this to pass throughout the world and the centuries, healing the sick, warding off enemies and overcoming nations, and, seemingly more impossible, how He could have allowed this Cloth to even reach our days of hardened hearts and little faith, where scientists continue to be astonished at this Relic. Many are struck to the heart with contrition, humility and repentance, and some are even being brought to faith in Him through this. "Thus shall many nations wonder at him; and kings shall keep their mouths shut: for they to whom no report was brought concerning him, shall see; and they who have not heard, shall consider." (Isaiah 52:15)
Encomium on the Lord, Who suffered, slept, and arose in the flesh for our salvation,
And on that Cloth that touched His Immaculate Body
“Let the light of Your countenance be signed upon us, O Lord” (Psalm 4:6), for to us who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1:79), the Lord has appeared, to bring light to those in darkness. His uncreated light shines upon all creation as the true radiance of the Father (Kontakion of the Transfiguation), though we sinners, filled with countless sins and passions and weakness, cannot bear to behold His glory.
For, if the God-seer was told by the Almighty “You shall not be able to see my face; for no man shall see my face, and live.” (Exodus 33:20), how might we dare to behold the radiance of His face, before which tremble Angels, Archangels, the Cherubim and Seraphim. The Great Moses could scarcely bear to behold His back, bowing to the earth to worship Him, proclaiming: “The Lord God, pitiful and merciful, long-suffering and very compassionate, and true.” (Exodus 33-34).
And His Prophet Isaiah, gazing upon the Lord of hosts in His glorious temple, cried out: “Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people having unclean lips; and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
For when the Prophet Ezekiel beheld the vision of His glory, he exclaimed “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And I saw and fell upon my face.” (Ezekiel 2:1)
Truly, His glory brings fear and trembling with great awe upon Heaven and earth and the things below the earth, as Prophet Habakkuk sang in prayer: “O Lord, I have heard your report, and was afraid: I considered your works, and was amazed. “(Habakkuk 3:2) It is He “Whose glance dries up the deep, and Whose threatenings melt the mountains” (Prayer from the service of Baptism).
But, despite His endless might and glory and radiance, He, in a manner surpassing understanding, deigns to reveal Himself and to come to us in all humility, in gentleness and simplicity, “the voice of a gentle breeze”, as He appeared to the Zealot Elias (I Kings 19:12). Or as Psalmist chants: “He shall come down as rain upon a fleece; and as drops falling upon the earth.” (Psalm 72:6)
O, Your wonders, surpassing all wonders, O Lord! “Who is like to thee among the gods, O Lord? who is like to thee? glorified in holiness, marvelous in glories, doing wonders.” (Exodus 15:11) For the Son of the Father, “Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary, and became man.” (The Symbol of Faith) “This is our God, and there shall none other be accounted of in comparison of him. He hath found out all the way of knowledge, and hath given it unto Jacob his servant, and to Israel his beloved. Afterward did he shew himself upon earth, and conversed with men.” (Baruch 3:35-37).
The Lord did deign to come to us, humbling Himself, becoming conceived within the Spotless womb of the Virgin. He was born as a babe into a cave most cold and dark, He Who is the Light of the universe. He nursed milk from His creature, He Who nourishes all creation. He shows obedience, He to Whom every knee bows in heaven and earth and under the earth (Philippians 2:10). He puts off His garments, He Who clothes the Heavens with clouds. He is submerged in the waters of the Jordan, Who drowns error and disperses the hordes of the demons. He preaches, and heals both bodies and souls, that in every way, He might lead us back to the Father.
And He does not stop at this, but gives us His own Body and Blood, before His life-giving Passion. Behold! With the eyes of the soul, behold  “the true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:9) Behold the Man of Sorrows, Who bends His knee in prayer to His Father, giving us a type of fervent prayer. He pours forth sweat as drops of blood, earnestly seeking to deliver the world from death. He endures the kiss of betrayal from one of His Disciples, and suffers buffetings, and scorn, and slander. The Judge of the living and the dead, the Judge most just, stands condemned as a criminal before Pilate. The Creator is bound by His creation, and bitterly flogged. His flesh is torn apart, Who wove garments of skin for the first-formed. He receives a Crown of Thorns, He Who is the King of Angels, Whose glory cannot be fathomed. He receives spitting, Who formed eyes for the blind man with His spittle, and the Purple Robe of mockery, Who adorned the vault of the Heavens, and Who holds the universe in His palm. He carries His Cross, Who carries time and space upon His shoulders, and stretches out His hands, uniting things that were once sundered.
One of the very early depictions of the Holy Mandylion of Christ, dated likely to the 12th Century (source)
“Let the light of Your countenance be signed upon us, O Lord.” Behold, behold the marks of the nails, the wounds on His precious head, the blood and water pouring from His life-giving side! Behold! The glory that surpasses all things humbles Himself, and endures everything, becoming “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8) He breathes His last, and gives up His spirit, leaving us His life-giving Body, and the Instruments of His Passion for our consolation, our boast and our healing, for “by his bruises we were healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
Come, O noble Joseph and Nicodemus, gather your boldness to bury the Body of God. Bring your shroud, and your precious myrrh to bury this Stranger in a new Tomb (Homily of St. Epiphanios on Great Saturday), hewn from the rock, Who was hewn from the Virginal Mountain without the hand of man (Daniel 2:45). Cover the face that is the glorious radiance of the Father, soak up the Blood which re-creates all things. Guard with a Stone the Supernatural Stone, from Which our Fathers drank. (I Corinthians 10:4)
And after He dwelt bodily in the grave, and His Soul freed the prisoners in Hades, while dwelling in Paradise with the Thief, and never departing the Throne of the Father (Hymn of Proskomede), He Who is uncircumscribable, arose on the third day. He passes unhindered through the stone, Who traversed the portal of the Virgin (from the Praises of Sunday Matins from Plagal of the First Tone) leaving her unharmed. He sends His Archangels to roll away the stone from His life-giving Tomb, at whose appearance, the guard of soldiers became as dead men. He brings joy to His Mother and her fellow Myrrhbearers, making them the Apostles to the Apostles, to tell of the Resurrection.
Run, O beloved Disciple, and outrun Cephas, and together behold the Tomb, the sudarium that was upon His head, and the grave-clothes that covered the Immaculate Body of the Master. Behold! He is not here! And with panting, and fear and exhilaration, behold the signs of your risen Lord! The Tomb is empty, the Angel sits upon the stone, and the shroud is left behind, bearing the marks of His Passion. “Hear, O heaven, and hearken, O earth: for the Lord has spoken!” (Isaiah 1:2)
Behold the Wisdom of God has built His house, He has been slain (and is alive again), and has poured His Blood, and prepared His table, and calls His servants with a loud proclamation to a feast! “Come, eat of my bread, and drink wine which I have mingled for you.” (Proverbs 9:1-5) He does not leave us orphans (John 14:18), but leaves us another Comforter (John 14:16) to ever abide with us. He leaves us His Divine Mysteries, and leaves us His Image, and the tokens of His Passion, in remembrance of Him. (Luke 22:19)
O Lord, “You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come.” (Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom) You use every part of creation, visible and invisible, to lead us to Yourself. After Your face was washed and Your Precious Icon was imprinted upon the Cloth, You sent it for healing and protection through Your Apostle, Thaddeus, to the ailing King Apgar. By grasping in faith and love, he received release from his bodily infirmity. Though beforehand he sought that You might visit his kingdom in life, through his repentance and baptism, You were truly brought to Him together with Your Icon, and he was brought to Your Kingdom.
The king and the people who beheld Your image cried out to Him, as in the words of the Greatly-suffering Job, to Him Who once appeared "through the whirlwind and clouds" (Job 38:1): "I have heard the report of thee by the ear before; but now mine eye has seen thee. Wherefore I have counted myself vile, and have fainted: and I esteem myself dust and ashes." (Job 42:5-6) Your presence remained hidden for many years, while persecutions raged among Judeans, pagan rulers, and apostates, but was later brought to light again to save the city of Edessa.
Suddenly, the divine imprint of Your face, (both, not fashioned by the hand of man) brought joy and consolation and inspiration to Christian peoples. They began to properly depict Your immaculate Icon, as another remembrance of You that strikes fear in the hearts of sinners, and bears hope for those repentant, and brings joy to Your faithful servants. Your face was processed and supplicated by the rich among the people (Psalm 45:12), and soon proceeded to the Queen of Cities, which was greatly enriched by Your presence. “Myrrh, and stacte, and cassia are exhaled from your garments, and out of the ivory palaces” (Psalm 45:8) The king boasted in the King of Kings, and humbly bowed to venerate the Immaculate Icon not made by the hands of man, as He once told His friends: “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Luke 10-23-24)
Though the City fell into the hands of her enemies, the glory of Your face proceeds forth unto Athens and Paris, unto Glastonbury and Torino and all the lands of the West. The humble and burdened among them take courage in You, as you spoke through Your Prophet: “Fear not; for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and will gather thee from the west. I will say to the north, Bring; and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from the land afar off, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; even all who are called by my name: for I have prepared him for my glory (Isaiah 43:5-6)
The astonishing photographic negative of the Shroud of Turin, depicting a moving icon of Christ's Passion (source)
Some deny You and are unable to gaze upon Your face, You before Whom tremble things above and below. But You, O Lord Almighty, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, Judge of the living and the dead, You do not cease doing all things and using every tool of creation to reach me, the sinner. You broadly cast out the seed of Your Word unto the ends of the universe, and Your wonders are read, and spoken of, and beheld in all places and in every hour. Technologies and science, though offspring of this fallen world, proclaim and cry out Your miracles, Your life, Your painful endurance of suffering unimaginable, and Your wounds that pour out not just Blood and Water, but forgiveness for mankind. And most of all, Your Resurrection is marveled at, and is praised and glorified unto the ages of ages. Your Icon remains, and becomes more astonishing day by day, for those who would wish to see. You speak to our hearts in a land of death and destruction, and You continue to stand, calling us day by day to return to the Father.
And now I turn to Your immaculate Icon, O Christ God, and the Cloth that depicts for us Your incarnation and Your Passion and Resurrection:
Rejoice, O Cloth, humble working of the hand of man, which was glorified so greatly to touch the Master Himself, He Who bowed the Heavens to embrace the earth in His love for man, and Who, with His hand, wove together all creation, both visible and invisible!
Rejoice, O Cloth, which dried the water and perspiration from Him Whose glance dries up the abyss! You encircled to embrace the Body of God that was dejected and cast off from men!
Rejoice, O Cloth, that gathered the Precious Blood and Water that flowed from the side of the Master, which He continues to pour forth for His servants daily! This is the Lamb of God "broken and distributed, but not divided; always eaten, yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake." (Divine Liturgy)
Rejoice, O Cloth, imprinted with the Icon of the Master without the hand of man! You became a teacher and archetype for us that our Lord should be depicted, and showing us how we are to properly paint the Image of God, Who became flesh for our salvation.
Rejoice, O Cloth, for you embraced Him Who is carried by the Cherubim and Seraphim, who cover their faces in fear before His awesome countenance!
Rejoice, O Cloth, which served as another sign of His Resurrection on the third day, both perplexing and bringing joy to the Apostles Peter and John, and later to all the servants of the Master!
Rejoice, O Cloth, which traveled as another Apostle throughout the world, proclaiming the Master's coming in the flesh, His many wonders, and His bodily Passion and Resurrection!
Rejoice, O Cloth, which brought healing to Apgar, and was at the same time, both glorious and humble like your Lord! Through you were enemies driven off and awesome and terrible wonders wrought, while you humbly endured to be hidden for many years.
Rejoice, O Cloth, which brought unending joy to the Queen of Cities! She, and all her faithful continue to depict your icon and chant in praise of the Lord, entreating for forgiveness of offenses.
Rejoice, O Cloth, which was humbly taken as a prisoner like the Redeemer, and brought throughout many lands of the West! You endured marks like the Master, being burnt and cut and put to doubt and scrutiny by men! But these have not diminished the glory of the One you depict. Not at all! But you continue to cry out and proclaim His wonders, bringing more to Him every day.
Rejoice, O Cloth, depicted in Churches throughout the world, in icons of wood and stone and cloth, in mosaics and frescoes, depicting the Christ Who put on flesh out of love for man, and Who endured His Passion, while arising on the third day!
Rejoice, O Cloth, becoming an Icon of what I must become! For the Lord calls me to become washed and pure likely fine linen, and to embrace Him, and to have Him alone marked upon me indelibly, to ever carry within me His Spotless Blood, and to keep His Icon unfaded unto the ages! For "all who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." (Galatians 3:27)
O Lord God Almighty, "Who robes Yourself with light as with a garment; spreading out the heaven as a curtain" (Psalm 104), receive this humble prayer offered to You in thanksgiving and repentance and supplication. You Who are the Light unapproachable, come and clothe us with Yourself, for You are the protection of the naked, and light for those in darkness (Kontakion of Theophany). Grant speedy consolation to Your servants, O Jesus. Come, draw near to us, draw near, You Who are everywhere (Kontakion of Pentecost), that You might fill all things with Yourself (Ephesians 4:10). Grant us mourning for our sins and weaknesses, repentance and confession, and amendment of our lives, that through Your Passion, You might bring to us victory over our Passions. Grant peace to Your Church, to civil authorities, to all Your people. Unite to Your Church those who have fallen from her and bring to her Your sheep not yet of this fold. Protect the poor, the sick, and those suffering in any way, along with those who travel and those tempted. And let the light of Your countenance ever be signed upon us, O Lord, that we might be made worthy to ever behold Your glorious face in Your Kingdom, "for You, O Christ our God, are the illumination of our souls and bodies, and to You we offer up glory, together with Your Father, Who is without beginning, and Your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen." (Prayer from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)
A famous Russian Icon (this version from the 14th Century from the State Museum of Arkhangelsk): "Do not weep for me, O Mother", which often depicts the Holy Mandylion together with Christ, "Extreme Humility" (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

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