Sunday, August 29, 2010

Commentary of St. John Chrysostom on the Beheading of the Precious Forerunner

Salome holding the plate with the Precious Head of the Forerunner of Christ (
Commentary of St. John Chrysostom on the Beheading of the Precious Forerunner (Matthew 14:1-12)
2. “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus.” (Matt. xiv. 1). For Herod the king, this man’s father, he that slew the children, was dead.

But not without a purpose doth the evangelist signify the time, but to make thee observe also the haughtiness of the tyrant, and his thoughtlessness, in that not at the beginning did he inform himself about Christ, but after a very long time. For such are they that are in places of power, and are encompassed with much pomp, they learn these things late, because they do not make much account of them.

But mark thou, I pray thee, how great a thing virtue is, that he was afraid of him even when dead, and out of his fear he speaks wisely even concerning a resurrection.

“For he said,” it is mentioned, “unto his servants, This is John, whom I slew, he is risen from the dead, and therefore the mighty powers do work in him.” (Matt. xiii. 2). Seest thou the intensity of his fear? for neither then did he dare to publish it abroad, but he still speaks but to his own servants.

But yet even this opinion savored of the soldier, and was absurd. For many besides had risen from the dead, and no one had wrought anything of the kind. And his words seem to me to be the language both of vanity, and of fear. For such is the nature of unreasonable souls, they admit often a mixture of opposite passions.

But Luke affirms that the multitudes said, “This is Elias, or Jeremias, or one of the old prophets,” (Luke ix.) but he, as uttering forsooth something wiser than the rest, made this assertion.

But it is probable that before this, in answer to them that said He was John (for many had said this too), he had denied it, and said, “I slew him,” priding himself and glorying in it. For this both Mark and Luke report that he said, “John I beheaded.” (Mark vi. 16). But when the rumor prevailed, then he too saith the same as the people.

Then the evangelist relates to us also the history. And what might his reason be for not introducing it as a subject by itself? Because all their labor entirely was to tell what related to Christ, and they made themselves no secondary work besides this, except it were again to contribute to the same end. Therefore neither now would they have mentioned the history were it not on Christ’s account, and because Herod said, “John is risen again.”

But Mark saith, that Herod exceedingly honored the man, and this, when reproved. (Mark vi. 20.) So great a thing is virtue.

Then his narrative proceeds thus: “For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison, for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the people, because they counted him as a prophet.” (Matt. xiii. 3–5.)

And wherefore doth he not address his discourse at all to her, but to the man? Because it depended more on him.

But see how inoffensive he makes his accusation, as relating a history rather than bringing a charge.

4. “But when Herod’s birth-day was kept,” saith he, “the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.” (Matt. xiii. 6). O diabolical revel! O satanic spectacle! O lawless dancing! and more lawless reward for the dancing. For a murder more impious than all murders was perpetrated, and he that was worthy to be crowned and publicly honored, was slain in the midst, and the trophy of the devils was set on the table.

And the means too of the victory were worthy of the deeds done. For, “The daughter of Herodias,” it is said, “danced in the midst, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he swore with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger.” (Matt. xiii. 6–8.)

Her reproach is twofold; first, that she danced, then that she pleased him, and so pleased him, as to obtain even murder for her reward.

Seest thou how savage he was? how senseless? how foolish? in putting himself under the obligation of an oath, while to her he gives full power over her request. But when he saw the evil actually ensuing, “he was sorry,” (Matt. Xiii. 9.) it is said; and yet in the first instance he had put him in bonds. Wherefore then is he sorry? Such is the nature of virtue, even amongst the wicked admiration and praises are its due. But alas for her madness! When she too ought to admire, yea, to bow down to him, for trying to redress her wrong, she on the contrary even helps to arrange the plot, and lays a snare, and asks a diabolical favor.

But he was afraid “for the oath’s sake,” it is said, “and them that sat at meat with him.” And how didst thou not fear that which is more grievous? Surely if thou wast afraid to have witnesses of thy perjury, much more oughtest thou to fear having so many witnesses of a murder so lawless.

But as I think many are ignorant of the grievance itself, whence the murder had its origin, I must declare this too, that ye may learn the wisdom of the lawgiver. What then was the ancient law, which Herod indeed trampled on, but John vindicated? The wife of him that died childless was to be given to his brother. (Deut. xxv. 5.) For since death was an incurable ill, and all was contrived for life’s sake; He makes a law that the living brother should marry her, and should call the child that is born by the name of the dead, so that his house should not utterly perish. For if the dead were not so much as to leave children, which is the greatest mitigation of death, the sorrow would be without remedy. Therefore you see, the lawgiver devised this refreshment for those who were by nature deprived of children, and commanded the issue to be reckoned as belonging to the other.

But when there was a child, this marriage was no longer permitted. “And wherefore?” one may say, “for if it was lawful for another, much more for the brother.” By no means. For He will have men’s consanguinity extended, and the sources multiplied of our interest in each other.

Why then, in the case also of death without offspring, did not another marry her? Because it would not so be accounted the child of the departed; but now his brother begetting it, the fiction became probable. And besides, any other man had no constraining call to build up the house of the dead, but this had incurred the claim by relationship.

Forasmuch then as Herod had married his brother’s wife, when she had a child, therefore John blames him, and blames him with moderation, showing together with his boldness, his consideration also.

But mark thou, I pray thee, how the whole theatre was devilish. For first, it was made up of drunkenness and luxury, whence nothing healthful could come. Secondly, the spectators in it were depraved, and he that gave the banquet the worst transgressor of all. Thirdly, there was the irrational pleasure. Fourthly, the damsel, because of whom the marriage was illegal, who ought even to have hid herself, as though her mother were dishonored by her, comes making a show, and throwing into the shade all harlots, virgin as she was.

And the time again contributes no little to the reproof of this enormity. For when he ought to be thanking God, that on that day He had brought him to light, then he ventures upon those lawless acts. When one in chains ought to have been freed by him, then he adds slaughter to bonds.

Hearken, ye virgins, or rather ye wives also, as many as consent to such unseemliness at other person’s weddings, leaping, and bounding, and disgracing our common nature. Hearken, ye men too, as many as follow after those banquets, full of expense and drunkenness, and fear ye the gulf of the evil one. For indeed so mightily did he seize upon that wretched person just then, that he sware even to give the half of his kingdom: this being Mark’s statement, “He sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.” (Mark vi. 23.)

Such was the value he set upon his royal power; so was he once for all made captive by his passion, as to give up his kingdom for a dance. vilifying, reviling, insulting. But not so the saints; they on the contrary mourn for such as sin, rather than curse them.

8. This then let us also do, and let us weep for Herodias, and for them that imitate her. For many such revels now also take place, and though John be not slain, yet the members of Christ are, and in a far more grievous way. For it is not a head in a charger that the dancers of our time ask, but the souls of them that sit at the feast. For in making them slaves, and leading them to unlawful loves, and besetting them with harlots, they do not take off the head, but slay the soul, making them adulterers, and effeminate, and whoremongers.

For thou wilt not surely tell me, that when full of wine, and drunken, and looking at a woman who is dancing and uttering base words, thou dost not feel anything towards her, neither art hurried on to profligacy, overcome by thy lust. Nay, that awful thing befalls thee, that thou “makest the members of Christ members of an harlot.” (1 Cor. vi. 15.)

For though the daughter of Herodias be not present, yet the devil, who then danced in her person, in theirs also holds his choirs now, and departs with the souls of those guests taken captive.

But if ye are able to keep clear of drunkenness, yet are ye partakers of another most grievous sin; such revels being also full of much rapine. For look not, I pray thee, on the meats that are set before them, nor on the cakes; but consider whence they are gathered, and thou wilt see that it is of vexation, and covetousness, and violence, and rapine.

“Nay, ours are not from such sources,” one may say. God forbid they should be: for neither do I desire it. Nevertheless, although they be clear of these, not even so are our costly feasts freed from blame. Hear, at all events, how even apart from these things the prophet finds fault with them, thus speaking, “Woe to them that drink wine racked off, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments.” (Amos vi. 6, LXX.) Seest thou how He censures luxury too? For it is not covetousness which He here lays to their charge, but prodigality only.

And thou eatest to excess, Christ not even for need; thou various cakes, He not so much as dry bread; thou drinkest Thasian wine, but on Him thou hast not bestowed so much as a cup of cold water in His thirst. Thou art on a soft and embroidered bed, but He is perishing with the cold.

Wherefore, though the banquets be clear from covetousness, yet even so are they accursed, because, while for thy part thou doest all in excess, to Him thou givest not even His need; and that, living in luxury upon things that belong to Him. Why, if thou wert guardian to a child, and having taken possession of his goods, were to neglect him in extremities, thou wouldest have ten thousand accusers, and wouldest suffer the punishment appointed by the laws; and now having taken possession of the goods of Christ, and thus consuming them for no purpose, dost thou not think thou wilt have to give account?

9. And these things I say not of those who introduce harlots to their tables (for to them I have nothing to say, even as neither have I to the dogs), nor of those who cheat some, and pamper others (for neither with them have I anything to do, even as I have not with the swine and with the wolves); but of those who enjoy indeed their own property, but do not impart thereof to others; of those who spend their patrimony at random. For neither are these clear from reprehension. For how, tell me, wilt thou escape reproving and blame, while thy parasite is pampered, and the dog that stands by thee, but Christ’s worth appears to thee even not equal to theirs? when the one receives so much for laughter’s sake, but the other for the Kingdom of Heaven not so much as the smallest fraction thereof. And while the parasite, on saying something witty, goes away filled; this Man, who hath taught us, what if we had not learnt we should have been no better than the dogs,—is He counted unworthy of even the same treatment with such an one?

Dost thou shudder at being told it? Shudder then at the realities. Cast out the parasites, and make Christ to sit down to meat with thee. If He partake of thy salt, and of thy table, He will be mild in judging thee: He knows how to respect a man’s table. Yea, if robbers know this, much more the Lord. Think, for instance, of that harlot, how at a table He justified her, and upbraids Simon, saying, “Thou gavest me no kiss.” (Luke vii. 54.) I say, if He feed thee, not doing these things, much more will He reward thee, doing them. Look not at the poor man, that he comes to thee filthy and squalid, but consider that Christ by him is setting foot in thine house, and cease from thy fierceness, and thy relentless words, with which thou art even aspersing such as come to thee, calling them impostors, idle, and other names more grievous than these.

And think, when thou art talking so, of the parasites; what kind of works do they accomplish? in what respect do they profit thine house? Do they really make thy dinner pleasant to thee? pleasant, by their being beaten and saying foul words? Nay, what can be more unpleasing than this, when thou smitest him that is made after God’s likeness, and from thine insolence to him gatherest enjoyment for thyself, making thine house a theatre, and filling thy banquet with stage-players, thou who art well born and free imitating the actors with their heads shaven?

These things then dost thou call pleasure, I pray thee, which are deserving of many tears, of much mourning and lamentation? And when it were fit to urge them to a good life, to give timely advice, dost thou lead them on to perjuries, and disorderly language, and call the thing a delight? and that which procures hell, dost thou account a subject of pleasure? Yea, and when they are at a loss for witty sayings, they pay the whole reckoning with oaths and false swearing. Are these things then worthy of laughter, and not of lamentations and tears? Nay, who would say so, that hath understanding?

And this I say, not forbidding them to be fed, but not for such a purpose. Nay, let their maintenance have the motive of kindness, not of cruelty; let it be compassion, not insolence. Because he is a poor man, feed him; because Christ is fed, feed him; not for introducing satanical sayings, and disgracing his own life. Look not at him outwardly laughing, but examine his conscience, and then thou wilt see him uttering ten thousand imprecations against himself, and groaning, and wailing. And if he do not show it, this also is due to thee.

10. Let the companions of thy meals then be men that are poor and free, not perjured persons, nor stage-players. And if thou must needs ask of them a requital for their food, enjoin them, should they see anything done that is amiss, to rebuke, to admonish, to help thee in thy care over thine household, in the government of thy servants. Hast thou children? Let these be joint fathers to them, let them divide thy charge with thee, let them yield thee such profits as God loveth. Engage them in a spiritual traffic. And if thou see one needing protection, bid them succor, command them to minister. By these do thou track the strangers out, by these clothe the naked, by these send to the prison, put an end to the distresses of others.

Let them give thee, for their food, this requital, which profits both thee and them, and carries with it no condemnation.

Hereby friendship also is more closely riveted. For now, though they seem to be loved, yet for all that they are ashamed, as living without object in thy house; but if they accomplish these purposes, both they will be more pleasantly situated, and thou wilt have more satisfaction in maintaining them, as not spending thy money without fruit; and they again will dwell with thee in boldness and due freedom, and thy house, instead of a theatre, will become to thee a church, and the devil will be put to flight, and Christ will enter, and the choir of the angels. For where Christ is, there are the angels too, and where Christ and the angels are, there is Heaven, there is a light more cheerful than this of the sun.

And if thou wouldest reap yet another consolation through their means, command them, when thou art at leisure, to take their books and read the divine law. They will have more pleasure in so ministering to you, than in the other way. For these things add respect both to thee and to them, but those bring disgrace upon all together; upon thee as an insolent person and a drunkard, upon them as wretched and gluttonous. For if thou feed in order to insult them, it is worse than if thou hadst put them to death; but if for their good and profit, it is more useful again than if thou hadst brought them back from their way to execution. And now indeed thou dost disgrace them more than thy servants, and thy servants enjoy more liberty of speech, and freedom of conscience, than they do; but then thou wilt make them equal to the angels.

Set free therefore both them and thine own self, and take away the name of parasite, and call them companions of thy meals; cast away the appellation of flatterers, and bestow on them that of friends. With this intent indeed did God make our friendships, not for evil to the beloved and loving, but for their good and profit.

But these friendships are more grievous than any enmity. For by our enemies, if we will, we are even profited; but by these we must needs be harmed, no question of it. Keep not then friends to teach thee harm; keep not friends who are enamored rather of thy table than of thy friendship. For all such persons, if thou retrench thy good living, retrench their friendship too; but they that associate with thee for virtue’s sake, remain continually, enduring every change.

And besides, the race of the parasites doth often take revenge upon thee, and bring upon thee an ill fame. Hence at least I know many respectable persons to have got bad characters, and some have been evil reported of for sorceries, some for adulteries and corrupting of youths. For whereas they have no work to do, but spend their own life unprofitably; their ministry is suspected by the multitude as being the same with that of corrupt youths.

Therefore, delivering ourselves both from evil report, and above all from the hell that is to come, and doing the things that are well-pleasing to God, let us put an end to this devilish custom, that “both eating and drinking we may do all things to the glory of God,” (1 Cor. x. 31) and enjoy the glory that cometh from Him; unto which may we all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.
For more on the Beheading of the Precious Forerunner, see:
For a homily by St. Justin Popovitch on this feast, see:
The Holy, Glorious Prophet and Forerunner, John the Baptist (
Apolytikion of St. John the Forerunner in the Second Tone
The memory of the just is observed with hymns of praise; for you suffices the testimony of the Lord, O Forerunner. You have proved to be truly more venʹrable than the Prophets, since you were granted to baptize in the river the One whom they proclaimed. Therefore, when for the truth you had contested, rejoicing, to those in Hades you preached the Gospel, that God was manifested in the flesh, and takes away the sin of the world, and grants to us the great mercy.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

St. Abramius the Righteous Wonderworker of Smolensk (+1220)

St. Abramius the Righteous Wonderworker of Smolensk (+1220) - Commemorated on August 21 (
"The Monk Avraamii (Abraham) of Smolensk, a preacher of repentance and the impending Dread Last Judgement, was born in the mid-XII Century at Smolensk of rich parents, who before him had 12 daughters, and they besought God for a son. From childhood he grew up in the fear of God, he was often in church and had the opportunity to read books. The parents hoped that their only son would enter into marriage and continue their illustrious lineage, but he sought after a different life. After the death of his parents, having given away all his wealth to monasteries, to churches and to the destitute, the saint walked through the city in rags, beseeching God to show him the way to salvation.

He accepted tonsure in a monastery of the MostHoly Mother of God, five versts from Smolensk, at the locale of Selischa. Having passed through various obediences there, the monk fervently occupied himself with the copying of books, culling spiritual riches from them. The Smolensk prince Roman Rostislavich (+ 1170) started a school in the city, in which they taught not only in Slavonic, but also out of Greek and Latin books. The prince himself had a large collection of books, which the Monk Avraamii made use of. He had asceticised for more than 30 years at the monastery, when in the year 1198 the hegumen persuaded him to accept the dignity of presbyter. Every day he made Divine Liturgy and fulfilled the obedience of clergy not only for the brethren, but also for the laypeople.

Soon the monk became widely known. This aroused the envy of the brethren, and then of the hegumen also, and 5 years later the monk was compelled to transfer to the Cross-Exaltation monastery in Smolensk itself. From the offerings by the devout he embellished the cathedral church of the poor monastery with icons, and with curtains and candle-stands. He himself inscribed two icons on themes, which most of all concerned him: on the one he depicted the Dread Last Judgement, and on the other – the suffering of the trials of life. Lean and pale from extreme toil, the ascetic in priestly garb resembled in appearance Saint Basil the Great. The saint was strict both towards himself, and towards his spiritual children. He preached constantly in church and to those coming to him in his cell, conversing with rich and poor alike.

The city notables and the clergy demanded of Bishop Ignatii to bring the monk to trial, accusing him in the seduction of women and the tempting of his spiritual children. But even more terrible were the accusations against him, of heresy and the reading of forbidden books. For this they proposed to drown or burn the ascetic. At the trial by the prince and the bishop, the monk answered all the false accusations, but despite this, they forbade him to serve as a priest and returned him to his former monastery in honour of the MostHoly Mother of God. A terrible drought occurred in consequence of God's wrath over the unjust sentence, and only when Sainted Ignatii put forth a pardon of the Monk Avraamii permitting him to serve and preach, did the rain again fall on the Smolensk lands.

The bishop Saint Ignatii built a new monastery, in honour of the Placing of the Robe of the MostHoly Mother of God, and he entrusted the guidance of it to the Monk Avraamii, and he himself settled into it, having retired because of age from the diocese. Many were desirous to enter under the guidance of the Monk Avraamii, but he examined them very intensely and only after great investigation, so that at his monastery there were but 17 brethren. The Monk Avraamii, after the death of Saint Ignatii, having become his spiritual friend, – even moreso than before urged the brethren to reminisce about death and to pray day and night, that they be not condemned in the Judgement by God.

The Monk Avraamii died after the year 1224, having spent 50 years in monasticism. Already at the end of the XIII Century there had been compiled a service to him, conjointly with his student the Monk Ephrem. The terrible Mongol-Tatar invasion, seen as the wrath of God for sin, not only did not stifle the memory of the Monk Avraamii of Smolensk, but rather was a reminder to people of his calling to repentance and recollection of the dread Last Judgement."
(© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos;

"Magnanimous forgiveness of slanderers and prayer for them is a characteristic of Christian saints who do not ascribe all the slanders against themselves to men but rather to demons, the main instigators of every slander as well as every sin in general. St. Abraham of Smolensk was slandered by envious priests to the prince and the bishop as a deceiver, magician and hypocrite. The slanders sought nothing less than to have him burned. The prince and the bishop believed the slanderers and Abraham was banished from Smolensk and was forbidden to exercise his priestly functions. During the entire time of his investigation and trial, Abraham repeated the prayer of St. Stephen, the first martyr: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts of the Apostles 7:60). Later it was established that all of the accusers against Abraham lied and slandered. The infuriated prince wanted to severely punish the slanderers and the bishop wanted to excommunicate them from the Church but the holy Abraham fell on his knees before the bishop and, with tears, begged him to forgive them. Abraham did not want to return to his monastery nor to begin again to exercise his priestly functions until his slanderers were shown mercy and released."
by St. Nikolai Velimirovitch
The candle burns and incense smells,
Day and night, Abraham prays
His neighbors, he loves as himself.
Withered body of St. Abraham
From fasting and prostrations,
Heart trembling, from the Name of God -
On the pages of time, eternity he writes
Of the sinner, sinners are not afraid
But, the righteous ones, they bitterly fear,
Sinful men, Abraham mock
Envious ones, Abraham accuse.
Mocked and accused, Abraham endures,
For his foes, the mercy of God he implores.
Abraham his heart conceals
Secretly kneeling, secretly shedding tears;
God does not judge as men judge,
The judgment of man desires to harm
But God desires salvation for all,
The aristocrat and the helpless slave.
In God, the saint places all his hope
Abraham, God eternally glorified.
Sts. Abramius and Mercurius of Smolensk (
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The image of God, was faithfully preserved in you, O Father. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Abramius, your soul rejoices with the angels.
(alterred from:
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Holy Mandylion (Napkin) of Christ (Not-made-by-hands)

The Holy Mandylion of Christ - Commemorated on August 16 (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
"The Transfer from Edessa to Constantinople of the Icon of our Lord Jesus Christ Not-Made-by-Hands occurred in the year 944. Eusebius, in his HISTORY OF THE CHURCH (I:13), relates that when the Savior was preaching, Abgar ruled in Edessa. He was stricken all over his body with leprosy. Reports of the great miracles worked by the Lord spread throughout Syria (Mt.4:24) and reached even Abgar. Without having seen the Savior, Abgar believed in Him as the Son of God. He wrote a letter requesting Him to come and heal him. He sent with this letter to Palestine his own portrait-painter Ananias, and commissioned him to paint a likeness of the Divine Teacher.
[Eusebius does not mention the Mandylion directly, but he does include the letters exchanged between Christ and Abgar, which have come down from us through tradition (the following is the translation from the Menaia (translation by Fr. Ephraim Lash); for the Eusebius' quote on Abgar and Christ, see previous post on St. Thaddeus (link below):
Agbar, Ruler of the city of Edessa, to Jesus Saviour, the good physician, who has appeared in Jerusalem, greeting!
I have heard about you and about your cures, which are done by you without drugs; for example you make the blind see again; you make the lame walk; you cleanse lepers; you drive out unclean spirits; you heal those who have been tormented by disease over long periods. Having heard all this of you I had one of two ideas: either that you are Son of God, who do these things, or that you are God. So then I write to you and ask you to and to come to me to cure the suffering I have, and then to be with me; for 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 arrived in Jerusalem and saw the Lord surrounded by people. He was not able to get close to Him because of the large throng of people listening to the preaching of the Savior. Then he stood on a high rock and attempted to paint the portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ from afar, but this effort was not successful. The Savior saw him, called to him by name and gave him a short letter for Abgar in which He praised the faith of this ruler. He also promised to send His disciple to heal him of his leprosy and guide him to salvation.
Letter of Christ to Abgar
[Blessed are you, Agbar, who 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, it is necessary that I accomplish all that I was sent out to do and, after I have accomplished it, to be taken up to the Father who sent me. And when I have been taken up I will send you one of my Disciples, named Thaddaios, he will heal your disease and grant you and those with you eternal life and peace, and he will make your city such that no enemy can prevail against it.

Icon depicting Christ washing His face with the Mandylion (

Then the Lord asked that water and a cloth be brought to Him. He washed His Face, drying it with the cloth, and His Divine Countenance was imprinted upon it. Ananias took the cloth and the letter of the Savior to Edessa. Reverently, Abgar pressed the holy object to his face and he received partial healing. Only a small trace of the terrible affliction remained until the arrival of the disciple promised by the Lord. He was St Thaddeus, Apostle of the Seventy (August 21) (see:, who preached the Gospel and baptized Abgar and all the people of Edessa.
[At the end he fixed seven seals in Hebrew letters, which when translated mean, Vision of God Divine wonder. [In Greek a play on words: "Θεού θέα θείον θαυμα" (Theou thea theion thavma) (]
Abgar put the Holy Napkin in a gold frame adorned with pearls, and placed it in a niche over the city gates. On the gateway above the icon he inscribed the words, "Χριστὲ ὁ θεός, ὁ εἰς σὲ ἐλπίζων οὐκ ἀποτυγχάνει." ("O Christ God, let no one who hopes on Thee be put to shame.")

Fresco depicting the Holy Mandylion of Christ, Visoki Dečani monastery, Kosovo, Serbia (ca. 1335).  (
For many years the inhabitants kept a pious custom to bow down before the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands, when they went forth from the gates. But one of the great-grandsons of Abgar, who later ruled Edessa, fell into idolatry. He decided to take down the icon from the city wall. In a vision the Lord ordered the Bishop of Edessa to hide His icon. The bishop, coming by night with his clergy, lit a lampada before it and walled it up with a board and with bricks.
Many years passed, and the people forgot about it. But in the year 545, when the Persian emperor Chozroes I besieged Edessa and the position of the city seemed hopeless, the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to Bishop Eulabius and ordered him to remove the icon from the sealed niche, and it would save the city from the enemy. Having opened the niche, the bishop found the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands: in front of it was burning the lampada, and upon the board closing in the niche, a copy of the icon was reproduced.
[The Persians had built a huge fire outside the city wall; when the Bishop approached with the Holy Napkin, a violent wind fell upon the fire, turning it back upon the Persians, who fled in defeat. (]
Fresco depicting the Holy Keramion (Ceramic Tile) which the image of Christ was transferred, Visoki Dečani monastery, Kosovo, Serbia (ca. 1335). (
In the year 630 Arabs seized Edessa, but they did not hinder the veneration of the Holy Napkin, the fame of which had spread throughout all the East. In the year 944, the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (912-959) wanted to transfer the icon to the Constantinople, and he paid a ransom for it to the emir of the city. With great reverence the Icon of the Savior Not-Made-by-Hands and the letter which He had written to Abgar, were brought to Constantinople by clergy.
On August 16, the icon of the Savior was placed in the [Pharos] church of the Most Holy Theotokos. There are several traditions concerning what happened later to the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands. According to one, crusaders ran off with it duringtheir rule at Constantinople (1204-1261), but the ship on which the sacred object was taken, perished in the waters of the Sea of Marmora.
According to another tradition, the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands was transported around 1362 to Genoa, where it is preserved in a monastery in honor of the Apostle Bartholomew. It is known that the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands repeatedly gave from itself exact imprints. One of these, named "On Ceramic," was imprinted when Ananias hid the icon in a wall on his way to Edessa; another, imprinted on a cloak, wound up in Georgia. Possibly, the variance of traditions about the original Icon Not-Made-by-Hands derives from the existence of several exact imprints. [See below for a hypothesis involving the Shroud of Turin***]
During the time of the Iconoclast heresy, those who defended the veneration of icons, having their blood spilt for holy icons, sang the Troparion to the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands. In proof of the validity of Icon-Veneration, Pope Gregory II (715-731) sent a letter to the Byzantine emperor, in which he pointed out the healing of King Abgar and the sojourn of the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands at Edessa as a commonly known fact. The Icon Not-Made-by-Hands was put on the standards of the Russian army, defending them from the enemy. In the Russian Orthodox Church it is a pious custom for a believer, before entering the temple, to read the Troparion of the Not-Made-by-Hand icon of the Savior, together with other prayers...

The Feast of the Transfer of the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands, made together with the Afterfeast of the Dormition, they call the third-above Savior Icon, the "Savior on Linen Cloth." The particular reverence of this Feast in the Russian Orthodox Church is also expressed in iconography, and the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands was one of the most widely distributed."
For the original Greek text by Emperor Constantinos Porphyrogenitos on the Holy Mandylion (Narratio de imagine Edessena), see here. 
The Holy Mandylion of Christ, depiction from Cyprus from the 12th Century from Lavkara (source)
A full English translation of this account by Emperor Constantinos Porphyrogenitos (944AD) is available in the dissertation by Mark Guscin
Of note, as alluded to, the Emperor discusses the commonly-held story about the origin of the Holy Mandylion, but also discusses an alternative having to do with the Passion of Christ:

"This is the story according to most sources, regarding the image of our Saviour on the cloth not painted by hand. However, there is another version, which is not improbable and does not lack reliable witnesses. For this reason I shall present this second version so that nobody assumes I gave preference to the first one out of ignorance of the second. It would not be at all strange if confusion has arisen in the story over such a long time. All the sources agree on the main fact, that the form on the cloth was miraculously transferred from the Lord’s face. They disagree on some of the details, such as when this took place. Whether it happened earlier or later does not alter the truth of the matter. The other version is as follows. It is said that when Christ was about to willingly undergo suffering, he displayed human weakness and prayed in anguish. The gospel tells us that his sweat fell like drops of blood and then it is said that he took this piece of cloth, which can still be seen, from one of his disciples, and wiped off the streams of sweat on it. The figure of his divine face, which is still visible, was immediately transferred onto it. He gave it to Thomas and told him to send it to Abgar with Thaddaeus after his ascension into heaven, thus fulfilling what he had promised in the letter."
And and additional translation of other original source documents.
12th Century icon of the Holy Mandylion of Christ (
The Holy Mandylion and the Shroud of Turin***
Orthodox tradition has long seen the Mandylion (the cloth that Christ imprinted His image on in life) as distinct from the burial cloths of Christ. A few modern researchers (heterodox and some Orthodox) however have proposed that the Mandylion of Orthodox tradition is in fact the burial shroud of Christ (i.e. the Shroud of Turin) upon which His image was imprinted.
One of many very similar early depictions of the Holy Mandylion, with a central image of the head of Christ surrounded by a lattice (this one from the 12th Century, currently kept in Laon France) (source)
(Of course this isn't the juncture to fully discuss the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin from a scientific perspective. See the link below the quote for a full article about it, or pictures here from an Orthodox service before the Shroud this past year:
One of many very similar depictions early depictions of the Holy Mandylion, with a central image of the head of Christ, on a large rectangular reliquary surrounded by a lattice (this version from Transfiguration Cathedral, Mirozh Monastery, Pskov, Russia (ca. 1140).
The following is an excerpt from an article by an Orthodox source on the Shroud of Turin:
"A 6th century text refers to the Mandylion as a "tetradiplon'--"doubled in four." A most curious choice of word, according to Cambridge University's Professor Lampe, editor of the 'Lexicon of Patristic Greek'; in all literature it occurs only in association with the image of Edessa, being scarcely, therefore, an idle turn of phrase." [50] As Wilson convincingly suggests, if the Shroud of Turin were folded in this manner, i.e., doubled four times, the viewer would see nothing but the head. And if this folded cloth were attached to a board (as the Mandylion is said to have been), those who venerated the holy image could well have been ignorant of the fact that they were looking at but a portion of what was actually a full-length image, particularly if this image had been sealed up for so many years.
Another early and very similar depiction of the Holy Mandylion (this from 12th century fresco from the Church of the Annunciation, Gradac, Serbia) (source)
This theory is strengthened by the distinct crease marks photographically discerned on the Shroud in the very locations suggested by the "doubled in four." And although the evidence of pollen is by no means conclusive (it can be blown hundreds of miles), Dr. Frei identified on the Shroud pollen not only from the Constantinople and Jerusalem areas, but also from the Anatolian steppes where Edessa is located...
Originally proposed by Ian Wilson, this is a modern visual experiment of how "tetradiplon", or "folding four times" the Shroud of Turin would look, and when put in a reliquary with a lattice, it seems potentially very similar to early depictions of the Holy Mandylion (source)
But none of this, as fascinating as it is, has been conclusively proven. We can only say that the historical evidence thus far uncovered, and the scientific evidence of the Shroud of Turin itself, does indeed suggest this explanation, But the point is that if the Shroud is also the Mandylion, not only does it have an Orthodox history, but it also explains why it seems to have no separate feast or service."
Another excerpt to summarize some of the historical documents from Constantinople:
"To sum up the points made in this paper: a linen cloth or cloths described as the burial wrappings of Jesus are attested in many Constantinople documents from 944 to 1203, twice with his image if one counts Mesarites (Doc. XI), and several times described as bloodied. No record exists of the arrival of Jesus’ burial cloth in the capital, and no celebration such as accompanied the Edessa cloth in 944. [Note: This is a very important point from the Byzantine perspective, as the Church of Constantinople preserves feasts for the finding and translation of almost all the Holy Relics treasured in the City, such as the Finding of the Precious Cross and Holy Nails on March 6th, the Exaltation of the Cross on September 14th, the translation of the Robes of the Theotokos on July 2nd and August 31st, etc. It seems unlikely that the Burial Shroud of Christ (arguably one of the most precious spiritual treasures, similar to the Holy Cross) could have made it to Constantinople without having been noticed, and without a feast or record. However, the Holy Mandylion is widely documented to have come to the City in 944 to great fanfare, and continues to be festally celebrated on August 16th annually.] Yet it was there. Judging from copious documents and artistic representations made in Constantinople and elsewhere from 944 to 1150, the Edessa towel always with the image of Jesus’ face may be identical with Jesus’ Shroud in folded form, enclosed in a case with face exposed. Before that, from at latest 544 to 944, this cloth was certainly in Edessa. If the Edessa cloth and Jesus’ purported shroud are indeed one and the same object, that assumed burial cloth may have a pedigree back at least to 544, and if the Abgar legend has any historical worth, to the 4th c. and even, accepting the descriptive evidence, to the very time of Christ. If the pieces of this elaborate puzzle truly fit as they seem to, the blood-stained burial cloth with faint unpainted image would have a documented history back to palaeochristianity and may in fact be the actual tomb wrapping of Jesus."(source)
For more information, here is another presentation by an Orthodox physician on the subject.
And another article from Orthodox sources, that reviews many of the scientific analyses and also the historical record from an Orthodox perspective.
Another early and very similar depiction of the Holy Mandylion (this from Boyana Church, Sofia, Bulgaria (1259) (source)

And an excerpt from Metropolitan Hilarion's homily at Divine Liturgy before the Shroud of Turin during one of the Expositions:
"There are many proofs of this shrine’s authenticity. But what is the most important thing for us is the church Tradition which testifies that this relic has been preserved from the earliest centuries of Christianity. The Shroud, in which the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped during the burial, is mentioned in all the four Gospels. Certainly, the Evangelists would not have mentioned this cover if it had not been kept by the faithful as a great shrine from the earliest Christian times. Later we heard a story of our Saviour’s image not made with hands. It used to hang over the church gates in Edessus and later was brought to Constantinople. It disappeared subsequently without trace in the era of crusades. And some time later, already in the West, this Shroud reappeared.
"We will never know whether the Shroud of Turin is that Not-Made-With-Hands Image Christ. It is known however that for centuries the Shroud was kept folded in such a way that people could see only the face of our Saviour, not his whole body impressed on the Shroud. So quite probably the Not-Made-With-Hands Image from Edessus is that same Shroud at which we are praying today. Even if it is a different image, we know from the Gospel According to St. John, which you have heard just now, that along with the Shroud there was also a Veil, which was put on Jesus’ face during the burial.
"Standing before this shrine, we remember first of all the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have come here today from different countries – Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, from all over Italy, from France, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal. One can innumerate many countries from which Orthodox pilgrims have flocked over here. What moved us when we were coming here, taking upon ourselves the burdens of journey? – The love of Christ. We have come here to worship our divine Saviour and to pray at this great shrine for ourselves and for our loved ones, to ask blessing from our Lord Jesus Christ who ascended the Cross for the sake of each of us, suffered, died and rose from the dead.
"Today we have heard the Gospel telling us about the death and resurrection of our Saviour. We have heard the words from the divine service of the Great Saturday when the Church praises our Saviour who died for us and descended into hell for our sake. Every human word becomes silent at this great shrine; here every human vanity stops. All our problems, concerns and passions go to the background because here we stand before our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who was crucified and who died for people. We feel his presence among us and ask him not to deprive us of his grace."
We can benefit spiritually from both the Shroud and the Mandylion, regardless of whether not they are one and the same. They are both tangible signs that Christ our God, the eternal Word of the Father, really took on flesh for our salvation. By approaching them (or any icons of Christ for that matter) and showing them veneration, we show Christ love and worship, and we can receive grace and healing from Him as did the woman with an issue of blood, who was healed by grasping the fringe of Christ's garment. (Luke 8:43-48) Gazing on Christ's sacred image, we can remember His words from the Gospel of Luke (used on the feast of the Holy Mandylion): "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)
The Holy Mandylion of Christ (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
Apolytikion of the Holy Icon. Tone 2.
We venerate your most pure icon, loving Lord, as we ask pardon of our offences, Christ God. For by your own choice you were well-pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, to deliver from the slavery of the enemy those whom you had fashioned; therefore with thanksgiving we cry to you: You have filled all things with joy, our Saviour, by coming to save the world.
Stichera Prosomia of the Holy Icon. Tone 2. With that garlands of praise.
With what eyes shall we who are born of earth look upon your image, which the armies of the Angels cannot look at without fear as it blazes with divine light? For it departs to-day from the land of unbelievers and by divine decree comes to dwell in the Queen of cities and among a people of true religion. At its entry Kings rejoice, O Christ, falling down before it with fear and faith.
With what hands shall we creatures of dust touch your Image, O Word? We who are stained by faults touch you, our sinless God? We who live in filth touch you the unapproachable? The Cherubim tremble and hide their gaze; the Seraphim cannot bear to see your glory; creation serves you with fear. Do not then condemn us, O Christ, who unworthily greet from faith your dread appearance.
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 honoured 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.
The Holy Mandylion (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
The Canon of the Holy Icon, of which the Acrostic is:
I honour the imprint of your face, O Saviour.
By Patriarch Germanos.
Ode 1. Tone 6.
The One who before was without a body, by the Father’s good pleasure did not refuse to be formed with a body like ours, and has granted us the grace of a divine representation.
The unchanging nature, the most precise definition of the Father, having entered mortal flesh, left behind for us on earth his characteristics when he went back to heaven.
By your revered sufferings, O Christ, you justified your inheritance, which had been shaken by the deception of the Enemy, making it stable by the representation of your form.
Taking flesh from your pure loins in a manner above nature, O all-blameless, the One who gives being to all mortals became visible, yet not abandoning what he was before.
On the same day [August 16] memorial of the entry of the Image Not Made By Hand of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, brought from the city of the Edessenes to this god-protected Queen of cities.
Alive you wiped your face upon a cloth,
A final burial cloth you wore when dead.
For the Tile
Maker of all, my Christ, a tile once made
By hand now bears your form not made by hand.

Icon of the Holy Mandylion of Christ (1st half of 13th century) (
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Excerpt from St. Theodore the Studite's Encomium on the Dormition of the Theotokos

Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos (
Excerpt from St. Theodore the Studite's Encomium on the Dormition of the Theotokos
“Now the Mother of God shuts her material eyes, and opens her spiritual eyes towards us like great shining stars that will never set, to watch over us and to intercede before the face of God for the World’s protection. Now those lips, moved by God’s grace to articulate sounds, grow silent, but she opens her [spiritual] mouth to intercede eternally for all of her race. Now she lowers those bodily hands that once bore God, only to raise them, in incorruptible form, in prayer to the Lord on behalf of all creation. At this moment her natural form, radiant as the sun, is hidden; yet her light shines through her painted image, and she offers it to the people for the life-giving kiss of relative veneration, even if the heretics are unwilling. The holy dove has flown to her home above, yet she does not cease to protect those below; departing from her body, she is with us in spirit; gathered up to heaven, she banishes demons by her intercession to the Lord.”
Most-Holy Theotokos, save us!