In these modern times our young people, who are poisoned in the schools with the venom of unbelief and apostasy, often begin to doubt the authenticity of the Gospel and demand proof that it is not simply a figment of man’s imagination, and sometimes even doubt whether the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth at all. But in response to all these doubts, the wonderful feast of the Image of our Lord Not-made-by-hands serves as vivid confirmation of our faith.
In church parlance this feast is called the “Third Saviour,” i.e. the third holiday in the month of August dedicated to the Saviour. (The First Saviour is the feast of the presentation of the Holy and Life-giving Cross of the Lord, celebrated on August 14th [the 1st, old style], while the Second Saviour is our church feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration.)
The Image of our Lord Not-made-by-hands appeared under the following circumstances: during Christ’s life on earth, there lived in the Syrian city of Edessa a certain Prince Augarus. He suffered from an incurable illness - leprosy, so that his entire body was covered with terrible sores, while internally he suffered from a complete paralysis of the body.
Rumors of Jesus Christ and His great miracles reached Augarus, who became filled with a fervent desire to see Christ and be healed by Him. However, being unable to travel to Judea himself, he wrote a moving letter to Jesus Christ, in which he wrote the following:
“Rumors have reached me about You and Your glorious miracles, how You heal illness without medicine or treatment, - You make the blind see, the lame walk, You expel demons, cleanse lepers, heal paralytics with a single word and resurrect the dead. Hearing of You, that You perform such wondrous miracles, I came to the following two conclusions about You: You are either God Who has descended from heaven, or You are the Son of God. For this reason I humbly appeal to You, to make the effort to come to me and heal my incurable illness from which I have suffered for so many years. I have also heard that the Jews hate You and wish to harm You. I, however, have under my rule a city, though small, but beautiful and having everything in abundance; come to me then, and live with me in my city, in which both of us will find all that we need.”
Together with this missive Augarus at the same time sent a talented artist to the Palestine, commissioning him to paint the face of Christ on a wooden board. So great was Augarus’ love for Christ, which was inspired by his faith in Him, that he wished at least to see His image.
The painter arrived in Jerusalem and found Christ, but despite his best efforts, by the will of God he was unable to depict the face of Christ. Then Jesus Himself called the painter to Him, received Augarus’ letter from him and, after reading the letter, sent Augarus the following reply:
“Blessed are you, Augarus, not having seen Me and yet having faith in Me, for you shall inherit life eternal! You ask Me to come to you, but I must accomplish that for which I have been sent, and then I must return to My Father Who had sent Me. And when I ascend to Him, I will send you one of My disciples, who will completely cure you of your illness.”
After writing the letter, the Lord washed His face in water and dried it with a cloth, leaving a miraculous imprint of the Divine face on this cloth. Then the Lord sent this image to Augarus together with His letter.
The Lord’s promise to Augarus was fully fulfilled after His ascension, when the Apostle Thaddeus came to Edessa and baptized Augarus, who came out of the baptismal font completely cleansed and renewed, both in body and soul.
Let us, too, have this guileless and absolute faith in Christ which Augarus had; let us invite the Lord into our souls through the partaking of the Holy Mysteries; and may the Lord send us His grace and His mercy, cleanse us of the leprosy of iniquity and passion, and lead us into eternal life.