Russia Religion Subjects Jesus Christ The Saviour Not Made By Human Hands

The Saviour Not Made By Human Hands

The apocryphal gospels tell the legend of King Abgar of Edessa, who wrote to Jesus asking to be cured of a serious disease. Christ called for water, washed His face and wiped it on a cloth. A perfect portrait of His features remained on the cloth, which was taken by messenger to King Abgar. The king placed the cloth to his face and was immediately cured.

Images of the Saviour Not Made by Human Hands became popular in Byzantine art in the tenth century, when the miracle-working cloth with the image of Jesus Christ was transferred from Edessa to Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. The Saviour Not Made By Human Hands occupies an important place in the iconography of Christ as the “true image” of God and evidence of His Incarnation.

The Saviour Not Made By Human Hands made its way into Russian icons and frescoes in the twelfth century. Known in Italian art as the Volto Santo, such images were widely employed in the sixteenth century, both as independent representations and in multi-component compositions.

Christ’s slightly asymmetric face occupies most of the icon with His large oblong eyes fixed firmly on the viewer. The wavy strands of brown hair form two volutes at the bottom, while the nimbus extends into the margins. Large icons with this image were common in the sixteenth century and especially popular in the seventeenth century. They were placed in iconostases and icon-cases in churches, embroidered on military banners and positioned over town and monastery gates.

The Saviour Not Made by Human Hands was particularly revered by Old Believers and an obligatory feature of every Old Believer chapel and prayer house.

God’s assumption of human form is not only a central tenet in the divine concept of house-building and the history of the salvation of mankind, but also the foundation of iconolatry. The theme of the incarnation of the Lord and the events of His life on earth have been the property of fine art ever since the victory of iconolatry and the triumph of the True Faith. This idea lies at the heart of the image. The Saviour Not Made By Human Hands is not only regarded as the most authentic representation of Christ, but also testimony of His immaculate conception and voluntary death on the cross. Icons depicting the true image aspire, therefore, to underline the corporeal nature of Christ’s flesh and blood.

Evidence of the great importance that the Russian Orthodox Church attaches to this image is the service of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, celebrated on Quadragesima Sunday in commemoration of the return of icons to the churches in 843, after the defeat of the heresy of iconoclasm. The main icons of the festival are the paired Saviour Not Made By Human Hands and the Mother of God Hodegetria. These two images are believed to most fully reflect the verity of God’s assumption of human form and the basic creed of the Christian faith.

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