In August, the church commemorates the Icon of Christ “Not Made by Hands,” also commonly known as the “Holy Napkin,” the “Mandylion,” or the “Holy Face.”
According to the oral tradition of the Eastern Church, the prototype for this image was made by Christ himself as he put his face against a towel, leaving an imprint. As the legendary “first icon,” I always felt it was a significant image for me as an iconographer, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to paint a version of it this last month.
The theology of the icon is summed up briefly in the church kontakion (short hymn) of the commemoration of this icon, which occurs every year on August 16/29:
Uncircumscribable Word of the Father,
knowing the victorious image,
uninscribed and divinely wrought,
of Thine ineffable and divine dispensation towards mankind,
of Thy true incarnation, we honor it with veneration.
In other words, we make icons because of the Incarnation. Christ had a body, he had a face, and therefore we can (and should) depict it and gaze upon it.
As the relic of the original “holy napkin” was lost centuries ago during the fourth Crusade, the way we know it today is, somewhat ironically, by the work of iconographers depicting this image over the years, with their human hands.
I feel so grateful and blessed to participate in this stream.