February 24, 2014
A few weeks ago I began a search for an icon of the face of Christ that would speak compellingly to people in great distress since I am meeting so many of them in my life right now. I thought that if they had an image of Jesus that they could look at, perhaps their hearts would calm and they could begin to find peace. I also wanted a prayer to put on the back. After a few days devoted to this task and rejecting image after image, I found the following icon at a Russian site. It is late 19th century, held in a private collection and the writer unknown. The icon type is “Icon of the Savior Not Made by Hands”, a most intriguing title.
This is one of the oldest image types of the Eastern Church and has been written many times over the centuries. Via Wikipedia and research from other sources:
According to the legend, the fame of Jesus’s miracles had spread throughout the region and into Syria as related by Matt. 4:24. King Abgar of Edessa, though not having seen Jesus but believing in him, desired to be cured of leprosy, according to some accounts. He could not travel into Roman territory because of a treaty with Caesar, so he sent his court painter, Ananias, to find Jesus, give him the letter, and paint His portrait. Ananias was unable to get near enough to Jesus to render an image because of the crowds, but Jesus called Him over and gave him a letter for Abgar declining his invitation but praising his faith and promising to send one of His disciples to him. Along with the letter went a likeness of Jesus said to have been formed by Our Lord wiping his face with a towel. Upon beholding it, Abgar was healed. This legend was first recorded in the early fourth century by Eusebius of Caesarea, who said that he had transcribed and translated the actual letter in the Syriac chancery documents of the king of Edessa. The apostle “Thaddaeus“, known as “Addai” in Syriac, went to Edessa after Pentecost, was welcomed by Abgar, preached the Gospel and healed many.
Wiki: The first record of the existence of a physical image in the ancient city of Edessa (now Urfa) was in Evagrius Scholasticus, writing about 600, who reports a portrait of Christ of divine origin which effected the miraculous aid in the defense of Edessa against the Persians in 544. The image was moved to Constantinople in the 10th century. The cloth disappeared from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade [Sack of Constantinople] in 1204.
Many versions of this legend exist with some variation, but one thing is sure. This icon type is of very early origin and is still venerated today.
Why this particular icon?
When I saw this image for the first time I was spellbound by the eyes. In many renditions, the writer has Christ looking to the side. In this work, He gazes directly at the viewer with eyes full of love, mercy, gentleness and compassion. Although the icon portrays the risen Christ, the shadows of His passion and death are somehow communicated as well. The message from Matt. 11:28, “Come to me all ye who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” reaches out to the viewer. I thought this icon would draw people to Him and that He would then be able to work His miracles of peace in their hearts.
Prayer on the back
The great folks at Catholic Prayer Cards had a beautiful prayer, “Jesus Help Me”, but it needed a few additions for my purposes. I found many versions of this prayer at both Catholic and Protestant sites, and with the help of a few readers, created this version for the back of the card.
Jesus Help Me, Thou Who Died for Me
In every need let me come to Thee with humble trust saying, Jesus help me.
In all my confusion, doubts, and temptations, Jesus help me.
In the hours of loneliness, abandonment, weariness and trials, Jesus help me.
In the failure of my plans and hopes, Jesus help me.
In disappointments, troubles and sorrows, Jesus help me.
When others fail me, betray me, and when I am in devastating pain, Thy grace alone can assist me. Jesus help me.
When I throw myself on Thy tender love and mercy as Savior, Jesus help me.
When I feel impatient, hopeless, and my cross is overwhelming, Jesus help me.
When I struggle to forgive, Jesus help me.
When I am ill, and my head and hands cannot do their work, Jesus help me.
In the good Thou wouldst have me do; in the pleasures I seek, Jesus help me.
In the care I have for loved ones and friends, Jesus help me.
O Agonizing Jesus, strip me of all intemperance in the use of life’s comforts and pleasures.
Always, always, in joys or sorrows, in falls and shortcomings, Jesus help me, and never forsake me. Amen.
A couple of other bloggers shared this project with me. If you want to have some printed to give away, please contact me through the contact form at this blog and I will give you the information you need.
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R. Now and forever!
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