"After my death our beloved Church abroad will break three ways .... first the Greeks will leave us as they were never a part of us ... then those who live for this world and its glory will go to Moscow ... what will remain will be those souls faithful to Christ and His Church." St. Philaret of NY 1985

Image Not Made by Hands


The Image of the Lord Jesus Christ Not Made by Hands 
by Saint Philaret the New Confessor of New York 
+1985 A.D. 

AS WELL as continuing the festival of the Dormition of the Mother of God, the Church now [16th/ 29th August - second day of the Dormition feast] celebrates the Image of our Lord Jesus Christ, Not Made by Hands.   By tradition the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God came down to us from the deepest antiquity, for it was painted by the holy Evangelist Luke, and received the blessing of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary herself.  But the very first depiction of the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ was not painted by any artist.   The Lord Jesus Christ Himself made it in His good pleasure. 

The Church preserves a tradition concerning this, how the King of Edessa, Abgar, who was afflicted with an ailment, had heard a great deal about the Saviour and His miraculous deeds, and sent an artist to Him, who was accomplished in portraiture, so that he might paint a portrait of the Saviour.  However much the artist attempted to do this, nothing he did came out right.  He saw that everything he depicted on his canvas simply did not correspond to the reality at all, and nothing he did came out right.  But the Lord Jesus Christ’s good pleasure was to offer help to his efforts.  He asked for a cloth as a canvass, and placed it to His Immaculate Face and that face was imprinted upon the cloth, upon that canvass.  This was the very first image, not made by hands. 

The Church now celebrates this very miracle, this Image.  But it is for us, Christians, participating in this feast, not to forget that each one of us was created in the image and likeness of God.  The Holy Bible, as you know, says that the Lord, having made heaven and earth, before creating man, took special counsel in the Holy Trinity, where the Lord One in Trinity spake His well-pleasing Word: “Let Us make man in Our image, and likeness, and let him have dominion over all creation.”  In the image and in the likeness.  The holy Fathers teach us to distinguish the image from the likeness.  The image of God - in the very nature of the human soul, is trinal, like unto the Holy Trinity, which is Divinity one in Essence, but at the same time, in Persons, a Trinity.  So it is with the soul of man.  The soul of man, being absolutely one, one personality, and one essence, is at the same time trinal in its fundamental powers: for the first - this is the mind in man, another is the heart, man’s feelings, and a third is his will.  With the mind man thinks, with the heart he experiences [things], and with the will he acts.  But in all these three powers it is yet one and the same soul, and the person is yet one. 

And as regards what concerns the likeness of God, it is not without reason that we call the Venerable Seraphim and those like him, righteous fathers [In Russian “prepodobnye ottsy” - literally “fathers most like unto” (God)].  They manifest the likeness of God in themselves.  If the image of God, as I have told you, pertains to the very nature of man, then, as the holy Fathers say, even if the soul of man is condemned to  fiery Gehenna for eternal torment, all the same it remains the image of God.  It is simply the case that the person himself degrades this image, defiles it, and makes himself deserving of torment in Hades.  The likeness of God - this is the moral side; the more a man becomes like unto God, the closer he approaches Him, and the more manifest is the likeness of God in him. 

The Apostle Paul once exhorted his spiritual children, “I beseech you, be ye followers [imitators] of me, even as I also am of Christ” (see 1 Cor. 4:16, & 11:1), that is be like unto me, imitate me, even as I imitate Christ.  The sinful man, given over unto sin, loses the likeness of God.  The image of God he does not lose, even in the fire of Gehenna, but the likeness of God he can lose completely.  It was not in vain that it was said by the Psalmist, that “man being in honour, did not understand” (Ps. 48:12), that is, man did not understand, and did not value that honour of which his Creator had deemed him worthy, and “he is compared to the mindless cattle, and is become like unto them” (Ps. 48:12).  What that man is reduced to, who loses the likeness of God and becomes like some-one else, you and I know!  To whom, for instance, is that man like who, in his drunkenness, lies in the filth and mumbles.  Who is he like?- in no way like the Lord God! 

We must bear in mind that although the image of God is indestructible in each one of us, the likeness of God must needs be renewed in us, and every man must enhance it; - this is the purpose of the life of man.  For this reason, remember, O man, and more frequently bear in mind, that the first man, Adam, was created in the image and likeness of God.  But even if the image does not depend on us, yet the likeness depends entirely on us, and for that reason our task is to work upon our soul, so that it should be like its Creator, and not like someone else.  Amen.  

Translated from the Second Volumes of the Sermons and Teachings of Metropolitan Philaret, published by the Russian Orthodox Youth Committee, in 1989