10th Sunday After Pentecost
In the month of August, we have three distinct feast days which commemorate our Lord Jesus Christ in some way. The first of these is on the 14th/1st of August, which marks the start of the dormition fast which we just ended yesterday. This first feast is known as the procession of the life-giving cross of the Lord. This feast was one that was established in Constantinople, in which the true cross of our Lord would be taken through the streets. People would be able to see and touch the cross to be healed of their diseases. The second feast of our Lord in the month of August is the feast of Transfiguration, where Christ showed his divine glory to his disciples, Peter, James and John. Through this witness, they saw that this was not a simple man, but rather the Son of God who took on human flesh.
The last of the feasts of our Lord in the month of August is the one we celebrate today, which is the icon not made with hands. The story of this icon actually takes place during the time of Christ. There was a ruler in the area of Syria named Abgar. This ruler had been stricken with leprosy, and yet he had heard about how Jesus had performed many great miracles in Israel. Since he was unable to travel, he wrote a letter to Christ to ask him to come heal him. Abgar sent one of his servants, who was also a painter, to deliver the letter in Jerusalem. This painter, having found Christ surrounded by a large throng of people. Since he was unable to reach Jesus, he began to paint a portrait of Jesus. However, his portrait did not turn out well, which caused him to lose hope.
The saviour Himself, caught sight of this painter and came over. Once Christ received the letter from Abgar, He promised that He would send one of his disciples to Syria to heal Abgar of his affliction, as well as to provide spiritual guidance. The Lord then asked for water and a washcloth. Having washed his face, and then dried it with the cloth, his Divine Countenance was left imprinted on this cloth.The portrait-painter took this cloth to Abgar, who reverenced this image. Through this, his leprosy was healed but not completely. Once Christ's disciples were sent out to preach throughout the gentile world, the Disciple Thaddeus of the Seventy was sent to Abgar. There Abgar received Baptism and was fully healed of his disease.
This Holy Icon for many years was venerated by the people in Syria. There are many various stories of what happened to this icon. One of them speaks of the icon being stolen by crusaders and then sinking at sea, while another tradition said it was taken to a monastery in Greece. This could be because there were many copies of this icon. But one thing we do know for sure, that this icon, as well as other icons, brought upon healing and salvation of people's souls, through the divine image of Christ.
We see this exact same thing happening today, when the Hawaii Iveron icon of the Theotokos visited us this past week. What I remember is that I saw so many people with various diseases and illnesses coming in the presence of the icon, they all stood and prayed in order to receive the intercessions of the Theotokos. And some people were healed, while others still live in their infirmities. This is a sad sight for us to see, since we desire that all people should be healed. And yet, seeing people still struggling in their infirmities for years upon years is something that unbelievers use in order to suggest that God is non-existent.
What we can see is that there are many reasons people still have their infirmities. I think the Gospel reading for this Sunday actually illustrates it best to us. We hear about a man who had a son who was an epileptic. This man came to Christ's disciples and urged them to cast out the demon from his son. However, they were unable to. And Christ healed this man's son. Now, Christ's disciples came to Jesus and asked the Lord, "Why were we not able to cast out the demon?" And how did Christ respond? "Because of your unbelief! This kind can only come out only with prayer and fasting".
So as healing can come from Icons, it also needs to have our participation as well! God will help us, but we only need to come towards him with faith, fasting, and prayer. This is how Abgar was fully healed, since he took on Baptism and began to live out the Christian life. Christ healed him through the Holy icon, but Abgar had to respond as well. And if we take the case where we are healthy overall and don't have any grave infirmity that needs to be healed, we should not forget that everyone is in need of spiritual healing. God truly helps us, but do we respond in kind to all he does for us? Many of us might have a major struggle or issue we have, and we come to a Holy Icon for help or to the Church. But do we then in turn change our lives and take upon prayer and fasting. Do we do it with strong vigor or try to cheat as much as we can? Or do we become stagnant and ignore the rules of fasting and prayer completely and still live our lives in a sinful manner? When God then does not answer us or does what we want, that is when we get upset and then deny His existence.
So dear brothers and sisters in Christ, stand fast to our faith. Healing is a gift to us, a free offering, but even if we receive a great gift, we still need to show thanks and reverence. And how do we show thanks? By prayer and fasting together with faith!