Saturday, December 10, 2011

Iconic Icons: Trojeručica

The Virgin with Three Hands (or Three-Handed Theotokos) is known with many names: being from Serbia, it is commonly known by its Serbian name, Bogodorica Trojeručica (Богородица Тројеручица) or Trojeručica for short. It is also known by its Greek name, Panagia Tricherousa (Παναγια Τριχερουσα). It is a hodigitria icon of the Theotokos, and it is the most important icon of the Serbian Orthodox Church (according to Wikipedia, at least).

The story is that this icon was made famous by its connection to St. John Damascene, the great defender of icons of the seventh and eighth centuries, whose theological thought was the basis of the defeat of iconoclasm at the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In 717, St. John Damascene was falsely accused of being an enemy of the state (by who is debated: some say the Caliph under whom he served, some say Emperor Leo the Isaurian, an iconoclast), and for punishment, his right hand was cut off. In response to this horrific event, St. John prayed before an icon of the Theotokos (whether he wrote this icon or not is uncertain), while holding his severed hand, and fell asleep there. While he was sleeping, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and said, "Thy hand is now whole; sorrow no more." Upon waking, he saw that his hand had been miraculously restored. In thanksgiving to the Theotokos for this healing, he created a silver replica of his hand as a votive offering and attached it to the icon. Many people who saw the icon were confused by it and, not knowing the story behind it, called it "three-handed." St. John, upon becoming a monk at the Mar Sabbas monastery outside of Jerusalem, gave the icon to that community.

In the 12th century the icon was given to St. Sabbas (also known as St. Sava), Archbishop of Serbia, who founded the Chilandri (also called Hilandar) Monastery on Mt. Athos. He received the icon from the Mar Sabbas monastery during a visit to the Holy Land, and he brought the icon to Serbia, where he returned after the trip. There the icon was carried by a mule in front of the army until one day the mule disappeared; miraculously, the mule, bearing the icon, appeared at the Chilandri Monastery, having found its own route there. To this day, the icon is stationed at the Chilandri Monastery.

One more interesting event happened in the history of the icon. One day, as the monks at Chilandri were debating over who would become the next abbot, the icon miraculously moved. While it had been placed in the sanctuary, it moved miraculously to the abbot's stall. Upon seeing this, one brother stated that, to avoid quarreling, there would no longer be an elected abbot at Chilandri, for the Theotokos had occupied the position herself, and so she would govern the monastery. That practice was followed, with monks only serving as acting abbots, until within the past few decades (most likely the 1980s or 1990s), when monks have begun to be elected as abbots once again.

As mentioned above, this icon is arguably the most famous and most important icon of the Serbian Orthodox Church (with feast days on July 11th and July 25th), though a copy brought to Russia in 1661 became famous there as well. In the end, the Trojeručica reminds us of the power of God to work miracles and how the intercession of the Theotokos can help us receive miracles from her Son. It also reminds us of the importance of devotion to the Theotokos, as shown by the reverent votive offering of St. John Damascene. Finally, this icon reminds us of the Serbian Orthodox Church, for whom it holds such great value. Thus, while venerating the Blessed Virgin as represented in the Trojeručica, let us pray for the reunion of the Serbian Orthodox Church with the Catholic Church.

All-Holy, Most Pure, Ever-Virgin Theotokos, save us!
St. John Damascene, pray for us!

Nota Bene: My information came from Wikipedia, Orthodox Wiki, and Mount I also referenced this document from the Hilandar Research Library and this page on the life of St. John Damascene.

Text ©2011 Brandon P. Otto.  Licensed via CC BY-NC.  Feel free to redistribute non-commercially, as long as credit is given to the author.


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