Icons of the Theotokos: Panagia Tricherousa (The Virgin with Three Hands)


Panagia Tricherousa (The Virgin with Three Hands)

Take a look at today’s icon. Seems, simple enough: the Virgin with the Christ Child. Look closer however: can you see the Panagia holding Christ with three hands?

Where and why did this unique icon, the Panagia Tricherousa (The Virgin with Three Hands), come into existence? Well, as it turns out, the explanation relies on a miracle.

St. John of Damascus was a noted opponent of the Iconoclasts. In fact, the Byzantine government grew so angered by John’s persistent writings on the orthodoxy of icons, that Emperor Leo III falsely informed the caliph of Damascus that St. John was committing treason. As punishment for these supposed acts, the caliph ordered that John’s writing hand (his right), be cut off and delivered to the marketplace.

St. John humbly asked for the missing limb, and when it was granted to him, he took his severed hand, put it to the joint, and fell before an icon of the Theotokos, praying through tears. When he fell asleep, he saw the Theotokos, who promised him a quick healing. And when he awoke his hand was restored! To commemorate the healing, he created a third hand of silver on the icon.

However, the miraculous nature of the icon was far from finished. When St. John became a monk at St. Sava he entrusted the icon to the monastery. During the Turkish invasion of Serbia a century later, local residents feared for the icon’s safety. Placing it in the care of the Panagia herself, the icon sat atop a rider-less donkey, all the way to the Hilander monastery on Mt. Athos, where it has resided until this day.

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