You will easily recognize today’s icon as the “Not Made by Hands” image of Jesus, which according to tradition appeared miraculously when Jesus pressed a cloth to his wet face, and his image was transferred to the cloth, becoming supposedly the “first Christian icon.”
Well, as you learned in a previous posting on this type, that is just a legend that developed over time. But the result of that legend was not only images of this type being used to support the practice of icon veneration, but also the eventual creation of immense numbers of icons bearing the image — including even Russian military banners.
This interesting example bears the inscription:
Literally, IMAGE NOT-HAND-MADE, or in the usual translation,
“THE IMAGE NOT MADE BY HANDS.”
Two angels standing on stylized clouds support the cloth.
Just below the face of Jesus is the inscription on the cloth:
“[The] Holy Cloth.”
Ubrus can be translated both as “cloth” and as “towel.” In Russian religious practice, it is also the name for the white towel — often colorfully embroidered at both ends — placed atop and at the sides of an icon to decorate and honor it in a home shrine — the “beautiful corner” of the room where the icons are placed.
The most interesting thing about this example, however, is the uncommon inscription found at the base of the icon:
БОЖIЕ ВИДЕНIЕ Б[О]Ж[ЕС]Т[ВЕН]НОЕ ЧУДО
BOZHIE VIDENIE BOZHESTVENNOE CHUDO
What does it mean? Well, you may recall that some time ago there was a posting here on Greek abbreviations found on stone crosses, etc. Among them was this one:
ΘΕΟΥ ΘΕΑ ΘΕIΟΝ ΘΑΥΜΑ
Theou Thea Theion Thauma
“Vision of God — Divine Wonder”
The base inscription on this Russian icon of the “Not Made by Hands Image” is just the Church Slavic translation of that Greek phrase, which we could also render as:
“The Vision of God — a Divine Miracle.”
The reference here is to the visual presentation of the image — the face — of Jesus, which in Eastern Orthodox tradition appeared miraculously on the cloth, and so was a “divine wonder” — a miracle.
The point behind its use on this icon is that in Eastern Orthodoxy theology and belief, this first appearance (though legendary in reality, of course) of the image of Jesus on the cloth — the first Christian icon — was the excuse made for the practice of making and venerating icons. The argument was that formerly God — being a spirit — could not be represented in paintings. But because God was incarnate — made flesh — in the person of Jesus, and could then be seen by human eyes, one could therefore paint and venerate icons of God in the visible person of Jesus. And of course Eastern Orthodox tradition held that the “real” visage of Jesus could be seen in icons of the “Image Not Made by Hands,” which was considered an actual seeing — a “vision” — of God, and therefore a divine miracle. So the incarnation of Jesus was used as the (rather shaky) basis of the argument for icon veneration.