In the ninth century during the time of the Iconoclasts, St. John of Damascus was zealous in his veneration of the holy icons. Because of this, he was slandered by the emperor and iconoclast Leo III who informed the Damascus caliph that St. John was committing treasonous acts. The caliph gave orders to cut off the hand of the monk and take it to the marketplace. That evening St. John, having asked the caliph for the cut-off hand, put it to its joint and fell to the ground before the icon of the Mother of God. The monk begged Our Lady to heal his hand, which had written in defense of Orthodoxy. After praying he fell asleep and saw in a dream that the All-Pure Mother of God had turned to him promising him quick healing.
The Mother of God directed him to toil without fail with this hand. Having awakened from sleep, St. John saw that his hand was unharmed. In thankfulness for this healing, St. John placed a hand fashioned of silver on the icon, from which the icon received its name “Of Three Hands.” (Some iconographers have mistakenly depicted the Most Holy Theotokos with three arms and three hands.) According to Tradition, St. John wrote a hymn of thanksgiving to the Mother of God: “All of creation rejoices in You, O Full of Grace,” which appears in place of the hymn “It is Truly Meet” in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great.
St. John Damascene accepted monasticism at the St. Sava the Sanctified Monastery and bestowed his wonderworking icon at that place. The Lavra presented the icon “Of Three Hands” in blessing to St. Sava, Archbishop of Serbia. During the invasion of Serbia by the Turks, Christians who wished to protect the icon entrusted it to the safekeeping of the Mother of God Herself. They placed it upon a donkey, which without a driver proceeded to Mt. Athos and stopped in front of the Hilandar Monastery. The monks put the icon in the monastery’s cathedral church. During a time of dissension over the choice of the abbott, the Mother of God appeared at the monastery Herself and came to rule it. From that time Her holy icon has occupied the abbott’s place in the temple. There is only a vicar at the Hilandar Monastery, and from the holy icon, the monks take a blessing for every obedience.
By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org )