Saint John of Damascus, an ardent defender of the icons, served as the city governor of
Damascus during the reign of the iconoclast emperor Leon III, who accused him of treason. To
punish him, the emperor had the caliph of Damascus chop off John’s right hand, leaving him
scarred and debilitated.
That same night, the saint’s friends retrieved the severed hand and brought it back to him. With
unwavering faith, he held his hand against the wound and prayed before the icon of the Virgin
Mary, beseeching her for healing. During his slumber, Mary revealed herself to him and
miraculously healed his hand by growing it back on the stump, an astonishing act of divine
To express his gratitude, John had a silver replica made of the lost hand and donated it as a
votive offering to the icon of the Virgin Mary that he had prayed before. As a result, the icon
became known as the Three-Handed Mother of God, a symbol of the profound impact of faith
John’s innocence was soon vindicated, and the caliph attempted to reappoint him as governor,
but the saint chose to renounce his worldly ties and become a monk. He took the miraculous
icon of the Virgin Mary, which was kept and venerated in Saint Sawa’s Lavra, a monastery in
Palestine, until the 13th century.
In the early 13th century, the icon came to the attention of Saint Sawa, Archbishop of Serbia,
who was visiting the monastery. The monks gifted him the precious icon, which he brought back
to Serbia. But the region was wracked by internal strife, and the icon found its way, by a
wondrous miracle, on the back of a donkey to the Serbian monastery of Hilandari on Mount
Athos, where it remains to this day, a powerful testament to the extraordinary story of Saint
John and the Three-Handed Mother of God.
Commemoration day: June 28 and July 12