St. John Damascene, a devout Christian, was head chancellor to the Caliph of Damascus in 726 when the Byzantine Emperor Leo issued his first iconoclastic edict forbidding the veneration of images. Over the next few years, as iconoclasm became stricter, John wrote a series of widely circulated letters defending the use of images in Christian worship. Meanwhile, Caliph Hisham’s forces conducted frequent attacks against the Byzantine Empire. In 730 the Caliph received a letter in John’s handwriting, addressed to Emperor Leo, offering to betray Damascus to him. Hisham decreed that the hand that wrote the letter should be severed at the wrist. According to John’s biographer, John of Jerusalem, writing two centuries later, the saint’s hand was restored after he prayed before an icon of the Virgin and Child painted by St. Luke. In thanks, John of Damascus added to the image a third hand of silver on the lower left. The miracle made the Caliph realize the incriminating letter was a Byzantine forgery, but John decided to enter a monastery rather than return to office. He lived the rest of his life in the Lavra of St. Sava in Jerusalem, to which he donated the miraculous icon.
In the 1200s, another St. Sava journeyed to that monastery, where he was recognized as spiritual heir and given the icon of Three Hands, which he took back to his native Serbia, where it stayed until the Turks invaded in the early 1400s. To save the image, Serbian monks are said to have tied it to the back of a riderless donkey, which traveled 400 miles by itself to the Serbian monastery of Hilandar on Mt. Athos in northern Greece. Later in the century, the monks of Hilandar elected the Mother of God of Three Hands their leader, a post she has held ever since. The monastery has a vicar, but no abbot; the icon of the Trojeručica occupies the abbot’s throne. The feast of the Three-Handed Mother of God is celebrated July 12 in the Julian calendar, July 25 in the modern calendar.
Information from www.rs.risjak.net/chilandar/Miracles.html and other sources;
picture from Veljko Guberina, “800 Years of Hilandar,” Arhiva Advokatske Komore Srbije, www.advokatska-komora.co.yu/arhiva.