How the Virgin Got Her Third Hand

This is the story of how the Virgin got Her third hand and how a man named John became known as St. John of Damascus.

Back in the days when Byzantium dominated the east, an emperor named Leo the Isaurian ascended to the throne. A strict iconoclast, Leo the Third believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible’s Ten Commandments which forbade the worship of any graven images including icons. And so, Emperor Leo issued a decree demanding the destruction of every icon throughout the Byzantine Empire.

In the neighboring Caliphate of Damascus, John – who served as a Christian counselor to the Muslim Caliph – started writing letters to everyone he knew explaining that the worship of icons was not a heresy but rather something sacred. He wrote down his arguments in three Apologetic Treatises Against Those Decrying the Holy Images which circulated with Rome’s blessing and won over many converts. Each one of these Treatises questioned Emperor Leo’s iconoclasm.

After learning of this open challenge to his authority, Leo the Third was incensed. Plotting his revenge, the Emperor found a man who could forge both John’s handwriting and signature. Leo the Third then paid this forger to write a false letter which would appear to have been sent from John to Leo himself. The main points of the fake letter were that John knew all of the weaknesses of his city’s defenses and that he was willing to share this information with Byzantium’s Christian Emperor in order to help him capture Damascus. The Emperor’s agents then made sure that this forged letter fell into the hands of the Muslim Caliph.

Angered by the letter’s apparent treachery, the Caliph refused to hear John’s protestations that he was innocent. The Caliph dismissed John from his position at the court and ordered that John’s right hand be chopped off for writing such an offending letter. On the Caliph’s instructions, John’s severed hand was hung in the center of Damascus so that everyone could see what happened to traitors no matter how close they were to the Caliph. A few days later, the Caliph had his men return the offending hand to John in order to remind him of what he had done.

In the sanctuary of his home, John prayed to his icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to heal his hand and make him whole once again. After praying himself to exhaustion, John fell into a deep sleep still pressing his severed hand against the stump which remained. As he woke up, John heard a woman whisper: “You have been healed. You may use your hand.” John looked down at his two hands and saw that her words were true.

After news of this miracle spread across Damascus, the Caliph now believed that John was innocent and offered him his former job as counselor. But after being healed by the Virgin, John decided to devote the rest of his life to God. He made plans to enter the Monastery of Saint Sabasnear Jerusalem. But before John left his home in Damascus, he converted all his worldly wealth into silver coins and had a craftsman melt them all down to fashion a silver hand as an offering of thanks. John attached this extra hand to his icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This is the story of how the Virgin got Her third hand and how a man named John became known as St. John of Damascus.