The original of this icon, now located on Mount Athos at Hilandar Monastery, is from the 8th century and has quite an important and unusual history and significance. During the iconoclast controversy centered in Byzantium in this same century, the venerators of icons were severely persecuted by the icon smashers (iconoclasts) who left the continuous tradition of icon reverence of the Church from the very first days of Christianity, and destroyed or defaced the holy images which they mistakenly called idols. This was at least partly due to the unusual and surprising rise of Islam in the previous two centuries and their military success which greatly affected the entire Middle Eastern area at that time, and threatened to engulf all of the Roman Empire which had converted to Christianity.
St. John Damascene lived at that time in Damascus and fearlessly wrote the definitive defense of the use of icons for veneration for the faithful, and elucidated the difference between worship (which is only reserved for God Himself) and veneration which extends to that which brings us in remembrance of God. Thus, through St. John’s extensive writings, the icons were ably explained to this day. When the Emperor was unable to stop St. John from writing, as he was out of his political reach, he had him indirectly slandered as leaking state secrets, and the Sultan in a rage had St. John’s right hand cut off. Not losing faith, St. John held his hand up before this icon of the Virgin, and it was miraculously restored whole, and he continued to write in defense of the icons. In gratitude for the miracle, St. John had a silver replica of his hand made and attached to the metal cover of the icon, which gives it its unusual name “of three hands”. Later taken to the Holy Mountain of Athos, this icon still inspires the faithful to turn their hearts to God, and defend the truth of faith from mistaken ideas, even when unpopular.
After raging through almost a century and a quarter, the iconoclast controversy was resolved in favor of the continuance of icon veneration finally in 843, and these wonderful blessings to focus our minds and prayers to God have continued to be an integral and important part of the Church proclaiming Christ’s Incarnation in material creation. The particularly lovely features of both Christ and the Virgin of this icon make the intensification of our prayers and the turning of our hearts a natural result of looking deeply at this window into the Heavenly World.