The Holy Shroud of Edessa, found today in Turin, once resided in the Pharos Chapel in Constantinople where it was called the icon ‘not made with human hands.’ Like every holy relic, the mandylion veils a mystery of ineffable glory, but it is pre-eminent among relics, being an icon of the resurrected Christ bequeathed to us by the glory of resurrection itself. As the Apostle to the apostles, Mary Magdalene bore witness to the resurrection, unveiling the glory of resurrection to the apostles, who communicated it in glory to the saints, transmitting its glory so that the grace of glorification was opened to them. The Shroud of Edessa has a comparable function, but being an icon, it transmitted glory directly from heart to heart, through its uncreated energy and wordless radiance.
The glory of the cross and resurrection of Christ, the slaughtered Lamb, is unselfish love lived as purification, illumination and glorification. It crucifies selfish love by piercing the heart with uncreated light, so that in Christ, the pure in heart see God. Confusion between the uncreated and the created is cut through when glory undoes division, reconciling the created with the uncreated. Selfish love is pierced right through by the glorifying stigmata of wisdom and glory, illumining the heart, curing the vanity of vainglory with the uncreated glory of unselfish love.
The Shroud of Edessa communicates this mystery as an icon of glory but also as the direct iconic expression of deifying glory in action. The ‘iconographer’ was divine glory ‘writing’ resurrection on a shroud, although the linen cloth was created by human hands. It was a divine-human mystery as was the divine-human witness of Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the apostles. She had been ‘crucified in Spirit’ at the foot of the cross, and so dwelt with him ‘in Spirit’ beside the tomb. If she was the Beloved Disciple, as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene bears witness, she did not speak of the transfiguration as an external event, but rather her whole witness comes from within the experience of transfiguration. If her witness does indeed lie at the heart of the Gospel of John, which has no separate account of the transfiguration, perhaps this explains why it has been called the Gospel of Transfiguration. The transfiguring glory revealed in Christ on Tabor would be glorifying her and her witness throughout the Fourth Gospel. She was by grace in the glory of the Name which bears witness to the Name throughout the Gospel of John. This meant that she experienced the resurrection in the glory of the transfiguring Holy Spirit, not as an external perception, like the observation of the resuscitation of a corpse. She witnessed the glory of resurrection from within the glory that was eternally transfiguring him, leaving in her some mysterious equivalent of an icon not made with hands, a reflection in her of his image on a shroud.
True, Mary had first known Jesus in the flesh as one of his earliest disciples, but if she was his Beloved Disciple, as the Gospel of Philip bears witness, she had come to know him in the Spirit, from within the experience of the glory of transfiguration which transfigured him. She loved him in the glory that purified her heart, anticipating both the Ascension that completed his life in joy, and Pentecost which unveiled him in the Holy Spirit. So, for the Beloved Disciple, whoever he (or she) was, Pentecost was experienced on the evening of the Day of Resurrection, as the Fourth Gospel, based on this testimony, bears witness. The Fourth Gospel bears particular witness in the Spirit to Christ’s divine humanity because the Beloved Disciple had witnessed his divine humanity in the inner divine humanity of her purified, illumined and glorified heart. It is this same divine humanity, unveiled by glory, which beholds us from within, revealed in the face of Christ in the Shroud of Edessa, which is the holy icon not made with human hands. Both the Shroud and the Beloved Disciple bear witness to glory from within the glory of the resurrection, opening the mystery of glorification to all.