Letters of Christ and Abgar
Many are the later traditions that surround Abgar. He is acclaimed by many as the first Christian monarch; his kingdom was the original depository of both the Letters and also the Holy Face of Edessa, an icon of the face of Christ that is said to be one of the truest representations. He is accounted a saint among the Orthodox and among the Cambrian Catholics (feast day is August 1). Among the latter, the Letters themselves are accounted as part of the apocrypha. Several collects on lines from the Letters are sung at liturgy on his feast day. More popular in times previous, the Chaplet of Saint Abgar was recited not only on August 1st, but also at other times. Even now, Saint Abgar is venerated in many British homes: icons of the saint with Christ and a copy of the Letters are in evidence in a large number of houses and offices. St. Abgar is patron saint of nurses and doctors.
The Letters in Latin
Epistolæ Jesus Christi ac Abgari regis Edessæ.
chap. i. Epistola Abgari. 1. Abgarus, rex Edessæ, Jesui Christo Conservatori Bono qui Hierusolymæ est, salve. 2. dicitur mihi te curare homines sine medico ac sine herbis. 3. dicitur mihi homines cæcos curari; homines claudos surgere ambulareque; te purgare lepros; te ejacere diabolos; te dare salutem eis diu ægris; ac te tollere mortuos; 4. hæc omnia me obstupefaciunt ut credam aut te esse deum ipsum qui veniat ex cælis ac omnes hæc omnia faciat aut te esse filium dei. 5. sic ego tibi scribo, rogans te huc iter facere ad me curandum, ego enim diu æger fui. 6. dicitur enim mihi Judæos te deridere odisseque. 7. parva enim est mea civitas, sed munda, ac satis magna nobis duobus.
chap. ii. Epistola Jesus. 1. Abgare rex, bonum est te credere mihi, quem nunquam vidisti. 2. dicitur enim eos qui me vident non credere mihi ac eos qui me non vident credere in me ac vivere. 3. ad illam partem tuæ epistolæ rogantem me Edessai iter facere, te docendum est mihi: juravi meas res gestas in hac terra exsequi, ac tunc transportari illic ei qui me huc missit. 4. tunc quando ego acceptus ero, unum meum apostolum mittam, qui te curabit ac tibi vitam dabit, tibi ac omnibus tecum.
chap. iii. 1. Hæc epistola missa est Jesui Christo Hierusolymæ ab Abgaro rege Edessæ per suum pedisecum, Ananiam nomine, rogans nostrum dominum Edessai venire.
The Letters in Brithenig
llo hEpistol di nustr dôn Iesu Crist e di Afgar rhui Eddes.
Chap. i. epistol Afgar. 1. eo Afgar, rhui Eddes, salyd Iesu Crist, ill salwadur bon, ke es a Ierosolem. 2. sa es ddith ke dy san all pobl seint lla fedigen e seint llo llyf. 3. sa es ddith ke llo hôn cheg sun sanad e ys widden; llo hôn choes suryen e ys amblan; ty funn a llo llofr; ty yspuls llo ddiawl; ty lle ddun ill salyd a ogyn ke llong sun ystad udr; e dy eill llo forth; 4. tud yst mi surffruinn ke eo grêdd o dy sia ill dew dill cel ke feig yst chos o dy sia feil ill dew. 5. sig eo dui yscrif, rhuann ke dy ci wein, per ill sanarmi, perch eo su long udr. 6. sa es ddith ke alch llo hYddew a dui rhidden e di eden. 7. gwerment mew giudad es fuin, mai funn, e rann asset per nu ddew.
Chap ii. epistol Iesu Crist. 1. o hAfgar rhui, sa es fon per tui ke dy greidd in mi, di llo chal no a widded rhen nonc. 2. sa es ddith ke ys che fi widden no chrêdden in mi e ghe ys che no mi han widded rhen nonc, ys chrêdden e wiwen. 3. all barth di tew garth rhuann ke eo diyrn a Eddess, eo ddef addigerti: eo ddef ffinir mew h-ober ci in yst paes, e affos esser cherrisadlle a lle ke fi fithef. 4. affos, cann eo serai syrstolled, eo fitherai yn di mew h-apostol, ke di sanara e ghe di ddunara lla wid, per ti e per tud ogyn gwsc.
Chap. iii. 1. yst epistol ffew mis a Iesu Crist a Ierosalem di Afgar, rhui Eddes, per sew serw, Ananias dill nôn, rhuann ke nustr dôn wein a Eddessa.
The Letters in Paesan
lo hEpistols de nuster dôn Iesu Crist e de Avgar rhuy l'Eddess.
chap. 1. epistol l'Avgar. 1. eo Avgar, rhuy l'Eddess, salud a Iesu Crist, il salwadur bon, que es a Ierosolem. 2. saes theú que thu sans al pobel seynt la vedigen e seynt lo llyfs. 3. saes theú que lo hônen cech sun sanaú e ys uhithen; lo hônen llaud suryen e ys amblen; tu vunns a lo llofers; tu espuls a lo thiavels; tu le thuns la salude al ogen que long sun estaú uder; e thu eylls lo vorts; 4. tud est mi-surfruinn que eo chrêdam o thu fors il dew del cel que fhayas est chos o thu fors hil le dew. 5. sig eo dui escriv, rhuann que aci tu wenas, per il sanarmi, per-que eo sun long uder. 6. saes deú que lo hYddews a dui rhidden e di eden. 7. gweremente la mew ciudade es vuyn, mais vunn, e chrann asset per li nui thew.
chap. 2. epistol le Iesu Crist. 1. o hAvgar rhuy, saes ven per tui que thu chrêdhas en mi, del chual na as wideú rhen nunc. 2. saes theú que ys che vi uhithen no chrêthen en mi e chue ys che no mi han witheú rhen nunc, ys chrêthen e uhiwen. 3. al farth de tew charth rhuann que eo diurnam a Eddess, eo thev adicherti: eo thev finir mew hober ci en est paes, e afos esser cherrisadle a le que vi vithes. 4. afos, cann eo serai surtolleú, eo vag a vither un de mew hapostols, que thi va a shanar e chue thi va a thunar la wid, per ti e per tud ogen gwsco.
chap. 3. est epistol vew mis a Iesu Crist a Ierosalem de Avgar, rhuy l'Eddess, per sew seru, Ananias del nôm, rhuann que nuster dôn gwenad a Eddess.
The Letters in Brithenoig le Glastedun (Southern Brithenig)
lo hEpistoili del nuster don Iesu Crist e del Avgar rhuy la Eddess.
chap. 1. epistol el Avgar. 1. eo Avgar, rhuy la Eddess, salud al Iesu Crist, el sáluadur bon, que as al Ierosolem. 2. saas zigud que du sanes al pobel seynn la vedixen e seynn lo xoili. 3. saas zigud que lo hômen xeig saun zanad e hys weden; lo hômen llauid surxen e hys ammlen; tu vunnes a lo llofeirs; tu spules a lo ziavoili; tu le zunes el salud a hois que longe saun estad allex; e du eylles lo voirths; 4. tud has suorprenn que eo xreda o du seis el dheus dels ceili que fagas hais xois o du seis fhel el deus. 5. sig eo dui escrib, royann que du wenas aceì, pal sanarmi, par-que eo sà longe allex. 6. saas zigud que lo hYdevi a dui redden e a dui eden. 7. ueremente la meu siudade sa vuyn, maïs vunn, e rann asset par lo noi duo.
chap. 2. epistol el Iesu Crist. 1. o hAvgare rhuy, saas ven par tui que du xreda en mo, del qual naas ueded mec nonc. 2. saas zigud que ys que vi ueden no xreden en mo e gue ys que no mo an ueded mec nonc, ys xreden e ueuen. 3. al farth del teu xarth royann que eo wisite al Eddess, eo zev adexerti: eo zev finir lo veu hober aceí en el hos paes, e apos esser sursunsed a le que vi vithes. 4. apos, cand eo serai surtolled, eo vitherai un dels meu hapostoili, que di sanara e gue di zunara la ued, par ti e par tud hos vosco.
chap. 3. has epistol veu mis al Iesu Crist al Ierosalem del Avgar, rhuy la Eddess, pal seu seruo, Ananias del nom, royann quel nuster don uen al Eddess.
The Letters in English
THe epistelles of Jesu Cryste and Abgare, Edesses Kinge.
chap. i. Abgares epistel. 1. Abgare, Edesses King, gretes Jesu Cryst, ye gode sauveour þat be at Jerusalem. 2. THey telles me aboot hou þa heales fowk withouten either leechdom or ony herbes. 3. THey telles me hou blind men becomes hale; hou lame men arises and wawkes; hou þa clenses lepres; hou þa castes oot deofles; hou þa gifes health to þem long sine sick; and hou þa raises ye dead; 4. all þese thinges dumbstriken me so that i leves either þa bes God oot fra heovene, þat does these thinges, or either þa bes Goddes son. 5. THus, i writes thee, axen that þa come hithres to cure my illness, for i am long sine sick. 6. THey telles me that some Jews hates þee and that þey laughes at thee. 7. My citee be sma, but clene, and big enough for us two.
chap ij. Crystes epistel. 1. King Abgare! it is gode for þee that þa leves on me, quha þa has neuer saghe. 2. It is writ that þey þat seghes me ne leves not on me; and that þey þat ne saghe me neuer leues on me, and þey lives. 3. As to that dele of þy letter axend me to gang thidres til Edesse, i maun tell þee: I swore a grete oath that i fulfill all my charges in this cuntrey, and then be num up to Him þat sent me hithre. 4. Then, quhen i rises, i shall send þee oon of my appostles þat will hele þee and giue þee life, to þee and all those with þee.
chap iij. 1. This epistel was sent to Jesu Criste at Jerusalem by Abgar, Edesses Kinge, through his footman Ananias, axend oure Lhord to gang til Edesse.
The Letters in Kerno
Eo Avgar, for ‘s Edesseweck il roys, la mbednoueneth e la nzaluth e la ngouith long, o thigherne Xesuxriste, ti eo donam, ti ‘ll Salouadur dack ke biase po Xerousalem. Deckteor ke courase tu le nglannedèn san ny vezeckmentes na ny yerves. Deckteor ke coureor y ommen ceck, ach ys ouezont; ke arleveor y ommen llawez, ach ys ammlont; mounnase ti y lepeor; yspoulsase ti y ddeyavouell; do-dase-els docells long afermez la nzaluz; e dels-ferris ti y vores a la gouitha; surprenont y thot cestes ke krezem me o fores il Deus discelles ke faoiese y cestes o fores ti il maps le nDeu. Per c' rem, yscrivem me do ti, pregent ke gouenias ti aci per ncourar-mis, domen ay long afermez. Deckteor ke des-ridont e h ozont te y chlannedèn. Gouerment biat beck la meva ciwtats, mays mag asset per y nois dew.
O Abgare, biat ben pera ti, ke crez en me, ce couen nast gouezès speck nonck. Gouerment, y celles k' avont mem gouezès ne crezont meck; e-z-y celles ke n' avont mem gouezès speck nonck crezont ys in me e-z-ys gouiouont. Do li cella part la ndew ngarz pregent-mis ke gouazam me po landew ciwtats, dom ay il adecker-ti: dom ay il cofecker-els, d' y mews ddeveres ‘nel yst pays, e ‘n cest moment ‘l esser do-lathès alalla do li ke mise-mis aci. ‘n el cest moment couant biam eo alla, mituram me ce yen lor mis nApostoel, ke courabe ti e dos-latura la ngouitha, .i. ti e ‘is tots costecun.
Fus missès la ista epistoel per ‘l Abgar tral sew ngouarèn Ananiós, pregent ke ‘l tigherns Xesuxristós do la ciwtat Edès ys goueniat.
Some questions on the Letters of Christ and Abgar
Q. Why do they use *this particular* apocrypha, the Letters of Christ and Abgar, so widely in traditional veneration, rather than some other apocryphal work?
A. It is a popular article of faith. I suspect that once common people discovered that Jesus had actually written or dictated (or in some way directly caused to be sent) a message to someone, they confered upon it a kind of sanctity that all the Ecumenical Councils and Patriarchs and Emperors of old could not confer even on the holy gospels, none of which were actually written by or dictated by Jesus.
Q. I don't see what would be the particular universal appeal of its text. What is it about that text that you think would make it inspirational to the point of having most households in the Commonwealth having a framed version of it next to the picture of their monarchs?
A. Same thing that causes pilgrims to swamp Glastein on March 17 (and eastern July 31). Same thing that causes the faithful to circle the Qaba or stand in front of an old stone wall in Jerusalem.
In specific to Christian faith, it is because this text is the only verifiable, scrutifiable Word of God. Indeed there are lots of "God said"s in Genesis - but Moses wrote all that down. And there are lots of "Jesus said"s in the Gospels - but Matthew and Luke wrote that down. Here is some small thing, and granted it's a fairly mundane and probably not-so-inspirational text, that directly links the reader to Jesus. Jesus never caused one single Gospel to be written; but, at least in popular beleif, he did cause this letter to be written in response to a letter received and sent it on its way.
Q. That makes more sense now. One question though: if *there* this is considered to truly be the words of Jesus (as opposed to being an apocrypha *here*) what do you think would be the impact on the church and its doctrine? Would it be included in the Bible *there*?
A. A Very Good Question indeed. I should note at the first that the Letters are also apocryphal *there* -- they are not part of the Bible. There certainly have been petitions, both to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Abbot-Patriarch of Glastein, for its inclusion in the canon. *Here*, there were indeed petitions to the Archbishop of Canterbury for their inclusion in the canon. Any stonewalling on the part of the Church is undoubtedly due to Tradition. The holy Fathers and Doctors of the Universal Church did not include certain books in what would become the Bible (holy St. Athanasius lists the 27 books that the Council of Hippo Regius later confirmed), so there's a point against Abgar (and Thomas and others, including the Shepherd of Hermas which also has a considerable popular devotion).
So the Letters remain in the realm of popular faith: neither receiving offical propagation nor official condemnation. Unlike some clearly "heretical" works (those of Marcion and other Gnostics), there is absolutely nothing unorthodox in the epistle. I also think one of the reasons is that it is short -- to the point of easily being printed up on a single paper with appropriate icons of Jesus and Abgar.
Chaplet of Saint Abgar
Traditionally, the chaplet is sung or recited using a string of one large bead, three small beads, a medal of St. Abgar and then a loop of seven small beads, with a crucifix at the end. The scriptures referenced are: Matthew 15:22-28; Mark 8:22-25; Mark 2:3-5, 11-12; Matthew 8:1-3; Matthew 8:28-32; Matthew 8: 5-10, 13; John 11:33-44; Abgar 1:2-5, 2:1-2.
Each prayer is in turn sung or recited upon the crucifix, large bead and small beads:
- In nomine
- Surgo hodie
- Pater Noster
- Gloria Patri
- Credo (Symbolum Apostolorum)
These prayers and the Epistle are sung or recited upon the medal:
On August 1:
The whole Epistle may be recited.
O, Abgar, first Christian king, thy crown is adorned of the seven stars of the heavens; thou whose faith led thee to Christ, pray for us of little faith.
On other days:
O, Abgar, thy crown is adorned of the seven stars of the heavens, for thou who never saw our Lord yet believed in him.
Each scripture is sung or recited on the seven small beads:
i. Thou believed that we are healed through our faith, even though we have not seen him who heals:
A woman, a Canaanite, from those borders having come forth, did call to him, saying, `Deal kindly with me, Sir -- Son of David; my daughter is miserably afflicted.' And he did not answer her a word; and his disciples having come to him, were asking him, saying -- `Let her away, because she crieth after us;' and he answering said, `I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' And having come, she was bowing to him, saying, `Sir, help me;' and he answering said, `It is not good to take the children's bread, and to cast to the little dogs.' And she said, `Yes, sir, for even the little dogs do eat of the crumbs that are falling from their lords' table;' then answering, Jesus said to her, `O woman, great [is] thy faith, let it be to thee as thou wilt;' and her daughter was healed from that hour.
Cease not from casting the crumbs even to us who are not worthy; Lord, say only the word and we shall be healed!
ij. Thou believed how the blind were healed and could see:
For they bring to him one blind, and call upon him that he may touch him, and having taken the hand of the blind man, he led him forth without the village, and having spit on his eyes, having put hands on him, he was questioning him if he doth behold anything: and he, having looked up, said, `I behold men, as I see trees, walking.' Afterwards again he put hands on his eyes, and made him look up, and he was restored, and discerned all things clearly.
Cast not your glance away from us who are blind, Lord, but heal and forgive us our iniquities!
iij. Thou believed how the lame were healed and arose and walked again:
And they come unto him, bringing a paralytic, borne by four, and not being able to come near to him because of the multitude, they uncovered the roof where he was, and, having broken it up, they let down the couch on which the paralytic was lying, and Jesus having seen their faith, saith to the paralytic, `Child, thy sins have been forgiven thee.' I say to thee, Rise, and take up thy couch, and go away to thy house;' and he rose immediately, and having taken up the couch, he went forth before all, so that all were astonished, and do glorify God, saying -- `Never thus did we see.'
Withhold not thy touch from us who are paralysed, Lord, but heal us and forgive us our iniquities!
iiij. Thou believed how lepers were cleansed:
And when he came down from the mount, great multitudes did follow him, and lo, a leper having come, was bowing to him, saying, `Sir, if thou art willing, thou art able to cleanse me;' and having stretched forth the hand, Jesus touched him, saying, `I will, be thou cleansed,' and immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Saint Abgar, pray for us! Lord, grant us even a twelfth part of the faith the leper had in thee!
v. Thou believed how spirits were cast out:
And he having come to the other side, to the region of the Gergesenes, there met him two demoniacs, coming forth out of the tombs, very fierce, so that no one was able to pass over by that way, and lo, they cried out, saying, `What -- to us and to thee, Jesus, Son of God? didst thou come hither, before the time, to afflict us?' And there was far off from them a herd of many swine feeding, and the demons were calling on him, saying, `If thou dost cast us forth, permit us to go away to the herd of the swine;' and he saith to them, `Go.' And having come forth, they went to the herd of the swine, and lo, the whole herd of the swine rushed down the steep, to the sea, and died in the waters.
Thou are fearless in the face of evil, Lord, be ever at our sides in our struggle; and heal us and forgive us our iniquities!
vi. Thou believed how health was restored to the sick:
There came to him a centurion calling upon him, and saying, `Sir, my young man hath been laid in the house sick, fearfully afflicted,' and Jesus saith to him, `I, having come, will heal him.' And the centurion answering said, `Sir, I am not worthy that thou mayest enter under my roof, but only say a word, and my servant shall be healed; for I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers, and I say to this one, Go, and he goeth, and to another, Be coming, and he cometh, and to my servant, Do this, and he doth [it].' And Jesus having heard, did wonder, and said to those following, `Verily I say to you, not even in Israel so great faith have I found.' And Jesus said to the centurion, `Go, and as thou didst believe let it be to thee;' and his young man was healed in that hour.
Look on us with pity and compassion who are sick and body and spirit, Lord, and heal us and forgive us our iniquities!
vij. Thou believed how the dead were raised again:
Jesus, therefore, when he saw her weeping, and the people who came with her weeping, did groan in the spirit, and troubled himself, and he said, `Where have ye laid him?' they say to him, `Sir, come and see;' Jesus wept. The people, therefore, said, `Lo, how he was loving him!' and certain of them said, `Was not this one, who did open the eyes of the blind man, able to cause that also this one might not have died?' Jesus, therefore, again groaning in himself, cometh to the tomb, and it was a cave, and a stone was lying upon it, Jesus saith, `Take ye away the stone;' the sister of him who hath died -- Martha -- saith to him, `Sir, already he stinketh, for he is four days dead;' Jesus saith to her, `Said I not to thee, that if thou mayest believe, thou shalt see the glory of God?' They took away, therefore, the stone where the dead was laid, and Jesus lifted his eyes upwards, and said, `Father, I thank Thee, that Thou didst hear me; and I knew that Thou always dost hear me, but, because of the multitude that is standing by, I said [it], that they may believe that Thou didst send me.' And these things saying, with a loud voice he cried out, `Lazarus, come forth;' and he who died came forth, being bound feet and hands with grave-clothes, and his visage with a napkin was bound about; Jesus saith to them, `Loose him, and suffer to go.'
Thou who overcame death, leave us not to remain in death, but heal us and forgive us our iniquities!
Returning again to the medal, the closing prayer is sung or recited.
- Lord, these things strike me dumb also, so that I believe that thou are God come from the heavens or that thou are the Son of God. Thus, I ask, as did king Abgar, that thou come here to me and cure my illness, for I too am long sick.
Three Beatitudes are sung or recited on each of the three small beads
- Poor in Spirit
- Those that mourn
- the Meek
- Those that hunger
- the Merciful
- the Pure of Heart
- the Peacemakers
- the Persecuted
- the Hated and Reviled
On the large bead, sing or recite:
Returning to the crucifix, sing or recite:
- In nomine