There arose, in the eighth century, a sect of heretics, who, both by words and deed, opposed with fanatical hatred the worship of sacred images, declaring that these are only idolatry and superstition. Consequently they barbarously destroyed any statues or holy pictures they could find, for which reason they were called “Iconoclasts,” which means “breakers of images.”
Under such difficult conditions, God deigned to raise up a number of wise and holy men full of faith and courage, who opposed these nefarious profanations and vindicated the truth and legitimacy of the worship paid to sacred images. Among these must be mentioned St. John Damascene, so called from Damascus, a town in Syria, his birthplace. This holy man, both by preaching and writing fearlessly defended the Catholic teaching regarding the worship due to the images of Christ and of the saints. He proved how this worship is not contrary to Sacred Scripture or Tradition.
But his ardor aroused the implacable hatred of the Emperor, Leo the Isaurian, who commanded the Prefect of Damascus to cut off John’s right hand, the guilty instrument, as it seemed to the Emperor, of his defending an idolatrous and superstitious cult.
The Saint bore this cruel trial with heroic courage, thinking himself happy to suffer something for the honor of Jesus and Mary. Then he recommended himself with great fervor to the Blessed Virgin, his Mother and Patroness, whose honor in the veneration of sacred images he had defended with such warmth and vigor. This benignant Queen heard his prayers and lo! she caused the hand that had been separated from the arm to be reunited to it in so marvelous a manner, that it seemed as if it had really never been cut off. Thus does Mary beneficently repay those who are zealous for her honor, and who place all their trust in her protection.
St. John Damascene died full of merit, in the year 956, and is honored as a Doctor of the Church.
Text from Alexis M. Lepicier, The Fairest Flower of Paradise (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., 1922).