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The Akathist Hymn

April 8, 2011

Introduction

The Akathist Hymn is a profound, devotional poem or chant, which sings the praises of the Holy Mother and Ever-Virgin Mary (Theotokos). It is one of the most beloved services in the Orthodox Church.  Throughout the world, in the Greek Orthodox tradition, it is chanted during the five Fridays in the Great Lent (The hymn is split into four parts and sung at the “Salutations to the Theotokos” service on the first four Friday evenings in Great Lent; the entire Akathist is then sung on the fifth Friday evening.)

Devotional Hymns to the Theotokos are as ancient as the first Christian Church. The Byzantine Empire from its very inception at Constantinople during the fourth century, closely allied itself to the Virgin Mary and always sort Her protection or intercessions. This we see from the Prayer Services to the Theotokos between the fifth and eighth centuries, and the reference to Constantinople as the ‘Queen City’.

The Akathist Hymn, which in its present form was added to by many Ecclesiastical Hymnographers, existed for most part even before it was formally accepted by the Church in 626 AD. The Kontakion “To the Invincible Champion… we ascribe the victory” was added then, and came to be recognized as the Akathist Hymn, because of the following described miracle attributed to the intercession of the Theotokos.

While the Emperor of Byzantium Heracleios was on an expedition to fight the aggression of the Persians on their own grounds, there appeared outside the walls of Constantinople barbaric hordes, mostly Avars. The siege lasted a few months, and it was apparent that the outnumbered troops of the Queen City were reaching desperation. However as history records, the faith of the people worked the impossible. The Venerable Patriarch Sergius with the Clergy and the Official of Byzantium Vonos, endlessly marched along the great walls of Constantinople with an Icon of the Theotokos in hand, and bolstered the faith of the defenders of freedom. The miracle came soon after. Unexpectedly, as the chronicler narrates, a great storm with huge tidal waves destroyed most of the fleet of the enemy, and full retreat ensued.

The faithful of Constantinople spontaneously filled the Church of the Theotokos at Vlachernae on the Golden Horn, and with the Patriarch Sergius officiating, they prayed all night singing praises to the Virgin Mary without sitting. Hence the title of the Hymn “Akathistos“, in Greek meaning ‘not seated‘.

The hymn is comprised of 24 stanzas, arranged in an acrostic following the Greek alphabet. The stanzas alternate between long and short. Each short stanza is written in prose and ends with the singing of “Alleluia.” Each longer stanza ends with the refrain: “Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded.”

The first part of the hymn is about the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the Angel. It describes Mary’s surprise at the news, her visit to her mother and Joseph’s doubts as to her innocence. The second part is about the birth of Christ, the worship of the Shepherds and Magi, the flight to Egypt and the visit to Saint Simeon in the Temple. In the third part the hymn directs our attention to the renewal of the world by Christ’s coming, and the amazement of the Angels and the wise men at the sight of the Incarnation of God’s Son. The fourth and the last part is once more a lyric and rhetorical appraisal of Virgin Mary, whom the poet adorns with the most beautiful of adjectives asking her to accept his poetical offering and to intercede for the salvation of human race from the earthly sin.

The Salutations to the Most Holy Theotokos

(Akathist Hymn).

When the bodiless one learned the secret command, in haste he came and stood before Joseph’s dwelling, and spoke unto the Maiden who knew not wedlock: The One who hath bowed the Heavens by His decent is held and contained unchanging wholly in thee. Seeing Him receiving the form of a servant in thy womb, I stand in awe and cry to thee: Rejoice thou Bride unwedded.

To thee, the Champion Leader, we thy flock dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving, as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos. But as thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do thou deliver us, that we may cry to thee: Rejoice, thou bride unwedded.

An Angel, and the chiefest among them, was sent from heaven to cry: Rejoice! To the Mother of God. And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he stood in awe, and with his bodiless voice he cried aloud to her such things as these:

Rejoice, thou through whom joy shall shine forth. Rejoice, thou through whom the curse shall be blotted out.

Rejoice, thou the Restoration of fallen Adam. Rejoice, thou the redemption of the tears of Eve.

Rejoice, Height hard to climb for human thought. Rejoice, Depth hard to explore, even for the eyes of Angels.

Rejoice, for thou art the Throne of the King. Rejoice, for thou sustainest the Sustainer of all.

Rejoice, Star that causest the Sun to appear. Rejoice, womb of the divine Incarnation.

Rejoice, thou through whom creation is renewed. Rejoice, thou through whom the Creator becometh a babe.

Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

Beholding herself in chastity, the holy one spoke boldly unto Gabriel: The strangeness of thy words seemeth hard to my soul to receive, for how speakest thou of a seedless conception? Crying aloud: Alleluia.

Seeking to know knowledge unknown, the Virgin cried to him who ministered unto her: From a chaste womb how can a Son be born? Tell thou me! Then he spoke unto her in fear, yet crying aloud thus:

Rejoice, thou Initiate of the ineffable counsel. Rejoice, thou Faith in that which demandeth silence.

Rejoice, Prelude of the miracles of Christ.

Rejoice, Pinnacle of His doctrines.

Rejoice, heavenly Ladder whereby God came down. Rejoice, Bridge leading those of earth to Heaven.

Rejoice, Marvel far-famed of Angels. Rejoice, Wounding much-bewailed of demons.

Rejoice, thou who ineffably gavest birth to the Light. Rejoice, thou who didst reveal the mystery to none.

Rejoice, thou who oversoarest the knowledge of the wise. Rejoice, thou who enlightenest the minds of the faithful.

Rejoice, thou bride unwedded.

The power of the Most High then overshadowed her who knew not wedlock, that she might conceive, and showed forth her fruitful womb as a sweet meadow to all who desire to reap salvation, whilst chanting:

Alleluia.

Carrying God in her womb, the Virgin hastened to Elizabeth, whose unborn babe straightway perceiving her salutation rejoiced, and with leaps as it were with songs, he cried out to the Theotokos:

Rejoice, vine bearing the unfading bloom. Rejoice, land yielding the untainted Fruit.

Rejoice, thou who dost tend the caring Husbandman. Rejoice, thou who dost blossom forth the Sower of our life.

Rejoice, Field bearing a bounty of compassions. Rejoice, Table laden with an abundance of mercies.

Rejoice, for thou revivest the meadow of delight. Rejoice, for thou preparest a haven for souls.

Rejoice, acceptable Incense of intercession. Rejoice, Oblation for all the world.

Rejoice, Favour of god to mortals. Rejoice, Access of mortals to God.

Rejoice, thou bride unwedded.

Having a tempest of doubting thoughts within, the chaste Joseph was troubled, for he suspected a secret union as he beheld thee unwed, O blameless one, but when he learned of thy conception through the Holy Spirit, he cried:

Alleluia.

On hearing the Angels praising the incarnate presence of Christ, the shepherds hastened as to a Shepherd, and beholding Him as a spotless lamb, pastured in Mary’s womb, her they hymned, and said:

Rejoice, Mother of the Lamb and Shepherd. Rejoice, Fold of the rational sheep.

Rejoice, Protector against invisible foes. Rejoice, Opener of the gates of Paradise.

Rejoice, for the things of Heaven rejoice with the earth. Rejoice for the things of earth join chorus with the Heavens.

Rejoice, never silent Voice of the Apostles. Rejoice, never-conquered Courage of the Martyrs.

Rejoice, firm Support of the Faith. Rejoice, shinning Token of grace.

Rejoice, thou through whom Hades was laid bare. Rejoice, thou through whom we are clothed with glory.

Rejoice thou Bride unwedded.

Beholding the Godward-pointing star, the Wisemen followed in its splendour, and holding it as a lantern, they sought thereby the mighty King. And as they approached the unapproachable, they rejoiced and cried to Him:

Alleluia.

The sons of the Chaldees beheld in the hands of the Virgin him who by His hands fashioned man, and percieving Him as Master, though He had taken the form of a servant, they hastened with gifts to do homage, and they cried out to her who is blessed:

Rejoice, Mother of the never-setting Star. Rejoice, Dawn of the mystic Day.

Rejoice, thou who Quenchest the fiery furnace of error. Rejoice thou who

enlightenest the initiates of the Trinity.

Rejoice, thou who didst cast down from power the inhuman tyrant. Rejoice thou who didst show forth Christ, the man-befriending Lord.

Rejoice, thou who redeemest from the creeds of barbarism. Rejoice, thou who dost rescue from the works of mire.

Rejoice, thou who makest the worship of fire to cease. Rejoice, thou who makest the flame of the passions to be allayed.

Rejoice, Guide of the faithful to chastity. Rejoice, Rejoicing of every generation.

Rejoice thou Bride unwedded.

God-Bearing heralds did the Wise Men become, when they returned to Babylon, and fulfilling Thy prophecy, they preached Thee to all as the Christ, and they left herod as a trifler, who knew not how to chant:

Alleluia.

Shining in Egypt the illumination of truth, thou didst dispel the darkness of falsehood, and unable to bear Thy strength, O Saviour, her idols fell, and they that were set free therefrom cried to the Theotokos:

Rejoice, Uplifting of men. Rejoice, Downfall of demons.

Rejoice, thou who hast trampled upon the delusions of error. Rejoice, thou who hast censured the deceit of the idols.

Rejoice, Sea which drowned the noetic pharaoh. Rejoice, Rock which refreshed those athirst for Life.

Rejoice, Pillar of fire, guilding those in darkness. Rejoice, Protection of the world, more spacious than a cloud.

Rejoice, Sustenence, successor to manna. Rejoice, Minister of holy joy.

Rejoice, Land of promise. Rejoice, thou from whence flow milk and honey.

Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

When Symeon was near unto departing from this age of deception, thou wast presented to him as a newborn Babe, but thou wast recognized by him as perfect God. Wherefore, he marveled at Thine ineffable wisdom, and cried out:

Alleluia.

New was the Creation which the Creator showed to us His creatures, when He sprang forth from the seedless womb, and He preserved it incorrupt, even as it was, that we, seeing this marvel, may praise her as we cry out:

Rejoice, Flower of incorruption. Rejoice, Crown of continence.

Rejoice, thou who flashest forth the type of the Resurrection. Rejoice, thou who showest forth the life of the Angels.

Rejoice, Tree of goodly Fruit whereby the faithful are nourished. Rejoice, Wood of leafy branches whereby many are sheltered.

Rejoice, thou who bearest the Guide of those astray. Rejoice, thou who engenderest the Redeemer of captives.

Rejoice, Supplication before the righteous Judge. Rejoice, Forgiveness for many transgressors.

Rejoice, Robe of confidence for the naked. Rejoice, Tenderness vanquishing all desire.

Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

Seeing a strange childbirth, let us estrange ourselves from the world by transporting our minds to Heaven: to this end the Most High God appeared on earth a lowly man, that He might draw to the heights those who cry to Him:

Alleluia.

Wholly present with those below was the Uncircumscribed Word, yet in no way absent from those above, for this was a divine condescension and not a mere change of place, and His birth was from a Virgin chosen of God, who heard such words as these:

Rejoice, Closure of the Uncontained God. Rejoice, Portal of the solemn mystery.

Rejoice, doubtful Rumour of the faithless. Rejoice, undoubted Boast of the faithful.

Rejoice, all holy Chariot of Him who rideth upon the Cherubim. Rejoice, choicest Dwelling-place of Him who sitteth upon the Seraphim.

Rejoice, thou who makest things that differ to agree. Rejoice, thou who yokest together motherhood and virginity.

Rejoice, thou through whom transgression is annulled. Rejoice, thou through whom Paradise is opened.

Rejoice, Key of the Kingdom of Christ. Rejoice, Hope of eternal blessings.

Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

All Angel-kind was amazed by the great deed of Thine Incarnation, for they saw the inaccessible God accessible to all, dwelling among us and hearing from us all:

Alleluia.

Orators most eloquent do we behold as fish before thee, O Theotokos, for they are at a loss to explain how thou couldst remain a virgin and yet give birth. But as for us, marveling at this mystery, we cry with faith:

Rejoice, Vessel of the Wisdom of God. Rejoice, Treasury of His providence.

Rejoice, thou who showest forth philosophers fools. Rejoice, thou who provest logicians illogical.

Rejoice, for the subtle disputants are confounded. Rejoice, For the inventors of myths are faded away.

Rejoice, thou who dost draw us from the depths of ignorance. Rejoice, thou who dost enlighten many with knowledge.

Rejoice, Raft for those who desire to be saved. Rejoice, Haven for those who fare on the sea of life.

Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

Wishing to save the world, to this end did the Ruler of all come of His own will, and, though as God He is the Shepherd, for by this likeness He called those of like kind, yet as God He doth hear:

Alleluia.

A Rampart art thou for virgins and all that have recourse to thee, O Theotokos and Virgin, for the Maker of heaven and earth prepared thee, O Immaculate One, and dwelt in thy womb, and taught all to cry out to thee:

Rejoice, Pillar of virginity. Rejoice, gate of salvation.

Rejoice, Leader of spiritual restoration. Rejoice, Bestower of divine goodness.

Rejoice, for thou didst regenerate those conceived in shame. Rejoice, for thou didst admonish those despoiled in mind.

Rejoice, thou who dost bring to naught the corrupter of hearts. Rejoice, thou who dost give birth to the Sower of chastity.

Rejoice, bridal Chamber of a seedless marriage. Rejoice, thou who dost join the faithful to the Lord.

Rejoice, fair Nursing-Mother of virgins. Rejoice, bridal Escort of holy souls.

Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

Defeated is every hymn that striveth to pay homage to the multitude of Thy many compassions, for even should we offer Thee, O holy King, odes of praise numberless as the sands, we should still have done nothing worthy of what Thou hast given unto us who cry to Thee:

Alleluia.

As a brilliant beacon-light shining to those in darkness do we behold the holy Virgin, for she kindleth the supernal Light and leadeth all to divine knowledge, she illumineth our minds with radience and is honoured by these our cries:

Rejoice, Ray of the spiritual Sun. Rejoice, Beam of the innermost Splendour.

Rejoice, Lightning, enlightening our souls. Rejoice, Thunder, striking down the enemy.

Rejoice, for thou dost cause the manystarred Light to dawn. Rejoice, for thou dost cause the ever-flowing River to gush forth.

Rejoice, thou who dost depict the image of the font. Rejoice, thou who dost wash away the stain of sin.

Rejoice, Laver purifying conscience. Rejoice, Wine- bowl pouring forth joy.

Rejoice, sweet-scented Fragrance of Christ. Rejoice, Life of mystic festival.

Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

Wishing to bestow His grace, He that forgiveth the ancient debts of all men came of His own will to dwell among those who had departed from His favour, and having rent asunder the handwriting against them, He heareth from all:

Alleluia.

Whilst hymning Thine Offspring, we all praise thee, O Theotokos as a living temple, for the Lord, who holdeth all things in His hand, dwelt in thy womb, and He hallowed and glorified thee, and taught all to cry to thee:

Rejoice, Tabernacle of God the Word. Rejoice, Holy one, holier than the Holies.

Rejoice, Ark made golden by the Spirit. Rejoice, inexhaustible Treasury of Life.

Rejoice, precious Diadem of godly kings. Rejoice, venerable Boast of faithful priests.

Rejoice, unshakable Tower of the Church. Rejoice, impregnable Bulwark of the Kingdom.

Rejoice, thou through whom trophies are raised up. Rejoice, thou through whom enemies are cast down.

Rejoice, Healing of my flesh. Rejoice, salvation of my soul.

Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

O All-Hymned Mother, who didst bear the Word (3 times). Who is more holy than all the Saints, as thou recievest this our offering, rescue us all from every calamity, and deliver from future torment those who cry with one voice:

Alleluia.

An Angel, and the chiefest among them, was sent from Heaven to cry: Rejoice! To the Mother of God. And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he stood in awe, and with his bodiless voice, he cried out aloud to thee such things as these:

Rejoice, thou through whom joy shall shine forth. Rejoice, thou through whom the curse shall be blotted out.

Rejoice, thou the Restoration of the fallen Adam. Rejoice, thou the redemption of the tears of Eve.

Rejoice, Height hard to climb for human thought. Rejoice, Depth hard to explore even for the eyes of Angels.

Rejoice, for thou art the Throne of a King. Rejoice, for thou sustainest the Sustainer of all.

Rejoice, Star that causest the Sun to appear. Rejoice, Womb of the divine Incarnation.

Rejoice, thou through whom creation is renewed. Rejoice, thou through whom the Creator becometh a babe.

Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

To Thee, the Champion Leader, we thy flock dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving, as ones rescued out of sufferings, o Theotokos. But as thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do thou deliver us, that we may cry to Thee:

Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

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