The Akathist Hymn (Ἀκάθιστος Ύμνος, "unseated hymn") is an Eastern Orthodox Christian
hymndedicated to a saint, holy event, or one of the persons of the Holy Trinity. The name derives from the fact that during the chanting of the hymn, or sometimes the whole service, the congregation is expected to remain standing in reverence, not being allowed to sit down. During Orthodox religious services in general, sitting or standing is set by a complicated set of rules, as well as individual discretion. Only during readings of the Gospeland the singing of Akathists is standing considered mandatory for all. The akathist "par excellence" is that written in the 6th century to the Theotokos. In its use as part of the Salutations to the Theotokos service (used in the Byzantine tradition during Great Lent), it is often known by its Greek or Arabic names, "Χαιρετισμοὶ/Chairetismoi" and "Madayeh", respectively.
The writing of akathists (occasionally spelled "acathist") continues today as part of the general composition of an
akolouthia, especially in the Slavic tradition, although not all are widely known nor translated beyond the original language. Isaac E. Lambertsen has done a large amount of translation work, including many different akathists. Most of the newer akathists are pastiche, that is, a generic form imitating the original 6th century akathist into which a particular saint's name is inserted.
Franciscus Junius wrongly interpreted Acathistus as one who neither sits nor rests, but journeys with child; as for instance when the
Blessed Virginwas brought by Joseph to Bethlehem. Gretser[Commentarius in Codin. Curop. ( Bonn, 1839), 321] easily refutes the interpretation by citing from the Lesson in the Triodion. The origin of the feast is assigned by the Lesson to the year 626, when Constantinople, in the reign of Heraclius, was attacked by the Persiansand Scythiansbut saved through the intervention of the Most Holy Theotokos(Mother of God). A sudden hurricane dispersed the fleet of the enemy, casting the vessels on the shore near the great church of the Theotokos at Blachernae, a quarter of Constantinople near the Golden Horn. The people spent the whole night, says the Lesson, thanking her for the unexpected deliverance. "From that time, therefore, the Church, in memory of so great and so divine a miracle, desired this day to be a feast in honour of the Mother of God . . . and called it Acathistus" (Lesson). This origin is disputed by Sophocles(Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods, s. v.) on the ground that the hymn could not have been composed in one day, while on the other hand its twenty-four oikoi contain no allusion to such an event and therefore could scarcely have been originally composed to commemorate it. Perhaps the kontakion, which might seem to be allusive, was originally composed for the celebration on the night of the victory. However the feast may have originated, the Lesson commemorates two other victories, under Leo III the Isaurian, and Constantine Pogonatus, similarly ascribed to the intervention of the Deipara.
No certain ascription of its authorship can be made. It has been attributed to
Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople, whose pious activities the Lesson commemorates in great detail. Quercius( P. G., XCII, 1333 sqq.) assigns it to George Pisida, deacon, archivist, and sacristan of Hagia Sophiawhose poems find an echo both in style and in theme in the Akathist; the elegance, antithetic and balanced style, the vividness of the narrative, the flowers of poetic imagery being all very suggestive of his work. His position as sacristan would naturally suggest such a tribute to the Theotokos, as the hymn only gives more elaborately the sentiments condensed into two epigrams of Pisida found in her church at Blachernae. Quercius also argues that words, phrases, and sentences of the hymn are to be found in the poetry of Pisida. Leclercq(in Cabrol, Dict. d'archéol. chrét. et de liturgie, s.v. "Acathistus") finds nothing absolutely demonstrative in such a comparison and offers a suggestion which may possibly help to a solution of the problem.
When an akathist is chanted by itself, the
Usual beginning, a series of prayers which include the Trisagion('thrice-holy') is often said as a prelude to the akathist hymn. The akathist may also be included as a part of another service, such as Matinsor a Molieben.
The hymn itself is divided into thirteen parts, each of which is comprised of a "
kontakion" and an "oikos" (Greek: οίκος, 'house', possibly derived from Syriacterminology). The "kontakion" usually ends with the exclamation: 'Alleluia!', which is repeated by a choirin full settings, or chanted by the reader in simple settings. Within the latter part of the "oikos" comes an anaphoric entreaty, such as 'Come!' or 'Rejoice!' The thirteenth "kontakion" (which, unlike the preceding twelve, does not have a corresponding "oikos") is usually followed by the repetition of the first "oikos" and "kontakion". After the thirteen "kontakia" and "oikoi", additional prayers are added, such as a " troparion" and another "kontakion".
Akathist to the Theotokos
When the word "akathist" is used alone, it most commonly refers to the original hymn by this name, the 6th century Akathist to the
Theotokos, attributed to St. Romanos the Melodist. It is said the Theotokos appeared to him, gave him a scroll and commanded him to eat it. And here a miracle was performed: Romanus received a beautiful, melodic voice and, simultaneously, the gift of poesy. This hymn is often 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. Traditionally it is included in the Orthrosof the fifth Saturday of Great Lent. In monasteries of Athonite tradition, the whole Akathist is usually inserted nightly at Compline.
The four sections into which the Akathist is divided correspond to the themes of the
Annunciation, Nativity, Christ, and the Theotokosherself.
The hymn itself forms an alphabetical acrostic—that is, each "oikos" begins with a letter of the Greek alphabet, in order—and it consists of twelve long and twelve short oikoi. Each of the long oikoi include a seven-line stanza followed by six couplets, employing rhyme, assonance, and alliteration, beginning with the word "Chaire" (translated as either "Hail!" or "Rejoice!") and ending with the refrain, "Hail, Bride without bridegroom!" (also translated as "Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded!") In the short oikoi, the seven-line stanza is followed by the refrain, "
The Salutations to the Theotokos service, often known by its Greek name, the "Χαιρετισμοὶ/Chairetismoi" (from the "Χαιρε/Chaire!" so often used in the hymn), consists of
Complinewith the Akathist hymn inserted. It is known in Arabic as the "Madayeh".
There are also several
icons of the Theotokos which are known by the title of "Akathist":
The Icon of the Theotokos "Of the Akathist" is on the
iconostasisof HilandarMonastery on Mount Athos. In 1837 a fire occurred at this monastery, and the monks were chanting the Akathist Hymn in front of this icon. Though the fire caused great destruction around it the icon itself remained untouched by the flames.
feast dayof the Icon of the Theotokos "Akathist-Hilandar" is celebrated on January 12(for those churches which follow the Julian CalendarJanuary 12 falls on January 25of the modern Gregorian Calendar).
A similar icon is venerated in the Monastery of
Zographou, also on Mount Athos. The feast day of the Icon of the Theotokos "Akathist-Zographou" is celebrated on October 10 (October 23).
*Some material for this article taken from [http://www.orthodoxwiki.org/Akathist OrthodoxWiki:Akathist Akathist] , an OrthodoxWiki article.
*G. Papagiannis, Ακάθιστος Ύμνος. Άγνωστες πτυχές ενός πολύ γνωστού κειμένου. Κριτικές και μετρικές παρατηρήσεις, σχολιασμένη βιβλιογραφία. Thessaloniki 2006.
* [http://www.legionofmarytidewater.com/prayers/stand.htm Akathist Hymn]
* [http://home.it.net.au/~jgrapsas/pages/Akathist.htm The Akathist Hymn and background]
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01092c.htm Acathistus] article from "
The Catholic Encyclopedia"
* [http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=17 Saturday of the Akathist] Orthodox icon and
* [http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=100161 Icon of the Theotokos of the Akathist-Hilandar]
* [http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?FSID=102935 Icon of the Theotokos of the Akathist-Zographou]
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