Saturday of the Akathist: Why so Special?

The Akathist Hymn to the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary, is one of the most beloved services of devotion that we have in the Orthodox Church. Tradition tells us that the Akathist was written in Constantinople, “the city of the Virgin,” by St. Romanos the Melodist. The structure and format of the Akathist Hymn is so popular that many other Akathists have been written using its format. These include Akathists to Our Lord Jesus Christ, to the Cross, to various saints, etc.

The word “akathistos” translates as “not sitting,” i.e., standing; normally all the faithful stand while it is being sung. The hymn has 24 stanzas, which alternate between long and short. Each kontakion ends with the singing of “Alleluia.” While each longer ikos ends with the refrain: “Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded.”

Most of the hymn is made up of praises directed to the Theotokos, beginning with the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel: “Rejoice.” In each of the verses, the events related to our Lord’s incarnation are remembered for our contemplation. In Ikos 1, the Archangel Gabriel marvels at the Divine self-emptying and the renewal of creation which occurs when Christ comes to dwell in the Virgin’s womb. In Ikos 3 the unborn Forerunner and Baptist John prophetically rejoices. Then in Ikos 4 shepherds recognize Christ as a blameless Lamb, and rejoice that in the Virgin “the things of earth join chorus with the heavens.” In the 5th Kontakion, the pagan Magi, following the light of the star, praise the Theotokos for revealing the light of the world.

Throughout the hymns progression, various people or groups encounter Christ and the Theotokos. Each bringing their own need; their own desire or expectation, and each finds his or her own spiritual need satisfied and fulfilled in Our Lord and in the Theotokos. Just as each generation of Orthodox, and each particular person who has prayed the Akathist, has also found in this hymn the inspired means of expressing gratitude and praise to the Theotokos for what she has accomplished for their salvation.

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