Akathist

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The Akathist Hymn in Church Slavonic language. Oikos One.

An Akathist Hymn (Greek : Ἀκάθιστος Ὕμνος, "unseated hymn") is a type of hymn usually recited by Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic Christians, dedicated 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, without sitting down (ἀ-, a-, "without, not" and κάθισις, káthisis, "sitting"), except for the aged or infirm. During Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christian religious services in general, sitting, standing, bowing and the making of prostrations are set by an intricate set of rules, as well as individual discretion. Only during readings of the Gospel and the singing of Akathists is standing considered mandatory for all.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Hymn type of song specifically written for the purpose of adoration or prayer

A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification. The word hymn derives from Greek ὕμνος (hymnos), which means "a song of praise". A writer of hymns is known as a hymnodist. The singing or composition of hymns is called hymnody. Collections of hymns are known as hymnals or hymn books. Hymns may or may not include instrumental accompaniment.

Eastern Orthodox Church Christian Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 260 million baptised members. It operates as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by its bishops in local synods. Roughly half of Eastern Orthodox Christians live in Russia. The church has no central doctrinal or governmental authority analogous to the Bishop of Rome, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognised by all as primus inter pares of the bishops. As one of the oldest surviving religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.

History

The Akathist is also known by the first three words of its prooimion (preamble), Te upermacho stratego (Τῇ ὑπερμάχῳ στρατηγῷ, "To you, invincible champion") addressed to the announcing Archangel.

The akathist par excellence is the one written during the seventh century for the feast of Annunciation of the Theotokos (25 March). This kontakion was traditionally attributed to Romanos the Melodist since kontakia of Romanos dominated the classical repertoire 80 kontakia sung during the cathedral rite of the Hagia Sophia, though recent scholarship rejects this authorship like in case of many other kontakia of the core repertoire. The exceptional case of the Akathist is that the Greek original consists of 24 oikoi, each one beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. [1] Due to the excessive length the kontakion became truncated like the others, but even the earliest chant books with musical notation (the Tipografsky Ustav, for instance) have the complete text of all 24 oikoi written out, but the last 23 oikoi without musical notation. [2]

Annunciation Biblical episode and artistic theme

The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Annunciation of Our Lady, or the Annunciation of the Lord, is the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox celebration of the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Jewish messiah and Son of God, marking His Incarnation. Gabriel told Mary to name her son Yeshua, meaning "YHWH is salvation".

<i>Theotokos</i> Title given to Mary in Eastern Christianity

Theotokos is a title of Mary, mother of Jesus, used especially in Eastern Christianity. The usual Latin translations, Dei Genetrix or Deipara, are "Mother of God" or "God-bearer".

Kontakion

The kontakion is a form of hymn performed in the Orthodox and the Eastern Catholic liturgical traditions. The kontakion originated in the Byzantine Empire around the sixth century CE. It is divided into strophes and begins with a prologue. The kontakion usually has a biblical theme, and often features dialogue between biblical characters. By far the most important writer of kontakia is Romanos the Melodist. The only kontakion that is regularly performed in full today is the Akathist to the Theotokos.

Since the 14th century the Akathist moved from the menaion to the moveable cycle of the triodion, and the custom established that the whole hymn was sung in four sections throughout Lent. As such it became part of the service of the Salutations to the Theotokos (used in the Byzantine tradition during Great Lent).

The Triodion, also called the Lenten Triodion, is the liturgical book used by the Eastern Orthodox Church. The book contains the propers for the fasting period preceding Easter and for the weeks leading up to the fast.

Great Lent observance in Eastern Christianity

Great Lent, or the Great Fast, is the most important fasting season in the church year in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Byzantine Rite Lutheran Churches and the Eastern Catholic Churches, which prepares Christians for the greatest feast of the church year, Pascha (Easter).

Another particular characteristic feature of the Akathist is the extraordinary length of the refrain or ephymnion which conists of a great number of verses beginning with χαῖρε (“Rejoice”) which are called in Greek Chairetismoi (Χαιρετισμοί, "Rejoicings") or in Arabic Madayeh, respectively; in the Slavic tradition it is known as Akafist. The chairetismoi are only repeated in every second oikos, and from a musical point of view the ephymnion consists just of a short musical phrase, either about the last χαῖρε verse or about allelouia.

The writing of akathists (occasionally spelled acathist) developed within the Slavic traditions as a genre of its own as part of the general composition of an akolouthia, although not all compositions are widely known nor translated beyond the original language. Reader 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 to the Theotokos into which a particular saint's name is inserted. In the Greek, Arabic, and Russian Old Rite traditions, the only akathist permitted in formal liturgical use is the original akathist.

Reader (liturgy) a person who can read aloud the bible during catholic liturgy

In some Christian churches, a reader is responsible for reading aloud excerpts of scripture at a liturgy. In early Christian times the reader was of particular value due to the rarity of literacy.

Old Believers

In Eastern Orthodox church history, especially within the Russian Orthodox Church, the Old Believers or Old Ritualists are Eastern Orthodox Christians who maintain the liturgical and ritual practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church as they were before the reforms of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow between 1652 and 1666. Resisting the accommodation of Russian piety to the contemporary forms of Greek Orthodox worship, these Christians were anathematized, together with their ritual, in a Synod of 1666–67, producing a division in Eastern Europe between the Old Believers and those who followed the state church in its condemnation of the Old Rite.

Legends about the origin

Icon of the Akathist of the Theotokos. Fresco detail, 1644. Church of the Deposition of the Robe of the Mother of God, Moscow Kremlin. Akafist bogomateri.jpg
Icon of the Akathist of the Theotokos. Fresco detail, 1644. Church of the Deposition of the Robe of the Mother of God, Moscow Kremlin.

Apart from its usual dedication to the menaion and the early custom to celebrate kontakia during the Pannychis (festive night vigil celebrated at the Blachernae chapel) [3] , the Akathist had also the political function to celebrate military victories or to ask during wars for divine protection intermediated by prayers of the Theotokos. This function is reflected within the synaxarion.

Vigil Period of intentional sleeplessness

A vigil, from the Latin vigilia meaning wakefulness, is a period of purposeful sleeplessness, an occasion for devotional watching, or an observance. The Italian word vigilia has become generalized in this sense and means "eve".

Church of St. Mary of Blachernae (Istanbul) Church in Istanbul, Turkey

Saint Mary of Blachernae is an Eastern Orthodox church in Istanbul. The little edifice, built in 1867, got the same dedication as the shrine erected in this place in the fifth century which, until its destruction in 1434, was one of the most important sanctuaries of Greek Orthodoxy.

According to the synaxary the origin of the feast is assigned by the Synaxarion to the year 626, when Constantinople, in the reign of Heraclius, was attacked by the Persians and Avars but saved through the intervention of the Most Holy Theotokos. 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 inside the Golden Horn. The people spent the whole night, says the account, 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" (Synaxarion). 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 Synaxarion commemorates two other victories, under Leo III the Isaurian, and Constantine Pogonatus, similarly ascribed to the intervention of the Theotokos.

Constantinople capital city of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, the Latin and the Ottoman Empire

Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, of the brief Crusader state known as the Latin Empire (1204–1261) and of the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923). In 1923 the capital of Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, was moved to Ankara and the name Constantinople was officially changed to Istanbul. The city is located in what is now the European side and the core of modern Istanbul. The city is still referred to as Constantinople in Greek-speaking sources.

Heraclius Byzantine Emperor 610–641

Heraclius was the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 610 to 641. His rise to power began in 608, when he and his father, Heraclius the Elder, the exarch of Africa, led a revolt against the unpopular usurper Phocas.

Siege of Constantinople (626) 626 siege

The Siege of Constantinople in 626 by the Sassanid Persians and Avars, aided by large numbers of allied Slavs, ended in a strategic victory for the Byzantines. The failure of the siege saved the Empire from collapse, and, combined with other victories achieved by Emperor Heraclius the previous year and in 627, enabled Byzantium to regain its territories and end the destructive Roman–Persian Wars by enforcing a treaty with borders status quo c. 590.

No certain ascription of its authorship can be made. It has been attributed to Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople, whose pious activities the Synaxarion commemorates in great detail. Quercius (P.G., XCII, 1333 sqq.) assigns it to George Pisida, deacon, archivist, and sacristan of Hagia Sophia whose 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, Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne 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.

Structure

Icon of the Theotokos Orans from Spasky Cathedral in Yaroslavl (13th-century). Oranta.jpg
Icon of the Theotokos Orans from Spasky Cathedral in Yaroslavl (13th-century).

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 Matins or a Molieben.

The hymn itself is divided into thirteen parts, each of which is composed of a kontakion and an oikos (Greek: οίκος, house, possibly derived from Syriac terminology). The kontakion usually ends with the exclamation: Alleluia, which is repeated by a choir in 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.

For example, the Akathist to the Theotokos:

Kontakion One
Queen of the Heavenly Host, Defender of our souls, we thy servants offer to thee songs of victory and thanksgiving, for thou, O Mother of God, hast delivered us from dangers. But as thou hast invincible power, free us from conflicts of all kinds that we may cry to thee:
Oikos One
An Archangel was sent from Heaven to say to the Mother of God: Rejoice! And seeing Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he was amazed and with his bodiless voice he stood crying to her such things as these:

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. The final kontakion is the famous "i Hypermáchōi Stratēgōi" ("Unto the Defender General"), a hymn addressing Mary as the savior of Constantinople in the 626 siege:

Unto the Defender General the dues of victory,
and for the deliverance from woes, the thanksgiving
I, Thy city, ascribe Thee, O Theotokos.
And having your might unassailable,
deliver me from all danger
so that I may cry unto Thee:
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

Various ways of celebration

Detail of the icon of the Praises of the Theotokos, before which the Akathist may be chanted. The Theotokos is shown enthroned in the center, with Christ Emmanuel above her. To either side are shown the prophets who foretold the Incarnation. In the full icon, scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary surround this vignette. Poxvala.jpg
Detail of the icon of the Praises of the Theotokos, before which the Akathist may be chanted. The Theotokos is shown enthroned in the center, with Christ Emmanuel above her. To either side are shown the prophets who foretold the Incarnation. In the full icon, scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary surround this vignette.

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. 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 Orthros (Matins) of the Fifth Saturday of Great Lent, which for this reason is known as the "Saturday of the Akathist". 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 Theotokos herself.

The hymn itself forms an alphabetical acrosticthat is, each oikos begins with a letter of the Greek alphabet, in orderand 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 greeting Chaíre and ending with the refrain, "Rejoice, Bride without bridegroom!" (also translated as "Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded!") In the short oikoi, the seven-line stanza is followed by the refrain, Alleluia .

The Salutations to the Theotokos service, often known by its Greek name, the Χαιρετισμοί/Chairetismoí (from the Χαίρε/Chaíre! so often used in the hymn), consists of Compline with the Akathist hymn inserted. It is known in Arabic as the Madayeh.

Icons

There are also several icons of the Theotokos which are known by the title of "Akathist":

Hilandar

The Icon of the Theotokos "Of the Akathist" is on the iconostasis of Hilandar Monastery 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.

The feast day of the Icon of the Theotokos "Akathist-Hilandar" is celebrated on January 12 (for those churches which follow the Julian Calendar January 12 falls on January 25 of the modern Gregorian Calendar).

Zographou

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).

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References

  1. See the majuscules in ET-MSsc Gr. 925, ff.80r-87r.
  2. For the earliest translation into Old Church Slavonic within the territory of the Kievan Rus, see Moscow, State Tretyakov Gallery, Ms. K-5349, ff.58v-64r (about 1100). The second folio (between 58 and 59) with the continuation of the notated prooimion and the text of the first three oikoi is missing.
  3. Alexander Lingas (1995).

Sources

Editions

Studies