Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Akathistos Hymn

Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos icon
The Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Brookline, Massachusetts)

Icon of the Mother of God "of the Akathist"

The Vatican Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (December 2001) lists many approved "popular pieties" and devotions outside the Liturgy.

One of them is The Akathistos Hymn

This seems to have been a particular favourite of the late Pope, Pope John Paul II

Here is an extract of the Hymn sung by the Choir of Convent of the Annunciation, Ormylia (Chalkidiki Greece)

Here is another extract of the Hymn: Title: "Τη Υπερμάχω Στρατηγώ" (Unto the Defender General)

The akathistos is a hymn or an Office in the Greek Liturgy in honour of the Mother of God.

It is so called because it is performed with all standing

It was traditionally said or sung on or around the Saturday of the fifth week of Lent or on special occasions

On 8th December 2000, Pope John Paul II presided at a celebration of the Hymn in the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome.

Also present were those of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches. The languages used were Greek, Old Slavonic, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Romanian and Arabic.

The Vatican website has a large section about this celebration on 8th December 2000

The website describes the Hymn as

"a matchless gem of Marian theology and spirituality, links the mystery of Christmas to the mystery of Easter, the birth of the Word made flesh to the Passover of his Death and Resurrection and our rebirth through the sacraments of regeneration, the motherhood of Mary at Bethlehem to her maternal presence at the baptismal font.

Today's celebration underlines the fundamental character of the Hymn: its articulation of the entire Christmas cycle, which makes it 'a far' reaching remembrance of the divine motherhood, virginal and salvific, of the one whose 'spotless virginity gave the Saviour to the world' ' (Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, 5). ...

[It] is a truly inspired composition of immense importance:

- because of its sense of salvation history, embracing the entire plan of God for creation and for creatures, from the origins to the very end, towards the fullness which will be theirs in Christ;

- because of its pure sources: the word of God in the Old and New Testaments, always present either explicitly or implicitly; the doctrine defined by the Councils of Nicaea (325), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), from which it draws directly; the doctrinal treatises of the greatest of the Eastern Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, from whom it takes concepts and lapidary formulations;

- because of its knowing mystagogical approach, by means of which - adopting the most eloquent imagery from creation and Scripture - it raises the mind step by step and brings it to the threshold of the mystery contemplated and celebrated:

the mystery of the Incarnate Word and Saviour, the mystery which, as the Second Vatican Council affirms, indicates in Mary the 'place' where the principal elements of the faith converge and echo forth to the world (cf. Lumen Gentium, 65). ...

[It] deserves to be taken up and sung by every Church and Ecclesial Community.

The Hymn is anonymous: and rightly so, for thus it belongs to everyone, because it belongs to the Church."

In his homily at the celebration on 8th December 2000, Pope John Paul II said:

" This evening we have all been filled with deep joy: the joy of praising Mary with the Akathistos Hymn, so dear to the Eastern tradition.

It is a song centred on Christ, contemplated in the light of his Virgin Mother. It invites us 144 times to repeat to Mary the Archangel Gabriel's greeting: Hail, Mary!

We have retraced the stages of her life and offered praise for the marvels worked in her by the Almighty: from the virginal conception, the beginning and principle of the new creation, to her divine motherhood, to her sharing in her Son's mission, especially the moments of his passion, death and resurrection.

Mother of the risen Lord and Mother of the Church, Mary goes before us and leads us to genuine knowledge of God and to the encounter with the Redeemer. She indicates the way to us and shows us her Son.

In celebrating her with joy and gratitude, we honour the holiness of God, whose mercy has worked marvels in his humble handmaid. We greet her with the title Full of Grace and implore her intercession for all the children of the Church, which celebrates her glory with this Akathistos Hymn."

The Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos can be read in full here

It has always been cherished by the Roman Catholic Church. On 4th May 1746, Pope Benedict XIV granted an indulgence of 50 days for each recitation of the Hymn.

See also

Orthowiki article on Akathist to the Theotokos,