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The following appeared in the Saint Barbara Byzantine Catholic Church bulletin for March 2, 1997. St. Barbara's is a Ruthenian Catholic parish in Dayton, Ohio. It was compiled by The Rt. Rev. Waldemar J. Kuchta, DD for the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent.
On the fifth Saturday of Lent our Byzantine Catholic Church has a special service in honor of the most Pure Virgin Mary. This service, which is celebrated only in the Eastern Church, is called Akathistos, a Greek word meaning not sitting. Hence, the name Akathistos Saturday.
Akathistos Saturday, like the Sunday of Orthodoxy, bears no relation to the Great Fast. It occurs during that time because of historical tradition and practice of the Church. During the Matins service of this Saturday the entire Akathistos of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Mother of God is sung. This Akathistos can be called the symbol and crown of the sublime cult of the Mother of God in the Eastern Church. For this reason, it deserves special attention.
The Church service of this Saturday was instituted in honor of the Mother of God in thanksgiving for her protection of the capital city of Byzantium--Constantinople--against an enemy invasion on three separate occasions. The first invasion occurred during Emperor Heraclitus (626), when the Persians launched an attack from the East and the Sketes or Avars from the West, and the city was in grave peril. Patriarch Sergius I (610-639) took the beautifully clothed icon of the most Pure Virgin Mary, called the Odigitria (Greek = a guide), or Our Lady Guide of Wayfarers, and her robe and went in procession around the city. As the procession drew near to the Church of the most Holy Mother of God, situated in the suburb of Blacherna, he soaked the robe of the Mother of God in the sea. Immediately a storm arose which sank the enemy's ships. The city was saved. The people, acknowledged this as a miracle performed by the Mother of God assembled in the church at Blacherna, and passed the whole night in prayer, singing the hymn of praise, i.e., the Akathistos, in honor of the Mother of God.
The second miraculous event took place some thirty years later, during the reign of Constantine II, Pogonatus (641-668), when the Muslims attacked the capital. The third miracle, occurred under Emperor Leo the Isaurian (716-750), when the Muslims again laid siege to the city with a large naval fleet.
Church history does not record the name of the author of the Akathistos to the Mother of God, so its authorship remains a disputable question even today. Authorship of this Akathistos has been ascribed to various persons. Some assert that the author was the venerable Roman the Melodist (+c.540) Roman was the first to compose kontakions and ikoses for the various feasts days. from him we have the celebrated kontakion of the Nativity of our Lord: "Today the Virgin gives birth to the inconceivable One," and the kontakion of the Resurrection: "Although you descended into the grave, O Immortal One...."
The ancient menaions, that is, the Monthly Books containing the services of each Saint, contains those kontakions and ikoses, which today form the Akathistos to the Mother of God, after the sixth ode of the canon, in the service of the Annunciation on March 25. The authorship of those kontakions and ikoses has been ascribed to the venerable George Pisides (7c), a deacon at St. Sophia in Constantinople. He described the war between Byzantium and the Avars, during which the most Pure Virgin Mary miraculously protected the capital. Others are of the opinion that the kontakions and ikoses of the Akathistos were originally composed for the feast of the Annunciation, and that it was not until later that the Akathistos was composed as a separate hymn of thanksgiving to the Mother of God for her special intervention against the enemy. This is evident in the first kontakion which alludes to the intervention of the Mother of God, and refers to a battle, as well as to danger and deliverance. Still others suggest as the author of the Akathistos to the Mother of God, the Patriarches Sergius or Germanus (8c) or even the Patriarch Photius (9c).
The melody and profound content of the Akathistos to the Annunciation of the Mother of God is a very powerful means of fostering devotion to the Mother of God, for it incorporates the whole teaching of the Eastern Church concerning Mary. It extols all the principal dogmas relating to the most Pure Virgin Mary, above all, Her Divine Maternity: "Rejoice, for you are the throne of the Lord and King. Rejoice, for you carry Him who carries the universe. Rejoice, you who gave life to Him who gives life to us." (Ikoses 1, 3)
Mary's immaculate and perpetual Virginity are praised: "Rejoice, O Flower of Incorruptibility. Rejoice, O Crown of chastity." (Ikos 7) "Rejoice, for you have reconciled virginity with maternity." (Ikos 8)
All her virtues are extolled and the most beautiful praises are sung in her honor: "Rejoice, O perpetual glory of the Apostles. Rejoice, unconquerable Strength of ascetics. Rejoice, O unshakable foundation of the faith." (Ikos 4) "Rejoice, O Holiest One among the Saints. Rejoice, Tabernacle gilded by the Holy Spirit." (Ikos 12)
In the Akathistos we find expressed the constant faith of the Church in Mary's protection and her intercession in heaven: "Rejoice, O Bridge which leads from earth to heaven." (Ikos 3) "Rejoice, 'Reconciler' of the whole world. "(Ikos 3) "Rejoice, O Shelter of the world, wider than the heavens."(Ikos 6). "Rejoice, O 'Placator' of the just Judge." (Ikos 8). "Rejoice, for you are our Guarantee of victory. Rejoice, O Salvation of my soul." (Ikos 12).
In meditating upon the sublime privileges, graces, and role of the Mother of God in our salvation, there naturally arises in our hearts great trust in her intercession and protection, as well as hope of salvation through her. All these sentiments are expressed very beautifully in the concluding kontakion: "O ever-praised Mother, who gave birth to the Word, holiest of all the Saints, accept our present supplication and deliver us from every affliction, and from everlasting punishment save us, who sing to you: Alleluia."
To access the English version of the Akathistos Hymn to Mary: Akathistos
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One Mother's View
One of our Marian Library staff pulled out this item from our collection of over 56,000 items in the Sutton File. It presents a mother's impression of what Mary, the Mother of Jesus, might have been thinking about her son. We offer it here as a treasure, one of thousands, from our Marian Library resources:
During Lent I have always concentrated on Christ's feast and passion. This year I decided to meditate on Mary. Surely there were times when she realized that Jesus was God. ... But there seem to be other times when she was less conscious of his being God and much more concerned about him as her son. ...