Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saturday of the Akathist Hymn

Rejoice, thou who showest forth philosophers fools.
Rejoice, thou who provest logicians illogical.

Today is the Saturday of the Akathist Hymn, on which the Akathist to the Theotokos is read during Matins (most often served Friday evening).

Metropolitan Kallistos, in his introduction to the Lenten Triodion, writes:
One of the greatest marvels of Greek religious poetry, with a richness of imagery that is the despair of any translator, the Akathitos Hymn has twenty-four main stanzas, alternating long and short: each long stanza bears the title 'ikos' and ends with the refrain 'Hail, Bride without bridegroom,' while each short stanza is termed 'kontakion' and ends with the refrain 'Alleluia.' The title 'Akathitos' means literally 'not sitting,' the Hymn being so called because all remain standing while it is sung. The greater part of the Hymn is made up of praises addressed to the Holy Virgin, each beginning with the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel, 'Hail' or 'Rejoice' (Luke 1:28). The Hymn passes in review the main events connected with Christ's Incarnation, starting with the Annunciation (first ikos) and ending with the Flight into Egypt (sixth ikos) and the Presentation in the Temple (seventh kontakion).
This Akathist to the Theotokos is the only one recognized by the Typikon and used formally in Divine services; all others, nearly all of which are of late Slavic origin, are para-liturgical and properly used only in private devotions.

The Kontakion of the Akathist:
To Thee, the Champion Leader, we Thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos: but as Thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do Thou deliver us, that we may cry to Thee: Rejoice, Thou Bride Unwedded!
The Akathist to the Thetokos can be read here.


Anonymous said...


The Akathist Hymn is one of my all time favorites.

I recently received a book of Akathists to the Mother of God from Russia that includes 60 (!) of them.

Are any other akathists chanted at your church or does that depend? (Curious.)

Felix Culpa said...

Only the Akathist to the Mother of God mentioned in the post is used liturgically anywhere.

That said, at molebens (which are not part of the daily cycle of services) different akathists are often used.

Here we read the Rule of Preparation for Communion together, normally using the regular Akathist to the Theotokos, and using the Akathist to Jesus (which is of Byzantine origin) on Feasts of the Lord.

frc said...

Before I add to the discussion on akathists, a "great protosyngellos" denotes two things. First, "great" means that the said clergy is at the patriarchate of Constantinople, the "Great" Church of Christ. Therefore, the archdeacon at the patriarchate would be the "Great" Archdeacon and, it follows, the protosyngellos or chancellor at the patriarchate is the "Great" protosyngellos. Hope that helps.

Now, regarding whether or not other akathists art used liturgically, yes they are, especially during vigils.

First, however, we must understand that "akathist" is a term that has come to be used in a wrong way, actually. There is really only one Akathist, and that is the kontakion to the Theotokos which we chanted this past week. It's called the Akathist because when it was originally chanted no one sat down—a-kathistos in Greek means "not sitting." As a genus of hymnography it is a kontakion, a hymn form with a "koukoulion" and "oikoi".

It's liturgical place? Exactly where we read the kontakion and one or two oikoi in the orthros service, after the sixth ode of the kanons.

During vigils entire kontakia (the koukoulion with all oikoi) are often read after the sixth ode of the kanon and before the synaxarion.

Hope this helps!

Felix Culpa said...

frc: I'm very grateful for your comments, but I'm afraid I don't quite follow what you're saying. I wonder if you could clarify a few points:

1) How precisely do you define the Akathist?

2) How do you define what's called the Akathist Hymn found in the Menaion for Saturday in the fifth week, or for that matter in the Horologian and "private" prayer books?

3) How are you defining a kontakion. I know that our understanding of what a kontakion really is have changed over the centuries, to the point where we now think of them as more or less the same thing as a troparion.

I certainly follow you that the place of the kontakion in daily services in after the 6th ode of the canon. But I don't follow you when you write that the kontakion of the Theotokos IS the akathist (if I understand you correctly). How would this be used frequently at Vigils?

Looking at the service celebrated earlier this week, one sees that the akathist (as I understand the word) is divided into three sections: 1) before the beginning of the canon; 2) after ode 3; and after ode 6. If this does not comprise the akathist, then what is it?

Again, I very much appreciate your expertise, but I'd help it very helpful if you could define your terms, and explain how they differ from the way these terms are commonly employed today.

Please bear in mind when responding that my liturgical experience is limited to modern (i.e., post-Nikonian) Russian practice.

Felix Culpa said...

Another question: does the position of protosyngellos of which you speak imply ordination to the priesthood, as in the Serbian Church today?

Gabriel said...


I think frc is splitting hairs with terminology, not indicating an obscure point in the rubrics you may have overlooked.

While the post-Nikonian Russian Church has certainly seen an influx of akathist hymns, you are right to point out that the Akathist to the Theotokos is the only one included in the Typicon and set to be read at Matins on Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent. The Old Rite/Old Believers do not recognize any other akathist hymns, including the one to Sweetest Jesus--both for public and private devotion. This is because absent (perhaps) a few manuscripts in West Russia, the Akathist to Sweetest Jesus was unknown in the Russian Church until the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. It existed in Byzantium well before that, of course.

One of the problems with the influx of akathist hymns is not only do many lack a clear liturgical place, but a good number are good. The intention is there, but the content is largely derivative or in some cases a loose reworking of hymns from the Menaion service. I say this as one who owns the Book of Akathists published by Jordanville, so please don't take me to say that these works should be disregarded wholesale. What surprises me is that nobody has produced a Kanonik in English with an explanatory "template" for a Moleben service. The closest I have seen is the Old Orthodox Prayer Book, though that follows some the peculiarities of the Old Rite. Also, despite the fact that there are many more canons now widely available, they typically aren't reproduced with all of the material one would need to "slot into" a Moleben service. For that you have to go to the Menaion and most people don't have access to it.

Felix Culpa said...

Gabriel: I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about the generally inferior nature of most akathists. I know that St Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, was very much opposed to their proliferation.

Those who have only read akathists in English may not appreciate just how bad the original Slavonic often is. Not just unpoetical and derivative, but simply ungrammatical. The English translations generally hide these sins of our forefathers.

The content, moreover, is often of poor quality as well. I remember reading in the life of the Elder Macarius of Optina that someone brought him a manuscript of an akathist to God the Father, which he immediately ordered burned. I myself have seen an English-language pamphlet with an akathist designed for those who have had an abortion. That simply boggles my mind, and strikes me as liturgical corruption taken to an extreme.

The liturgical service books are our textbooks of theology and piety. They can never be surpassed. The proliferation of akathists that are both poorly written and theologically suspect only serves to devalue liturgical texts.

I had been reluctant to say any of this before, given the popularity of akathists. People really seem to enjoy reading them. The akathists in the Jordanville Book of Akathists don't, so far as I recall, share the deficiencies I've discussed. I certainly don't want to dissuade people from reading akathists, only to point out that they are not liturgical texts per se.

What you say about the lack of a template for the Moleben service is only too true. The way the Moleben is actually served today has very little to do with the way its printed in most books (the same thing could be said of the pannykhida). Some sort of clear template with the necessary material and clear rubrics really would be welcome.

So when are you going to produce one?

konstantinos terzopoulos said...

Sorry I've confused you. Here is a simpler version:

1. The Akathist to the Theotokos is a Kontakion, per its hymnogrphical genus. A kontakion has a koukoulion and a number of oikoi, which are identical in rhythm and structure. The Akathist kontakion is unique to the genus in that there are alternating oikoi with different structures and different ephymnia (refrains), the "Rejoice, Bride Unwedded" and "Allelouia."

2. Most kontakia did not follow the unique structure of Romanos' Akathist, which was unique to the Theotokos, i.e. oikoi which alternated in their poetic structure.

3. All the other so-called "akathists" have followed Romanos' structure of the original, but are in essence kontakia.

4. Why? There is really only one Akathist. The one we do on Saturday of the Fifth Week of the Great Fast.

5. With regards to vigils (other than the vigil of the Akathist) a kontakion (the whole thing, what is often referred to as an "akathist") can be said at the point where we normally only say the kontakion and one or two oikoi on a daily basis, that is, in the orthros, between the sixth and seventh odes of the kanon.

6. I hope I haven't just confused you more!

7. Have a blessed Resurrection!

konstantinos terzopoulos said...

The term "protosyngellos" means, literally, first cell.

It was initially a monastic office, the monk in the first cell from the Abbot.

In Byzantium it also came to refer to the primary assistant of the bishop. Let's say, the first office next to the bishop's.

To answer your question, yes, this office is normally held by an ordained cleric. In the Greek tradition they are normally bishops, when at the level of archbishops or patriarchs.

Hope this helps.

Just to repeat, the "great" refers to the holder of said office at the Patriarchates of Constantinople, the "Great" Church of Christ.

A blessed Resurrection!

konstantinos terzopoulos said...

Regarding kontakia…

One more thing.

There are many editions of gathered kontakia, however, anyone really interested in the older, Byzantine kontakia should refer to the following publication:

Joannes Baptista Pitra, edidit
Analecta Sacra Solesmensi
Tom I.
Parisiis 1842