Friday, April 3, 2009

Saturday of the Akathist

Tomorrow is the Saturday of the Akathist, on which the Akathist to the Mother of God is chanted at Matins (most often served Friday evening). S. V. Bulgakov offers this historical explanation of the commemoration:
The service on this Saturday is called the Praise of the Most Holy Theotokos, because on this day "we sing the hymns of praise" to the Most Holy Theotokos in memory of the triple deliverance of the imperial city of Constantinople from the attack of enemies through Her intercession (see March 10). In the reign of Heraclius (in 626) the Persians from the East and the Scythians or Avars from the west blockaded Constantinople. Patriarch Sergius took the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos called the Hodigitria (refer to July 28), and her encased robe, in a cross procession to the walls of city and when he dipped the robe of the Mother of God into the water, the sea began to boil, and the ships sank, and the unwelcome enemies were exterminated. The people spent the whole night in prayer in the Blachernae church, which is on the seacoast, singing the thanksgiving hymns to the Mother of God (Akathist). A similar deliverance of Constantinople from the Agarians occurred during the reign of Constantine Pogonatus (in 670), Leo the Isaurian (716-740), or, according to other reports, during the reign of Michael III (864) from the Agarian and the Scythian Ascold and Dir. The Holy Church entered into the universal use of the thanksgiving hymns to the Theotokos, performed on the 5th Sunday of Great Lent as the first deliverance of Constantinople was about this time. With thanksgiving for formerdeliverance from enemies, the Holy Church connects the prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos with even freeing us from all misfortunes, looking to the Mother of God as the Helper in prayers and repentance. Reminding believers about the heavenly Mediatrix and Intercessor of the Christian race, the Holy Church thus confirms repenting in the hope of greater help in one's spiritual efforts, for She never abandoned the suffering and grieving needing Her help, even in the struggle against external enemies.
Here are some online liturgical resources you might find helpful:
Here is what S. V. Bulgakov's writes about the liturgical rubrics:
The Typikon (Ustav) calls these "Hymns of Praise" to the Theotokos the "Akathist" (a. = not, and katho = I sit, -- often in the Typikon we read instead of Akathist -- "not sitting") because during the singing of this hymn one should not sit. The Deacon George Pisidijskim of the Great Church in Constantinople composed the Akathist on the occasion of the miraculous deliverance of the inhabitants of Constantinople from their enemies in 626. The Akathist consists of 12 Kontakia and 12 Eikoi (according to the number of letters in the Greek alphabet); the first Kontakion of the Akathist is "O Victorious Leader" is not included in the number 12 of the Kontakia but serves as a theme of the Akathist.

Each Kontakion ends with the refrain: "Alleluia", and each Eikos ends with the angelic greeting to the Theotokos: "Rejoice, O unwedded Bride". The Akathist is divided into two parts. The first 12 odes (up to the 7th Eikos) comprise the first part of the Akathist, having historical content: in them are found the history of the incarnation and the first years of life of Jesus Christ. The remaining 12 odes comprising the second part of the Akathist, has dogmatic and moral content: in them the Kontakia describe the mystery of the incarnation of God the Word and the abundant grace bestowed on Him, but the Eikoi glorify the Mother of God for Her magnification, her majesty before God and the good deeds, pointing Her out to the faithful. The entire Akathist is read in four parts, after the Little Ektenia the first and second of the appointed Kathismas, also after the third and sixth Odes of the Canon. Each section begins and ends in the singing of the Kontakion "O Victorious Leader". In last section, besides this, before this Kontakion one repeats the first Eikos: "The First of Angels". At the singing "O Victorious Leader" one censes the entire temple, beginning at the altar. The Typikon (Ustav) says to read the Akathist in the sanctuary; but some find it more convenient to read it in the middle of the church before the analogion with an icon of the Praises of the Theotokos and with one or two candle stands before the analogion. Thus for the reading each article of the Akathist the priest leaves the sanctuary through the Royal Doors. After the reading he returns to the sanctuary, and the Royal Doors are closed. At the reading of the Akathist the deacon accompanies the priest and censes before the analogion. At Matins we sing the Great Doxology. "At the meal we eat cooked food with oil and we drink wine, thankful for our Most Holy Lady Theotokos for her past miracles".
Rejoice, thou bride unwedded!

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