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from issue no. 12 - 2004

The Akathist hymn

The sweet victory of Mary

It is considered the most beautiful Marian hymn of all time. For fifteen centuries the Christians of the Churches of Byzantine tradition have recited it in thanks to the Virgin and to ask her to safeguard them in the faith of the Apostles. 30DAYS asked Bartholomew I, Ecumenic Patriarch of Constantinople, to comment on the Akathist. An interview

by Gianni Valente

On this page, mosaics in the church of Christ Savior 
in Chora, 1320c, Museum of Kariye Camii, Istanbul, Turkey. the Annunciation

On this page, mosaics in the church of Christ Savior in Chora, 1320c, Museum of Kariye Camii, Istanbul, Turkey. the Annunciation

To you, as invincible
Captain, I raise songs of
victory, I that am your
City, O Mother of God.
And as you possess irresistible
power, free me from dangers of
all kinds, that I may proclaim
you: Hail, Bride and Maiden
We shall never cease to hymn to
you as one should, O Mother of
God, and say: Hail, Bride and
Maiden ever-pure!
As soon as the angel had received
his command, he hastened to
Joseph's house and said to the
ever-virgin: «Behold, heaven was
brought down to earth when the
Word Himself was fully
contained in you! Now that I see
Him in your womb, taking a
servant's form, I cry out to you
in wonder: Hail, O Bride and
Maiden ever-pure!»

The Nativity

The Nativity


1. An Archangel was sent from heaven to greet the Mother of God,
and as he saw you assuming a
body at the sound of his bodiless voice, O Lord,
he stood rapt in amazement and cried out to her
in these words:

Hail, O you, through whom Joy will shine forth!
Hail, O you, through whom the curse will disappear!
Hail, O Restoration of the Fallen Adam!
Hail, O Redemption of the Tears of Eve!
Hail, O Peak above the reach of human thought!
Hail, O Depth even beyond the sight of angels!
Hail, O you who have become a Kingly Throne!
Hail, O you who carry Him Who Carries All!
Hail, O Star who manifest the Sun!
Hail, O Womb of the Divine Incarnation!
Hail, O you through whom creation is renewed!
Hail, O you through whom the Creator becomes a Babe!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!»

2. Knowing that she was a virgin, the blessed one
courageously answered the angel: |«Your
surprising words seem hard for my mind to
accept: how can you speak of a birth that is to
come from a conception without seed? And why
do you cry,

3. Trying to grasp the meaning of this mystery,
the Virgin asked the holy messenger: “How is it
possible that a son be born from a virginal womb?
Tell me.” And he answered her with awe, crying
out in these words:

Hail, O hidden Sense of the Ineffable Plan!
Hail, O Belief in Silence That Must Be!
Hail, O Forecast of the Marvels of Christ!
Hail, O Fountainhead of truths concerning Him!
Hail, Celestial Ladder, by whom God came down!
Hail, O Bridge leading earthly ones to heaven!
Hail, O Wonder, ever-thrilling to the angels!
Hail, O Wound, ever-hurting to the demons!
Hail, O you who gave birth to Light ineffably!
Hail, O you who told no one how it was done!
Hail, O you who surpass the wisdom of the wise!
Hail, O you who enlighten faithful minds!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure! ».

4. When the power of the Most High
overshadowed the one who had never known the
nuptial bed, her fruitful womb conceived, and
she became for all a delicious field: for those who
wished to reap salvation by singing

5. Pregnant with God, the Virgin hastened to
Elizabeth, her unborn child rejoiced,
immediately knowing her embrace. Bouncing
and singing, he cried out to the Mother of God:

«Hail, O Tendril whose Bud shall not wilt!
Hail, O Soil whose Fruit shall not perish! Hail,
O Tender of mankind’s loving Tender!
Hail, O Gardener of the Gardener of Life!
Hail, O Earth who yielded abundant mercies!
Hail, O Table full-laden with appeasement!
Hail, for you have greened anew the pastures of delight!

Hail, for you have prepared a haven for the souls!
Hail, acceptable Incense of Prayer!
Hail, Expiation of the whole universe!
Hail, O you Favor of God to mortal men!
Hail, O you Trust of mortals before God!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!»

6. Filled with a storm of contradictory thoughts,
the wise Joseph was greatly disturbed: until then,
he had seen you a virgin, and now he suspected
you of secret guilt, all-blameless one! Learning
that your conception was of the Holy Spirit, he cried out:

7. The Shepherds heard the angels singing hymns
of praise to the Coming of Christ in the Flesh.
And running to Him as to a shepherd, they saw
Him as a spotless lamb, grazing at Mary’s breast.
They sang a hymn to her and said:

«Hail, O Mother of Lamb and Shepherd!
Hail, O Fold of rational sheep!
Hail, O Protection against unseen foes!
Hail, O Key to the Doors of Paradise!
Hail, for the heavenly rejoice with the earth!
Hail, for the earthly meet the heavens in song!
Hail, the Unsilenced Voice of the Apostles!
Hail, the Undaunted Might of Martyrs!
Hail, O Steadfast Foundation of Faith!
Hail, O Shining Emblem of Grace!
Hail, O you through whom death was despoiled!
Hail, O you through whom we were clothed
with glory!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!»

8. When they saw the Star moved by God, the
Magi followed its glittering light. Using it as a
beacon, they found through it the Mighty King,
and reaching the One Beyond All Reach, they
rejoiced and cried out to Him:

9. The Sons of Chaldaea saw in the Virgin’s hands
the One whose hands had fashioned men: and
acknowledging Him as the Master, although He
had taken the form of a servant, they hastened to
honor Him with their gifts and cried out to
the Blessed One:

«Hail, O Mother of the Star Without Setting!
Hail, O Radiance of the Mystical Day!
Hail, O you who quenched the flame of error!
Hail, O Light of those who search the Trinity!
Hail, O you who unthroned the Enemy of Men!
Hail, O you who showed forth Christ the Lord, Lover of Mankind!
Hail, O you who cleansed us from the stain
of pagan worship!
Hail, O you who saved us from the mire
of evil deeds!
Hail, O you who made cease the cult of fire!
Hail, O you who dispelled the flames of Passion;
Hail, O you who guide the faithful toward wisdom!
Hail, O you, Delight of all the Nations!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!»

10. The Magi, become God-bearing heralds,
returned to Babylon, conforming to your
command, announcing You, the Christ, to all,
and leaving Herod as a fool who did not know
how to sing:

11. Illuminating Egypt with the Light of Truth,
you cast away the darkness of error. For the idols,
unable to stand your might, fell down, and those
who had been delivered from them cried out to the
Mother of God:

«Hail, O Resurrection of mankind!
Hail, O Downfall of the Demons!
Hail, O you who crushed the error of deceit!
Hail, O you who exposed the fraud of idols!
Hail, O Sea who drowned the symbolic Pharaon!
Hail, O Rock who quenched those who thirst
for Life!
Hail, O Pillar of Fire who guided those in darkness!
Hail, O Shelter of the World, wider than the clouds!
Hail, O Food who took the place of Manna!
Hail, O Handmaid of holy delight!
Hail, O Land of the promised good!
Hail, O you who flow with milk and honey!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!»

11. As Simeon was about to leave the present
deceitful world, You were entrusted to him as an
infant, but You made Yourself known to him as the
perfect God. Wherefore he marveled at your
wisdom beyond words, and cried out::


12. The Creator displayed a new creation to us who
had come from Him: He came forth from a womb
that had received no seed, and He left it intact as it
had been, so that at the sight of this marvel, we
would sing to her and cry out:

«Hail, O Blossom of Incorruption!
Hail, O Crown of Self-mastery!
Hail, O you who shone forth as a Sign of Resurrection!
Hail, O you who displayed the Life of Angels!
Hail, Fruitful Tree from whom believers feed!
Hail, Shady Glen where many are sheltered!
Hail, O you who have born the Guide of the Lost!
Hail, Source of Life to the captives’ Release!
Hail, O you who unsettled even the Just Judge!
Hail, Indulgence of many who have fallen!
Hail, O Stole for those who lack freedom to speak!
Hail, O Tenderness who exceed all desire!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!»

14. Now that we have seen this strange birth,
let us estrange ourselves from the world and turn
our minds to heaven: indeed, it is for this that the
God Most High appeared on earth as a lowly man,
desiring to draw up to heaven those who cry
out to Him:

15. While fully present amid those below, the
uncircumscribed Word was in no way absent from
those above: for what happened was a divine
condescension, and not a moving from one place to
another: and it was a birth from a Virgin inspired
by God, who heard these words:

«Hail, O Space of the Spaceless God!
Hail, O Gate of the Sublime Mystery!
Hail, O Message unsure to men without faith!
Hail, O Glory most certain to those who believe!
Hail, O Sacred Chariot of the One above
the Cherubim!
Hail, Perfect Dwelling of the One above
the Seraphim!
Hail, O you who reconciled opposites!
Hail, O you who combined maidenhood
and motherhood!
Hail, O you through whom transgression
was erased;
Hail, O you through whom Paradise was opened!
Hail, O Key to the Kingdom of Christ!
Hail, O Hope for the Ages of Bliss!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!»

16. The whole order of the Angels marveled
at the great work of your becoming a man: for they
saw the One Inaccessible as God become a
Man accessible to all, living with us and hearing us
cry out:

17. O Mother of God, we see the best
of speakers become as mute as fish in your regard,
for they could not explain how you could
give birth while remaining a virgin. As for us,
while marveling at the mystery, we cry out
to you with faith:

«Hail, O Container of God’s Wisdom!
Hail, O Treasury of His Providence!
Hail, O Reproof of foolish philosophers!
Hail, O Confusion of speechless wise men!
Hail, for you perplexed the inquisitive minds!
Hail, for you dried up the inventors of myths!
Hail, for you ripped the Athenians’ meshes!
Hail, for you filled the Fishermen’s nets!
Hail, O Retriever from the Abyss of Ignorance!
Hail, O Lamplight of Knowledge to many!
Hail, O Ship for those who seek Salvation!
Hail, O Harbor for the Sailors of Life!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!»

18. Desiring to save the world, the Creator of All
came down to it of His own will. Being at the
same time our Shepherd and our God, He
appeared among us. And so the like called upon the like,
and as God He heard:

19. O Virgin Mother of God, you are the strength
of Virgins and of all those who have recourse to
you. For the Maker of heaven and earth covered
you with His shadow, O Pure One, and came
to dwell in your womb, and taught us all
to cry out to you:

«Hail, O Pillar of Virginity!
Hail, O Gateway of Salvation!
Hail, O Principle of the New Creation!
Hail, O Dispenser of God’s bounties!
Hail, for you restored those born in shame!
Hail, for you gave sense to those who had lost it!
Hail, O you who stopped the corruptor of minds!
Hail, O you who bore the Sower of Chastity!
Hail, Holy Chamber of virginal wedlock!
Hail, O you who join the faithful with God!
Hail, O gracious Foster-Mother of virgins!
Hail, O Bridesmaid of holy souls!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!»

20. Every hymn falls short when it attempts to
sing the multitude of your mercies: we could sing
to You as many songs as there are grains of sand, O
Holy King, without ever doing anything worthy
of what You have given to those who
cry out to You:

21. We see the holy Virgin as a brilliant luminary
enlightening those who live in darkness; for
having kindled the immaterial Light, she leads
men to the knowledge of God and fills their
minds with radiance, so that she is worthily
praised in these words:

«Hail, O Beam of the Mystical Son;
Hail, O radiance of the Light without setting!
Hail, Lightning-Flash that brightens the souls;
Hail, Thunder-Clap that strikes down the foes!
Hail, for you have raised the many-lighted Star;
Hail, for you have opened the many-coursed Stream!
Hail, O you who traced the living Model
of the Pool;
Hail, O you who erased the stain of sin!
Hail, flowing Water that cleanses the conscience;
Hail, Holy Vessel overflowing with joy!
Hail, O Fragrance of the sweetness of Christ;
Hail, O Life of the Mystical Banquet!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!»

22. Because He wished to grant release from all
the ancient debts, the One who pays men’s dues
came down Himself to those who had spurned
His grace; He tore up their obligations, and heard
from all of them this cry:

23. By singing praise to your maternity, we all exalt you
as a spiritual temple, Mother of God! For the One
Who Dwelt Within Your Womb, the Lord Who
Holds All Things in His Hands, sanctified you,
glorified you, and taught all men to sing
to you:

«Hail, O Tabernacle of God the Word!
Hail, O Holy One, more holy than the saints!
Hail, O Ark that the Spirit has gilded!
Hail, Inexhaustible Treasure of Life!
Hail, Precious Crown of rightful authorities!
Hail, Sacred Glory of reverent priests!
Hail, Unshakable Tower of the Church!
Hail, Unbreachable Wall of the Kingdom!
Hail, O you through whom the trophies are raised!
Hail, O you through whom the enemies are routed!
Hail, O healing of my body!
Hail, O salvation of my soul!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!»

24. O Mother worthy of all praise, you who have
given birth to the Word, the Holiest of the Holy,
accept this present offering, deliver all men from
every affliction, and save from the future
punishment those who cry out to you:

The Child Jesus and Mary

The Child Jesus and Mary

When the barbarians laid siege to Constantinople, its citizens invoked the help of Mary, to whom the city was consecrated. And after enjoying her protection, they thanked her with songs and vigils in her name. All night long the people sang the Akathist, the great hymn to the Mother of God, by an unknown author. When finally the Byzantine Empire fell, the patriarch George Scholarios addressed Mary and told her that the faithful would no longer importune her to save the city, but would continue to invoke her so that she safeguard them always in the faith of the Fathers.
Still today the Christians of the Eastern Churches of Byzantine tradition address their entreaties and thanks to Mary through the Akathist. For fifteen centuries, individual and communal recital of the hymn has worked as a precious means of safeguarding them in the simple faith of the apostles. The only worthwhile treasure, even today when there are no Christian empires.
In the interview that follows 30Days asks Bartholomew I, Ecumenic Patriarch of Constantinople, to comment on what many consider the most beautiful Marian hymn of all time. In which all the mysteries that the liturgy proposes at Christmastime are contemplated.

Bartolomew I

Bartolomew I

Your Holiness, what does the Akathist mean to you?
Bartholomew I: It is one of the most beautiful and most frequently used hymns in the Orthodox Church, one that deeply moves the soul of every believer. It is read each day in the holy monasteries during the office of Compline, and the majority of monks and many devout lay people know it by heart and recite it to themselves, in the happy or painful circumstances of life. It is above all a prayer of praise and forcefully expresses the feelings of awe, devotion, hope, faith and charity of every soul toward the All-holy Mother of God.
What the Akathist hymn is for every Orthodox believer, it is also personally for us. It doesn’t have a character limited in time. It’s true that, according to Tradition, it was composed and sung for the first time at a concrete historical moment, during a vigil, by the people of Constantinople standing on their feet (akathistos means precisely “not sitting”), as an act of thanksgiving because the city - then dominant – had been saved from enemy invasion. But the devout heart of every believer feels that this prayer is valid for every happy or sad event, whether personal or communal. And it is recited every day with a feeling of awakened relevance. For the soul of believers, who place all their faith in the help of the All-holy Mother of God, the historical juncture for which the hymn was written is not important, but only belief in the help that comes from the Ever-Virgin Mary and the certain hope that, as happened then, so also now the same help is granted to those who invoke Her. Indeed, in the last series of tropes of the Akathist, the faithful fiercely beg the All-holy to deliver them all from all evil. Thus trust in her efficacy for the believers of all periods is clearly expressed.
What is the Akathist hymn shaped on?
Bartholomew I: The Akathist belongs to the category of hymns called “Kontakia”. It’s composed, as is known, of twenty-four units known as “Oikoi” (stanzas), with an alphabetical acrostic. Half of them – the odd numbered ones – begin with a poetic exposition, that describes an event, and is followed by thanksgivings to the All-holy Mother of God, full of marvel and of praise for Her, that end with the doxological exclamation: «Hail, Virgin and Bride!».
The other half of the stanzas – the even numbered ones – are composed by a series of tropes that ends with the exclamation of praise «Alleluia!»
Each stanza has as its starting point an event in the life of the All-holy Mother of God or also, on occasion, happenings in the life of Jesus Christ, born of Her, or in that of other people connected with them, so as to highlight the part played by her or Jesus Christ in that episode and her importance for the salvation of mankind.
Everything begins with the Annunciation to the Mother of God by the Archangel. Then the wonderment of the All-holy is described and her dialogue with him. The conception of the embryo in Her womb through the workings of the Holy Spirit is proclaimed. Then the visit of Mary to Elizabeth is recounted, Joseph’s doubts, the adoration of the shepherds, the visit of the Magi, the offering of gifts and the praise of the Magi to the Virgin Mother, the flight from Herod...

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