What is the Akathist service?


Dear Fr. Chris, what is the Akathist service?

The “Akathist” service during Great Lent is a service in honor of the Most Holy Mother of God.  It is served on Friday evenings, in conjunction with the Compline.  The word “akathist” means “without sitting” in Greek.  For those who are able, we are called to stand for the entire singing of the Akathist. 

The “Akathist to the Theotokos” is a hymn that was written by St. Romanos the Melod in the city of Constantinople sometime before his death in 556AD.  It is an ancient and beloved hymn, which has also inspired many other similar hymns to be written in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ and others of His saints.

The hymn itself consists of 24 stanzas, alternating between long and short.  Each short stanza ends with the refrain: Alleluia; and each long one ends with the refrain: ‘Rejoice, O unwedded Bride.”  These stanzas are broken into four parts, sung throughout the first four weeks of Great Lent.

The first part of the hymn is about the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the Angel. It describes Mary’s surprise at the news, her visit to her mother and Joseph’s doubts as to her innocence. The second part is about the birth of Christ, the worship of the Shepherds and Magi, the flight to Egypt and the visit to Saint Simeon in the Temple. In the third part the hymn directs our attention to the renewal of the world by Christ’s coming, and the amazement of the Angels and the wise men at the sight of the Incarnation of God’s Son. The fourth and the last part is once more a lyric and rhetorical appraisal of Virgin Mary, whom the poet adorns with the most beautiful of adjectives asking her to accept his poetical offering and to intercede for the salvation of human race from the earthly sin.