Benedictus Deus

Benedictum Nomen Sanctum eius

The Akathist Hymn

Filed under: Lent,Liturgy,Saints — August 14, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

The wonderful feast of the Assumption reminded me of this other beautiful devotion to our Lady in the Easter churches.  We live about forty minutes from an Greek Orthodox church, and one of our family friends is a member there.  Our friend invited us there a while ago for their Akathist Hymn.  Every Friday evening for the first five Fridays in Lent, the Easterns pray this “hymn”.  I have never been to any Eastern liturgical service before, so I was curious to go.  I was a little hesitant since it seemed like a lot of travel time for a hymn.  I knew that nothing the Greeks do is short, but even if it was a half hour or more, that’s still a lot of driving.  Well, I didn’t need to worry about that.  What they call a hymn, is really a whole service with many prayers and rituals.  It lasted almost two hours!

The Akathist hymn goes back to at least 626, and probably further than that.  It is basically a series of praises and supplications to our Blessed Mother embedded in the middle of Compline.  Byzantine Compline is not much longer than Roman, the vast majority of the service is the hymn.  At the church they had a large, very nice icon of our lady set out in front, with flowers all around it.  At the beginning of the service some young girls in white dresses brought more flowers up to the icon.  There were many Alleluias throughout the service which was a bit jarring for me.  It was already Easter for us, but for the Eastern churches it was still Lent.  Evidently they don’t have the same tradition of suppressing the Alleluia during Lent.

The service itself was very beautiful.  There was plenty of incense, and the whole thing (except a short prayer at the end) was chanted Byzantine style.  The priest alternated between Greek and English.  After the service the faithful can go up and venerate the icon (some people did during the service, and that seemed to be ok too).

My friend very kindly gave me a copy of this book, so I could follow along with the service.  It is quite a nice little volume, and in the introduction the translator notes that one of the first English translations was done in 1934 by Fr. Vincent McNabb (who wrote the Church and the Land among other things).  He quotes Fr. McNabb saying:

“No apology is needed for introducing the ‘Akathistos’ to the Christian West.  Indeed the West might well be apologetic about its neglect, or ignorance of such a liturgical and literary masterpiece!”

The translator also notes that Pope Benedict XIV granted a 50 day indulgence in 1746 for both Eastern and Latin Catholics who recite the hymn.  I think there is still an indulgence today, but it might only apply as an alternative to the rosary for Eastern Catholics.

Even though the public services of this Hymn are a Lenten practice, It seems to me that it would be a great prayer and meditation any time of the year.  Especially Assumptiontide.  So here are some brief excepts to give you a sense of the lovely prayers:

The Archangel was sent from Heaven to say “Hail!” to the Theotokos.  And with his bodiless Voice, beholding You O Lord embodied, he was wonder-rapt and stood crying out to her:

Hail! To You, through whom joy shall shine forth.  Hail! To You, through whom the curse will vanish.

Hail! The recalling of the fallen Adam. Hail! The redemption of Eve’s tears.

Hail! O Height beyond human logic.  Hail! O Depth invisible, even to the eyes of Angels.

Hail! For you are the King’s Throne.  Hail! That you bear Him, Who bears the Universe.

Hail! O star revealing the Sun.  Hail! O Womb of Divine Incarnation.

Hail! To You, through whom creation is renewed.

Hail! To You, through whom the Creator is born a Babe!

Hail! O Bride Ever-Virign.

Most Holy Mother of God, intercede for us.

In faith with voices of song O All-Praised we, sing unto You; Hail O fertile Mountain seasoned by the Spirit. Hail! O Lamp and Vessel containing the Manna, which sweetens the senses of the faithful.

Most Holy Mother of God, intercede for us.

Hail! O all-pure Lady, expiation of the world. Hail! O Ladder, elevating all from earth by Grace. Hail! O Bridge, which truly leads all who praise You from death unto life.

Most Holy Mother of God, intercede for us.

In order that we may greet You with “Hail” O Maiden, deliver all the faithful and partakers of everlasting joy from all temptations, barbaric sieges and every other affliction that befalls us mortal, because of the multitude of our transgressions.

1 Comment

  1. John R:

    “Evidently they don’t have the same tradition of suppressing the Alleluia during Lent.”

    No they don’t as the East considers “Alleluia” applicable at all times since the Redemption. It’s akin to how they use leavened bread as valid matter for the Eucharist to contrast with the unleavened bread of the Old Covenant. The suppression of the “Alleluia” in the West at Septuagesima (they had earlier used it continuously like the East) was one of the earlier contentions between East and West well before the Schism of 1054. That said, it’s not a point either side would consider particularly important for a (hopeful) future reconciliation.

    Sorry I missed joining you for that evening.

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