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The Akathist Hymn

By Frederica Mathewes-Green

One of the most beautiful examples of Orthodox hymn-writing is the example known as "the Akathist Hymn." It is concerned with the miracle of Christ's Incarnation, and focuses on the events from Gabriel's announcement of Christ's conception, to the moment aged Symeon receives the infant Christ in his arms.

Because the Feast of the Annunciation always falls in Lent, many Orthodox churches offer this hymn during these weeks, usually in the context of an evening prayer service. If you check the calendar of your local Orthodox church you can probably visit one evening and hear this ancient and beautiful hymn.

The "Akathist Hymn" was written in the early 500's by St Romanos, a Syrian. "Akathist" means "not-seated" ("kath" being a chair or a seat; the "cathedral" is where the bishop's throne is kept). The hymn probably acquired this title when it was chanted by a congregation praying desperately for protection from a hostile army; their urgency was demonstrated by remaining standing the entire time. I haven't been able to find out what Romanos' original title for it was, but I call it "The Annunciation Hymn" to distinguish it from all the other, subsequent, akathists.

In my most recent book, "The Lost Gospel of Mary: The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts" I made a fresh translation of this hymn. Last week on my podcast I read the text, and this week I go over the text in some detail, providing explanation and commentary.

I hope this beautiful hymn brightens your spring.