The Akathist was a Byzantine hymn of praise to the Mother of God for saving Constantinople from the Persians and Avars in 626. The word is derived from the Greek akathistos, meaning “unseated,” because it is sung while standing.

The Akathist was originally performed at the church service celebrating the Annunciation at the Church of Blachernae in Constantinople. In the eleventh century, the hymn was included in the morning service of praise to the Virgin Mary in the fifth week of Lent. Translated into Slavonic by St Clement of Ohrid in the tenth century, the Akathist spread to Russia in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Several Russian saints reported visions of the Virgin when listening to the Akathist.

The Akathist consists of an opening hymn to the Mother of God, followed by twenty-four stanzas consisting of interchanging short (kontakion) and long (ikos) chants. The words are based on Gospel accounts of the lives of Mary and Jesus, apocryphal texts and early Christian legends, covering such events as the Annunciation, Visitation, Revelation to Joseph, Worship of the Shepherds, Adoration of the Magi, Flight into Egypt and the Presentation in the Temple.

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