Wednesday Lenten Lessons

“The Prayer Language of the Church; its Origin and Meaning”

Lenten Lesson No. 6
by Archpriest Timothy Baclig

I. Review
For the past five weeks our purpose has been to gain a better understanding of the prayer language of the Church. We first addressed “God’s Sovereignty” as a starting point. Second, we examined the language of the prayers that equip us in our spiritual warfare; protecting us from evil acts, and specifically the wiles of The Evil One. Last week, we examined the Church’s prayer language of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

II. The Akathist / Madayeh Prayer Services
This week, we will be taking a look at the intercessory prayer language of the Church’s laudations and salutations of the Holy Virgin
Mother of God as found in the Akathist (Madayeh) and Parakesis Services.
There are four Feasts among the twelve major Feasts on our Church calendar that commemorate the events in the life of the Holy Theotokos: 1) The Annunciation (March 25), 2) The Birth of the Holy Virgin (September 8), 3) Her Presentation in the Jerusalem Temple (November 2), and 4) Her Holy Dormition (“Falling Asleep”) at the end of the Dormition Fast (August 15). There is very little said in the New Testament gospels about the Holy Theotokos. More is found in our Holy Tradition about her, but especially prayers addressed to her in various devotional services, such as Compline. While often done in the church, as “devotional services,” they are not among the services widely known or well attended. Two Byzantine
intercessory devotional prayer services in particular are The Akathist (Madayeh) and The Paraklesis Service, both that are most commonly heard within a period of a fast.

A. The Akathist (Madayeh) prayer service is done on the five Friday evenings of Great Lent within The Service of Compline. Technically, it is not a “Lenten Service,” but found within the season of the Great Fast because is tied to the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25), which 99.99% of the time falls within Great Lent. The (Greek) word Akathistos means “to remain standing.” It is a long poem of the Byzantine tradition written in honor of the Mother of God who was honored as the protector of the great City of Constantinople. While some scholars ascribe its authorship to Patriarch Germanos I (715-730 AD), it has also been ascribed to St. Romanos the Melodist of Beruit.

As an intercessor in times of peril and need, the Holy Theotokos is lauded in the words of the Festal Kontakion of the Annunciation (No. 1), a hymn that is closely connected to the siege of Constantinople and its liberation ascribed to the intervention of the Virgin Mary (626 AD; by Patriarch Sergios):

To thee the champion [“victorious”] leader to I offer thank-offerings of victory. O Theotokos, thou who has delivered me from terror. But as thou that has that power invincible, O Theotokos, thou alone can set me from: from all forms of danger free me and deliver me, that I may cry unto thee: “Hail, O bride without Bridegroom.”

This hymn (Kontakion) has also become known as the “Lenten Kontakion” sung on the Sundays of Great Lent. Such a hymn today bears great relevance to all of our lives that is very vulnerable to all forms of danger. The full body of the main text of the Akathist Hymn is a meditation on the mystery of salvation and the incarnation of Christ. Within the prayers of canon are salutations and laudations to the Mother of God beginning with the word “Hail” or “Rejoice” as heard from the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement. The full body of the prayers bring us into the life of Christ by a contemplation of the Virgin’s faithful obedience and chastity.

We understand the importance of her life and witness as the Mother of God (Theotokos) in terms of the role she fulfilled in our salvation. She is called the “Mediatrix;” the one in whom God became incarnate, and who, by her obedience, participated in a unique way that resulted in our salvation. She was chosen by God because of her life of obedience: She chose to do God’s will and was therefore chosen. She is poetically described in the 3rd Ode as “a heavenly ladder” and “a bridge that leads us from earth to heaven.” In the words of Father Joseph Rahal, editor of the English translation of the service: “We meditate on Christ and His divine person through the viewing glass of the one who gave Him human birth. Her praises, proclaimed as through the voice of the Archangel flow toward the One who is both her Son and her Lord.” And so the prayer of the Archangel becomes our prayer. The Akathist Hymn is therefore an invitation for us to find ourselves in Christ.”

Among the repetitive phrases is, “Most Holy Theotokos save us!” A phrase also used within the petition: “Calling to remembrance our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever Virgin Mary…” heard our litanies. The plea does not interpret the Holy Virgin as our Saviour. She is not a substitute or replacement of the Lord-God who is
our Savior. The prayer only points to her as inextricably united to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to which we are also called to be inseparably united. That union is what made salvation possible: by her being the birth giver of God in the flesh. The petition of the litany that calls our attention to the Virgin Theotokos concludes with the phrase: “…with all the saints, let us
commend [commit] ourselves and our whole life unto Christ our God.” Christ is our Saviour, and the way of salvation was made possible by a Virgin Mother’s faithful obedience.

In the well known Theotokion, the Mother of God is hymned as “… ever blessed and all-blameless,… More honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim… who without corruption bearest God the Word and art truly Theotokos…” Once again, all of these attributes we should understand as what we too are called to be: truly God-bearers, filled with the God’s divine grace as she was; that we also, like she, might “magnify the Lord” and “rejoice in God [our] Saviour.”

As a “protectress,” the Virgin in her maternal role, is spoken of as a strong defender and guardian of all who call upon her help. In Ode 5 of the Akathist she is described as a “shelter” and “stronghold” and “fortress of mankind;” not attributes often ascribed to females. Nonetheless, she is also regarded as one who is endued with “power invincible” (Kontakion). In
a concluding phrase of The Prayer of Paul the Cenobite to the Theotokos in Compline [see last week’s hand-out for the full text of the prayer] we hear:

O all-holy Lady Theotokos, forsake me not in the years of my life, O protection of mankind; but help me and have mercy on me! In thee, O Mother of God, I place all my hope, keep me under thy protection!”

Also in the concluding hymn (Troparion) of Compline on Mondays and Wednesdays, we here this prayer:

O good one, defend by thy mighty hand all those who in faith take refuge in thee; for we sinners burdened by the multitude of sins, have no constant intercessor with God in dangers and sorrows save thee, the Mother of the most high God; wherefore we fall down before thee Rescue thy servants from every calamity.

As a fervent intercessor, the Theotokos is at the forefront of all who intercede for humankind as the “God-bearer;” she who is “full of grace,” and of whom “all of creation rejoices” as “the sanctified temple and spiritual paradise.” These words are found within the hymn of magnification (Megalynarion) of St. Basil the Great:

All of creation rejoices in thee: O full of grace, the assembly of angels and the race of men. O sanctified temple and spiritual paradise, the glory of virgins, of whom God was incarnate and became a child; who is our God before the ages; for He made thy womb into a throne, and thy body more spacious than the heavens! All of creation rejoices in thee: O full of grace, glory to thee!

III. The Supplicatory Canon (Paraklesis) to the Most Holy Mother of God

The Supplicatory Canon to the Most Holy Mother of God are among the numerous prayers that call upon her intercessory role in helping us with our desire to repent of our sins; also calling upon her help and aid. The prayers of the canon are especially said in times of sickness, sorrow and distress. {In the Russian church the equivalent of the Paraklesis is the moleben, or service of intercession or supplication. In the Western Roman Church there are other prayer services, i.e., The Novina and “saying The Rosary” that are somewhat different in character and tone.} It should also be stated that there are other Paraklesis services of intercessory prayer which are also addressed to a specific saint, i.e., the Archangel Michael,
the Holy Great Martyr George, etc.

A Canon is a group of hymns in nine odes of which the Paraklesis Service to the Most Holy Mother of God is one. The Paraklesis to the AllHoly Mother of God is a prayer service of petitions and supplications done each night of the two week fast (August 1-14; alternately: one a “Great Paraklesis” and another a “Small Paraklesis”) that prepares one for the
Feast of the Holy Dormition (“Falling-asleep”) on August 15. However, as a prayer service in a time of need, it can also be done at any other time of the year, in a home, or at other gathering places upon request. The Paraklesis to the All-holy Mother of God is a poem written by the monk Theosterictus (9th c.), but also ascribed to the monk Theophanes. Unlike the Akathist, the Paraklesis is a service with a resemblance to Orthros that stands by itself, and includes the Psalms, hymns and litanies and a Gospel reading.

Sections from this service is printed below (in the “Hand-out;” #6)

In conclusion, the services and Feasts that are dedicated to the Mother of God are not where we begin in teaching a new comer about Orthodoxy. It is part of the “in-house,” and internal mind of the Church that understands the unique salvific role of the Mother of God in our salvation. The importance of her role (as “co-redemptress”), along with the place of
prominence that she has within our worship services and Church iconography helps us to envision the Church and God’s Kingdom as a very large body that comprises many members with relationships: Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins. Herein lies part of the struggle for many who are from broken homes, dysfunctional families, or
who have experienced shattered relationships. And where the struggle is greater, so should our need for the Holy Virgin’s maternal love and intercessions. However, the Body of Christ, the Church, also includes: Spiritual Fathers and mothers, Godparents, Sponsors; also Patriarchs, Prophets, Preachers, Teachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors and Ascetics; all who have made a very, very serious commitment to Christ.

There is no human being who has taken her calling more seriously than the all-holy Mother of God. Her image conveys the attributes of: purity, chastity, obedience, humility, and maternal love. She is the icon of Church as the God-bearer. And as her life demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, she is also the icon of the Holy Spirit (Fr. Alexander Schmemann).

All who struggle in understanding her importance to our life may have very good reasons. It may be the prayer language of the church, the laudations and salutations that are attributed to the Mother of God, and the honor and praise she is given. The struggle, however, is actually what you and I spiritually wrestle with on a day-to-day basis: purity, fidelity, chastity,
obedience, humility, love, patience, self-control to name a few. When we truly desire with all of our heart and soul to acquire these virtues as she did, then we will come into the fullness of our Faith and to the knowledge of Christ’s unapproachable glory. Then we will truly be fluent with a prayer language that focuses our worship of Christ our God, as did His Mother,
and we will be found partakers of life everlasting.

Handout for Lenten Lesson No. 6
The Church’s Prayer Language: Prayers and Intercessions;
Laudations and Salutations to the Holy Theotokos

1. The Festal Kontakion of the Holy Annunciation – March 25 To thee the champion [“victorious”] leader to I offer thank-offerings of victory. O Theotokos, thou who has delivered me from terror. But as thou that has that power invincible, O Theotokos, thou alone can set me from: from all forms of danger free me and deliver me, that I may cry unto thee: “Hail, O bride without Bridegroom.”

2. The Megalynarion of St. John Chrysostom
It is truly meet to call thee blessed, Lady Theotokos; Lady ever greatly blessed and most perfect in innocence and the Mother of our God! Lady more precious than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim; who without corruption nearest God the Word and art truly Theotokos, we magnify thee!

3. From the Service of Compline
O all-holy Lady Theotokos, forsake me not in the years of my life, O protection of mankind; but help me and have mercy on me! In thee, O Mother of God, I place all my hope, keep me under thy protection!”

4. Concluding Hymn of Compline (Mondays and Wednesdays)
O good one, defend by thy mighty hand all those who in faith take refuge in thee; for we sinners burdened by the multitude of sins, have no constant intercessor with God in dangers and sorrows save thee, the Mother of the most high God; wherefore we fall down before thee: Rescue thy servants from every calamity.

5. The Megalynarion of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great
All of creation rejoices in thee: O full of grace, the assembly of angels and the race of men. O sanctified temple and spiritual paradise, the glory of virgins, of whom God was incarnate and became a child; who is our God before the ages; for He made thy womb into a throne, and thy body more spacious than the heavens! All of creation rejoices in thee: O full
of grace, glory to thee!

6. The Supplicatory Canon (“Paraklesis”)
to the Most Holy Mother of God (Theotokos)

Troparion

To God’s Birth-giver let us run now most earnestly, we sinners all and wretched ones, and fall prostrate in repentance; calling from the depths of our souls: Lady come unto our aid, have compassion upon us; hasten thou for we are lost in a throng of transgressions; turn not thy servants away with empty hands. For thee alone do we have as our only hope.

Theotokion

O Theotokos we shall not cease from speaking of all thy mighty acts, all we the unworthy ones. For if thou had not stood to intercede for us, who would have delivered us from numerous dangers? Who would have preserved us all unto now in true freedom? O Lady we shall not turn away from thee; for thou doest always save thy servants from all manner of grief.

Kontakion

O protection of Christians that cannot be put to shame, mediation unto the Creator most constant. O despise not the suppliant voices of those who have sinned; but be thou quick, o good one, to come unto our aid who with faith cry unto thee: Hasten to intercession and speed thou to make supplication, thou who doest ever protect, O Theotokos, this who honor
thee.

O entrust me not, I pray, to any human protection, O our Lady, holy one. But do thou accept the prayer of thy supplicant. Sorrow has fettered me, and I am unable to endure and bear the demon’s darts; a shelter have I not, nor a place to run. I the wretched one; embattled from all sides am I, and no consolation have I but thee; Mistress of creation, protection and
hope of faithful ones; turn not away when I turn to thee; do that which will profit me.

From thee is no one turned away ashamed and empty who doth run to thee for refuge, O pure Virgin Theotokos; but he asketh the favor and receiveth the gift from thee unto the profit of his own request. The transformation of the afflicted and the relief of those in sickness art thou in truth, O Virgin Theotokos. Save thy people and thy flock, thou who art the peace of the
embattled, and who art the calm of the storm driven; the only protection of those who believe.

7. Prayer to the Blessed Theotokos (anonymous)
After Holy Communion

O all-holy Lady Theotokos, light of my darkened soul, my hope, my shelter, my refuge, my consolation and my joy: I thank thee, for that thou has permitted me, unworthy though I be, to be a partaker of the immaculate Body and precious Blood of thy Son, O thou who didst bring forth the true Light, give the light of understanding to the eyes of my heart; O thou who
didst bear the Fountain of Immortality, quicken me who am dead in sin. O compassionate Mother of the merciful God, have mercy upon me, and grant me humility and contrition of heart, and humbleness of mind, and deliverance from bondage to evil thoughts. And permit me, even unto my last breath, to receive, without condemnation, the sanctification of these
Holy Mysteries, unto the healing of both body and soul. Grant me tears of repentance and of confession, that I may hymn thee and glorify thee all the days of my life. For blessed and glorified art thou unto ages of ages.

Amen.