To Thee, the Champion Leader

The Akathist Hymn, chanted and in Icons, together with the Miraculous Athonite Akathist icon “Panagia of the Salutations the Myrrhgusher” at Holy Monastery Dionysiou 


To Thee, the Champion Leader, we Thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos: but as Thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do Thou deliver us, that we may cry to Thee: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

While the Emperor of Byzantium Heracleios was on an expedition to fight the aggression of the Persians on their own grounds, there appeared outside the walls of Constantinople barbaric hordes, mostly Avars. The siege lasted a few months, and it was apparent that the outnumbered troops of the Queen City were reaching desperation. However as history records, the faith of the people worked the impossible. The Venerable Patriarch Sergius with the Clergy and the Official of Byzantium Vonos, endlessly marched along the great walls of Constantinople with an Icon of the Theotokos in hand, and bolstered the faith of the defenders of freedom. The miracle came soon after. Unexpectedly, as the chronicler narrates, a great storm with huge tidal waves destroyed most of the fleet of the enemy, and full retreat ensued. The faithful of Constantinople spontaneously filled the Church of the Theotokos at Vlachernae on the Golden Horn, and with the Patriarch Sergius officiating, they prayed all night singing praises to the Virgin Mary without sitting. Hence the title of the Hymn “Akathistos”, in Greek meaning ‘not seated’.


The Akathist Hymn is chanted in all Orthodox Churches throughout the world during the five Fridays in the Great Lent, and constitutes a very concrete spiritual preparation for the Holy Week and Easter Services; a ‘staff’ to help us ascend the spiritual steps of the lengthy Lenten period, to finally reach the peak with our Lord’s Glorious Resurrection. 


Panagia herself, appearing to the Saints has said: “I will love, I will protect, and I will shelter every faithful person who greets me every day with the beautiful hymns of My Salutations, and who lives in accordance with the law of God. And on the last day of his life, I will defend him before My Son.”

The Akathist Hymn in Icons

The Laudations of Our Lady of the Akathist

The Akathist to the Mother of God was most probably written by Roman the Melodist in the 6th century and has inspired Iconographers to depict the Akathist in images no less beautiful than the words which inspired them.


Structure of the Hymn; Structure of the Icon




American Icon, bordered by the 24 Stanzas and their corresponding Greek letter



Outer border shows 24 Stanzas; Inner border shows Old Testament Prophecies


The Main part of the Akathist Hymn is comprised of 24 stanzas. The stanzas alternate between long and short. Each short stanza is written in prose and ends with the singing of “Alleluia.” Each longer stanza ends with the refrain: “Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded.”Sometimes “Rejoice” is translated as “Hail”; this is probably closer to the Greek word used (Chaíre – Χαῖρε) and explains the name for the service based on this Hymn (and another name for the Icon): the Salutations of the Theotokos.


The stanzas are arranged in an acrostic following the Greek alphabet. Thus, the first stanza, “An Archangel was sent…”, begins with alpha: “γγελος πρωτοστάτης…” whilst the final stanza, “O All-Praised Mother…”, begins with omega: “ πανύμνητε Μῆτερ…”


Each stanza presents us with a scene, which as they progress cover the themes of the Annunciation, the Nativity, Christ, and the Theotokos herself, in that order. It is these scenes which are depicted around the outer border of most “Akathist Icons”.


The Mother of God: at the centre, but not the focus, of the Icon

Yaroslav, 18th Century


At the centre of the Icon is the Mother of God to whom the Akathist is dedicated. She is surrounded by a number of people, usually between 11 and 15, who hold appear to be bowing down before her, holding scrolls and other objects. These men are various Old Testament Prophets, and the scrolls they hold are their prophecies relating to the Mother of God. The objects they hold are prefigurations of Mary found in the Old Testament Scriptures, but are also some of the titles given to Mary in the Akathist Hymn.

Despite the honour given to her, Mary sits at the centre of the icon directing us to her Son, our God, sitting in her lap.

As in the Icon at the top of the page, where Mary is not holding the infant Christ (Immanuel), then she is sat amid the praise with her hands held deferentially, palms outward, imploring us to give all honour and glory to God. Surrounding Mary’s seat is a mandorla-shaped wreath representing the Tree of Jesse, which climbs up over the Mother of God’s head to blossom forth an image of Christ Immanuel: God Incarnate. (The use of a “mandorla-wreath” to represent the Tree of Jesse is seen in this painted wall of the Sucevita Monastery, built in the 16th century in Romania).

Thus the Theotokos is the subject of the Icon, just as the Akathist is dedicated to her; however, just as the Akathist glorifies God, the focus of the Icon always leads us back to Jesus Christ. In the Akathist, Mary is not just called “All-glorious temple” but “All-glorious temple of Him Who is above the Seraphim” (from Oikos 8, i.e. the 16th Stanza of the Akathist). The praises of Mary are devoid of meaning without Jesus Christ, the Word of God, Who was incarnate within her. Likewise in the Icon inspired by the Akathist, Mary cannot be separated from her Son, shown either seated upon her, or blossoming above her.

Russian Icon (probably 19th Century)


While singing in honour of Your Son, O Mother of God, we all praise you as a living temple; for the Lord who holds all things in His hand dwelt in your womb, and He sanctified and glorified you, and taught all to cry to you: Hail, O Bride unwedded!

Miraculous icon of Panagia of the Salutations, Dionysiou Monastery, Mount Athos  


Holy Monastery Dionysiou – Panagia of the Salutations the Myrrhgusher
“According to an inscription on the back of this icon, it was given as a gift to Saint Dionysius, founder of the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou on Mount Athos, by Emperor Alexios Komnenos, upon his visit to Trebizond in Asia Minor. According to Holy Tradition, this is the same icon that Patriarch Sergius processed around the walls of Constantinople in 626 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Heraclius. At that time Constantinople was attacked by the Persians and “Scythians” (Avars and Slavs) but saved through the intervention of the Most Holy Theotokos. A sudden hurricane dispersed the fleet of the enemy, casting the vessels on the shore near the great Church of the Theotokos at Blachernae near the Golden Horn. The people spent the whole night in front of this icon thanking her for the unexpected deliverance. In memory of this event the Akathist Hymn is chanted in the Orthodox Church.
In 1592 Algerian pirates stole the icon, but after a fierce storm, a frightening dream, and a great miracle, the leader of the pirates was forced to return it to the monastery. They had hid it in a chest, but the icon shattered it and it was drenched in myrrh. Because of this miracle, some pirates repented and entered the monastery to become monastics.
In 1767 certain theives from Dalmatia stole the icon, and upon their return to Dalmatia were apprehended by Greek shepherds who took the icon and brought it to Skopelos. On Skopelos island the Greek community leaders elected by the Turks, known as Dimogerontes, denied to the Dionysian monks from Mount Athos the return of the icon when they came to request its return. After three months Skopelos was punished by a plague which brought great tragedy to the island, and the Dimogerontes repented and had the icon returned to Dionysiou Monastery and also established a metochion for the monastery on the island.
The icon is small and darkened by time. It is housed in a chapel dedicated to the icon at Dionysiou Monastery where the Akathist Hymn is sung daily.” 
Panagia herself, appearing to the Saints has said: “I will love, I will protect, and I will shelter every faithful person who greets me every day with the beautiful hymns of My Salutations, and who lives in accordance with the law of God. And on the last day of his life, I will defend him before My Son.”