On the fifth Saturday of the Great Fast, we celebrate the praise of our Most-holy Lady, the
Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary, during which “it is not permitted to sit.”
The city in thanksgiving and watchfulness doth praise
Her who upholdeth and constantly watcheth in wartime, giving the victory.
In 626, when the Emperor Heraclius of Constantinople was away with the majority of his army
fighting the Persians, the Khan sent forces to attack the Imperial City by land and by sea. PatriarchSergius urged the people not to lose heart, but to trust in God. They made a procession around the city with the Cross of the Lord, the robe of the Virgin, the Icon of the Savior “not made by hands,” and the Hodigitria (“She who shows the Way”) Icon of the Mother of God. The Patriarch dipped the Virgin’s robe in the sea, and the city’s defenders beat back the Khan’s forces. The sea became very rough and many boats sank. The invaders retreated and the people of Constantinople gave thanks to God and to His Most-pure Mother. On two other occasions, in 673 and on the eve of the Annunciation in 718, the Theotokos saved the city and destroyed the Saracen invaders. On the latter occasion, the hymn “To thee, the Champion Leader” was composed, most likely by Saint Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople. A feast day dedicated to the Laudation of the Virgin was established to commemorate these victories, although the Akathist Service to the Mother of God was already in use for the Feast of the Annunciation, together with the hymn “With mystic apprehension.” Use of this Akathist has spread from Constantinople to other Orthodox lands where it holds prominence and honor.
The icon before which this Akathist was sung was given to the Dionysiou Monastery on
Mount Athos by Emperor Alexius Comnenos. There, it began to flow with myrrh. This icon shows the Mother of God seated on a throne, surrounded by the Prophets, holding scrolls, who foretold of the Annunciation and the Incarnation of our Lord. Most authorities agree that this Akathist Hymn is the work of Saint Romanos the Melodist (Oct. 1) in the sixth century. He was born in Homs, Syria and served as a deacon in Beirut, Lebanon before going to Constantinople. Scholars consider this Akathist one of the greatest achievements in ecclesiastical poetry. Orthodox Christians cherish it as one of the most beloved hymns of praise to the Theotokos.
Wherefore, through the intercessions of thy combating Mother who combateth not, O Christ God, deliver us from all afflictions that encompass us, and have mercy upon us, for Thou
alone art the Lover of mankind. Amen.