priest Stefan Anagnostopoulos
Rejoice, unmarried Bride. And then over and over again: Rejoice, unmarried Bride!
As you know, beloved believers, as you see, in the Great Lent, on each Friday in our Church is sung the Akathist of the Annunciation. The akathist is one of the nicest holy services and in the same time one of the most elevating prayers. The akathist is always linked with the Small Compline.
In the Great Lent when we read the Great Compline, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays the akathist is not read. But it is sung on Fridays and on Saturdays and Sundays is read with the Small Compline. The Akathist of the Annunciation is not read during the Holy Week or during the Bright Week. During the year it is necessarily linked with the Small Compline. Who reads the Akathist of the Annunciation every evening or even in the afternoons or in the mornings, will receive a lot of help from Theotokos.
In the Holy Mountain, which is considered the Garden of Theotokos, She is particularly honoured. For the Athonite monks Theotokos is the only guardian. Blessed we shall be if we get this spiritual feeling. Which means to feel that she is for us as well the only guardian, intercessor and suppliant.
The entire service of the Akathist with the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet relates to us first the Annunciation, the visit the Holy Virgin paid to Elisabeth, who as it is well known, was to give birth to the Honoured Forerunner. The akathist mentions as well the leaping of the baby in Elisabeth’s womb and the words she tells to the Holy Virgin.
Then it tells us about the suspicions of Joseph, the bethroted, who could not understand the great mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word in the womb of the Holy Virgin and afterwards about his unwavering trust in the truth revealed to him by the angel of God.
The akathist describes us briefly the birth of Christ, our Savior, the prosternations of the shepherds and of the magicians. Then the Candlemas, when our Lord was greeted by Simeon the God Receiver, the flee to Egypt and many other things.
Many words of blessing are told to Theotokos by archangel Gabriel, by Joseph, the bethroted, by the shepherds, the magicians, by the heavenly powers and all the Christians who believe in the divinity and humanity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, incarnated from the Holy Spirit through the intercession of the Holy Virgin Mary.
Our answer to these words of blessing is : Rejoice unmarried Bride! But what does it mean `rejoice, unmarried Bride!`? The bridegroom is here in the akathist God, the Father. His Bride is Mary, the Holy Virgin as long as she is the one who gave birth to the Son and the Word of God, who is consubstantial with the Father, as God and Man, in the person of Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church.
But Theotokos is `unmarried Bride` and She is indeed unmarried because she gave birth to Christ without man, from the Holy Spirit. How Christ the true God entered the womb of the Virgin it remains an incomprehensible mystery for our poor limited minds.
Incomprehensible is the way of procreation even for the angels and archangels and for all the other celestial powers. Only God knows the way He used for this procreation and for becoming Man, perfect man, without ceasing to be perfect God, God-Man Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
That is why, my brothers, the Christian who utters regularly with the rosary : Most Holy Mother of God, save us ! or Rejoice, unmarried Bride! that one will receive plenty of grace and he shall be blessed with a plenty of spiritual fortune and of course his demands are heard. In the tradition of our Church it has been preserved the following miraculous happening about the power the akathist has.
Long time agi, around the year 1800, there were many robbers, as it is well known, and they hid at crossroads and attacked the travelers. One of these who was a chief of robbers asked his comrades to stand at a crossroad where were passing many travelers from one town to another. And the robbers attacked these travelers and robbed them of their belongings. They did not do them any harm, they did not hurt them, they did not beat them, they only took their money and let them leave.
Once a holy monk passed through that crossroad. The robbers stopped him but because they did not have what to take from him they let him leave. But the monk did not leave, he asked the robbers to take him to their chief. Those people asked him:
What do you want from him?
I want to tell him something important. After a short time a very rich merchant will pass through this place with a lot of diamonds. And I want to tell to your chief how that man is dressed so that you can catch him easily.
And the robbers did that not for his sake but for the sake of the fortune they hope to catch. They took him to their chief. When the monk met him he told him to call all his people. The chief of the robbers gave that order and everybody came there.
`But one is missing`, the monk said. `Bring him here too!`
`He cannot come because he is cooking our lunch.`
`It is not possible, you must bring that one too!`
Then the captain sent one of his men to call that one, but he didn’t want to come so he was taken by force and brought before the monk. As soon as the cook saw the monk he did not want to look at him. And the monk did not look at him either. All of a sudden the cook started to tremble. Then the monk asked him:
`Why are you trembling, cook?`
That one being forced confessed that he was a demon and turned into a man to follow that captain of robbers.
That robber had a good habit: he used to pray to Theotokos every day. And how he prayed? He read Her Akathist at noon and in the evening. He took that habit from his mother since he had been a small child, when he had leanrt by heart the entire akathist. Later when he deviated from the good path and became a robber he continued to say the Akathist. So Theotokos was always near him and protected him. She protected him because She was waiting for an opportunity to save him. She was waiting to bring him to repentance, to make him change his life and save his soul.
The demon who made himself cook was sent by his chief to kill him and take his soul to hell. But he could not do it because he was impeded by the Akathist of Theotokos. He was waiting for an opportunity when the robber would have forgotten to say it. The he would have been found, without the protection of the Holy Mother of God, the devil would have caused a quarrel among robbers because of the division of the spoil and they would have killed their chief and the devil would have taken his soul to hell. But Theotokos protected him. She protected him due to Her Akathist.
Although that one was a robber, he was not a killer. Although his life was wicked, bad, pagan, God, Who does not want the death of the sinner but to see him come back and be alive and Who heard the prayers of Theotokos, gave him the chance to save his soul.
As soon as the robber heard that confession of the demon-cook he got enlightened. He realized his great sins and repented and saved his soul. His repentence moved the other robbers and by the advice of that holy monk they all were guided to the great sacrament of the mercy of God, to the holy sacrament of Confession. And after they corrected their deeds giving back what they had stolen, they all saved their souls. The Akathist of Theotokos saved them.
Therefore my beloved, the Akathist of the Annunciation has a great significance for our salvation when we read it or we say it every evening with piety. We receive prompt help in our daily effort and strive for defeating our passions, for defeating the evil, the sin and the devil.
Theotokos always urges us and tells us: Call me! Call me! Call my name and I shall always help you. Call me by saying: `Most Holy Mother of God, help me!` or `Most Holy Mother of God, help us!` Or `save me` or `save us`
This invocation is also a liturgical hymn, because every time we utter the name of Theotokos at the Holy Liturgy, at Vespers or Matins, the psalters answer by saying: `Most Holy Mother of God, save us!`
And I shall come – she promises to us – and I shall help you in your needs, in the temptations of your life, in all your troubles, in all your afflictions and sorrows. I shall always be beside you. And when I die I shall be your intercessor and I shall protect you of the unmerciful demons. And at the Second Coming of My Son and the Judge of All I shall be by your side as well.
Beloved Christians, let us love this prayer of the Akathist and always call the name of Theotokos and She will open the gates of heaven and will save us. I wish you all to be worthy of this happiness. Amen.