Mary, the Ever-Virgin, the Theotokos (God-bearer), and the Mother of God, plays a unique role in our salvation history and in our liturgical life. We constantly call on her intercession at every Divine Service, everyday, every season, every year. She is not a goddess; she is not the fourth person of the Holy Trinity.
 
We do not worship her; we worship God alone.
 
We pray to ask her to pray for us.
 
She is known under many titles and we honor and venerate her icons and celebrate her feasts.
 
We also remember her in connection with the life of Jesus Christ, her Son, from the Annunciation and His birth through the Paschal Mystery of His Passion, Death, Burial, and Resurrection. She is the Mother of God, because she bore the incarnate God, not because she is the source of God. That would be preposterous. The Church has honored her from the time of the Apostles, for she is the Mother of the Church, as well, and we place ourselves under her protection. The feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos is celebrated within or near the Great Fast and Pascha, as it falls nine months before Christmas. (We will hear more about this next week as the feast falls on Wednesday of the Sixth Week this year.)
 
 
Within the Byzantine tradition, the service of the Akathist (meaning not sitting, the normal position of prayer) is a hymn to the Trinity, a saint, the Cross, or a holy event.
 
The original Akathist composed in the sixth century (possibly by Roman the Melodist) is dedicated to the Theotokos and is the best known of Akathists. In some churches, one fourth of the Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God is sung on each of the first four Fridays of Lent during the "Salutations to the Theotokos" service. Then on the Fifth Friday the entire hymn is sung. It is sometimes sung at Matins of the Fifth Saturday, as well.
 
The themes of the four divisions correspond to the Annunciation, to the Nativity, to Christ, and to the Theotokos. In the original Greek the stanzas are alphabetical poetry, something which is lost on us who don't read Greek. The hymn is also sung throughout the year at various times and places, especially pilgrimages. (Some information is from Orthodoxwiki.org, a good source for Eastern topics.)
 
First Oikos of the Akathist
 
An Archangel was sent from heaven to greet the Theotokos, and as he saw You assuming a body at the sound of his bodiless voice, O Lord, he stood rapt in amazement and cried to her in these words:
 
Rejoice, O you through whom joy will shine forth;
Rejoice, O you through whom the curse will disappear!
Rejoice, O Restoration of the fallen Adam;
Rejoice, O Redemption of the tears of Eve!
Rejoice, O Peak above the reach of human thought;
Rejoice, O Depth even beyond the sight of angels!
Rejoice, O you who have become a kingly throne;
Rejoice, O you who carries Him Who carries all!
Rejoice, O Star who manifests the Sun;
Rejoice, O Womb of the divine Incarnation!
Rejoice, O you through whom creation is renewed;
Rejoice, O you through whom the Creator becomes a Babe!
 
The refrain is "Hail, Bride without bridegroom!" or "Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!"
 
Most holy Theotokos, save us! 
 
I also want to share some words of Bishop +John Kudrick of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma in their newspaper, Horizons.(March 1, 2015)
It is a clear explanation of the Great Fast with good images.
 
Voice of the Shepherd - Great Lent - punishment?
 
An eye for an eye is one of the strongest human instincts. Sometimes, we ascribe this to God. He has every right to punish us for our misdeeds. We could echo the words of the Good Thief: “After all we deserve it.” (Luke 23:41)
 
Some consider the Great Fast as a period of punishment in response to our sins. They see the disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving as ways to condition us to not repeat them. They make God a vengeful person, Whose desire it is that we submit to Him and remember “Who is in charge.”
 
This really does not seem to be Jesus’ plan for humanity. He explicitly refuted the “eye for an eye” strategy in dealing with those who injure us. (Matthew 5:38) The Great Fast repeatedly calls us to ask for and accept forgiveness from God and from each other.
 
If we accept the Great Fast as punishment, we see ourselves in a prison of sorts. Just like those in penitentiaries with other convicts, we would realize that the good of others will be for our own good, our own safety, and Jesus’ words about love of others becomes self-preservation.
 
Jesus showed on the Cross that the suffering of life - and especially of the Lenten disciplines - has nothing to do with deserving punishment. The sinless Son of God suffered alongside the offenders of the law. Jesus Himself showed how the Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving relate us to Himself. He prescribes them for us as a healing of the distance which we find ourselves from Him and a plan of life that will keep us on track to Him.
 
 
Rather than a prison, a better image for understanding the Great Fast would be “boot camp” at the beginning of a soldier’s service. It is an introduction (or in our case, a reminder) of what is expected throughout one’s service. Unlike the convict, the soldier realizes that his relationship to a fellow soldier is not only good for him, but is appropriate to the mission to which we commit. One could easily imagine his loved ones saying, “As often as you do good to a fellow soldier, you do it for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Our Great Fast can be a great healing. But, like foul-tasting medicine or the painful exercises of a physical therapist, the healing comes with a little suffering and requires our participation.
 
As Pascha will conclude our Lenten journey, full union with God awaits us if we allow the healing.


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