AUTHOR’S MEMO

Author’s Memo #1

Re: Batch 24

The word Akathist in the title of this publication is used as a label for orientation rather than an accurate classification of content. Both in the translation of hymns into English and in the writing of new hymns in English, there is not puritan adherence to a prototype. This is probably due to the differences in the structure of languages and norms of usage, as well as writers’ unawareness of the exact poetic format.

The Akathist, in any variation, contains essential knowledge about Christianity: biblical, theological, historical and biographical. This knowledge seems to pour forth not just academically, but from the writer’s devotion to God and the saints. Perhaps it is the sheer length of the Akathist (using 13 parts as a standard) that lends itself to development of a theme as well as creativity within certain limits.

Regarding format, it is said that the Akathist should include a scenario (Kontakion), followed by an affirmation of faith or explanation of doctrine (Ikos), and then followed by praises and supplications (verses written in couplets). The format breaks down regarding the numbers of these parts, the alphabetical order of the Kontakia, the mechanics and usage of English (especially traditional or archaic English), and the appropriate treatment of language for worship. We might also say that the terms Kontakion and Ikos have lost any connection to their historical meaning(s). Nowadays, in Akathist hymns and for English speakers, these terms mean simply: paragraphs focused on a topic.

The hymns in this blog are therefore approximations to or adaptations of the Akathist hymn. In other words, they are compositions written in a format of focused paragraphs followed by verses of praise and supplication. Primary attention is given to sentence structure, word choice, and the literary device of alliteration. It will be immediately noticed that these hymns do not contain exclamation points or the reverential O. These techniques seem often overused: cumbersome to constantly pronounce or express, as well as an interruption of the flow of meaning. My preference (in the first several hymns, at least) is to try to use language itself to express awe and reverence, as well as to describe, portray, define and impart a message.

The content of these hymns is meant to be studied or prayed. The emphasis is on education and devotion. It is assumed that the reader will use these hymns alone in his or her prayer life at home. The Christian is often alone in our society, seeking strength and comfort in the Bible and various prayer books. There are many religious books and blogs in current publication, and this blog is now added to that long list of options. May God guide each one of us as we work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12).

Author’s Memo #2

Re: Batch 25

The Akathists in this batch are written in honor of six saints.  The writing of an Akathist to a saint is largely a fact-based process: finding and paraphrasing biographical material, adding devotional statements, and making theological connections where applicable.  It is much easier than writing Akathists to Jesus Christ or to the Theotokos, because there is less biblical and doctrinal knowledge to research and double-check for accuracy.

The challenge, however, is to present biographical details in a manner that is not dry, or not overly technical with reference to the names of every person and place related to the saint’s life.  When ample material is available, some of it must be omitted for the sake of a smooth and thematic Akathist.  In these instances, part of the artistic task is to select and combine material into a poetic and meaningful piece.  For this reason, and in the author’s opinion, it would certainly be appropriate for more than one Akathist to be written to the same saint.

Added to the challenge of sorting and shaping biographical details is the balancing of the chronological order of the material with the thematic organization of meaning.  Generally, the Akathists in this volume proceed sequentially according to the events in the saint’s life, but there are instances in which a biographical detail was repositioned because it fit into the spiritual theme of the particular paragraph or grouping of verses.

Some of the saints represented in this blog may have already been honored with Akathist hymns.  However, as mentioned above, when plentiful biographical material is widely available, one Akathist cannot possibly contain every perspective on the saint’s life or every devotional statement creatively and worshipfully possible.  If any Akathist contained every detail, then it would no longer be an Akathist (i.e., a poem) but a biography such as one would find in books on the lives of saints. Moreover, if any Akathist became standardized simply because it was the first Akathist written on that saint or topic, then the standard would be based on a first-come-first-served basis among writers and not on the quality or suitability of the writing.

In instances of writing about saints who have already been written about, the Akathists in this blog were not written as a matter of competition but because of the author’s interest in the saint and as an expression of faith.  It seems reasonable that there could be multiple Akathists to address particular qualities or emphasize certain educational points which emanate from the life of the saint.  The reader is free to choose whatever or whichever promotes his or her life of prayer, or from versions which have been sanctioned by a church or religion, or perhaps to own all versions for a more comprehensive appreciation of the saint or topic. In this sense, everything is written and read in one spirit and in unity of Church.

The ultimate quest in these hymns is to tell a story poetically.  Each Akathist tells the story of a unique life, of a soul, who walked this earth and who strove to please God in all things and in all ways.  May this blog testify to the boundless creativity and incomprehensible mercy of God the Creator and Father of us all, as He works His wonders through the lives of His saints and to the benefit of our edification and salvation.

Author’s Memo #3

Re: Batch 829

There were two aspects of writing Akathists that had to be weighed in Volume 3: the capitalization of personal titles, and repetition in word choice. The resolution to these difficulties seems to involve developing a balance between consistency and flexibility in one’s writing skills.

The writing of an Akathist hymn presents a problem in the capitalization of proper names or titles. Some names are easily capitalized as a matter of the rules of English grammar: God, Christ, Holy Spirit, Theotokos. However, descriptive titles present a challenge in showing respect as well as attempting to convey theological accuracy. Therefore, we encounter the capitalization of some descriptive titles: Immortal God, Jesus Christ our King, Life-Giving Trinity (but: Passion-bearer Gleb).

While some people argue for the deity of the Theotokos (since she conceived through the Holy Spirit and carried Christ in her womb), I have chosen to distinguish her from the Godhead and therefore I have not capitalized her descriptive titles: holy Theotokos, blessed Mother of God, immaculate Virgin Mary. However, I have capitalized titles which refer to her specific capacities and which are proper names: Protectress, Directress, Mediatress.

It gets more complicated regarding the creative but appropriate use of language for worship. Do we refer to God as the Author of Life, or the Author of life, or the author of life? In such instances, it would seem that all three versions are possible. While there must be general rules of grammar and cohesion of style, each Akathist hymn might also contain slight variations of capitalization. Each Akathist has to be viewed as a whole piece; as a unique environment of grammar, words, and meanings. There has to be room for poetic flexibility.

A basic goal in the writing of Akathists might be: consistency without rigidity, and flexibility without disarray.

Akathist hymns also present a challenge in word choice. How do we choose words which are appropriate for worship? Some words are quite handy and there is a tendency among writers (myself included) to repeat these words from one Akathist to another: harbor, haven, lamp, flame. Words such as these are descriptive and expressive, and it is very difficult to find other words with the same meaning and imagery. We understand these words. They express truth and enable us to approach spiritual topics. That is, they are expressions of our faith and devotion.

The problem is that over-reliance on these words causes Akathist hymns to become generic and to border on plagiarism. The options are to use these words sparingly and within the context of a creative sentence or verse, or to eliminate them completely. In the quest for greater creative expression, however, care has to be taken not to produce awkward or absurd combinations of words. In a well-written Akathist hymn, a couple or even a few common words might not negatively affect the overall quality of the hymn.

Another goal might be: cautious and creative recycling of words which are common yet expressive.

Most of all, in our desire to be of service to the Church, let us pray for inspiration and guidance.

Author’s Memo #4

Re: Batch 828

 There are nine matters which have become ripe for discussion since my last memo. These matters, as usual, are noticed during the writing process and have to be grappled with — for there is no guidebook on how to write Akathists.

1) There are certain adjectives or phrases which appropriately describe Jesus Christ, such as “rich mercy to the lowly.” The question is whether some of these phrases could also be used to describe the saints, or if descriptions of Christ should be used exclusively for Christ since He is  Divine and the Son of God.

Some phrases, indeed, are appropriate to Christ only, such as “making beautiful those who worship You.” We do not worship the saints, but we could say that each saint is an example of “rich mercy.” It would seem, inasmuch as the saints became like Christ, or became deified, that there could be some overlapping of descriptive words and phrases. Christ is merciful, and all people are to be merciful like Him.

2) There is something peculiar about the writing of Akathists and the tendency to use lengthy sentences. In some Akathists of the past, this tendency may have been used as a poetic arrangement, or it may have been a matter of ungrammatical writing, or a matter of the differences in the grammar and usage of other languages. In many instances, these lengthy sentences obstructed the connection of thoughts and the flow of meaning.

However, it does seem that one thought is connected to another and then to another and another. It might be more of a weaving of meaning than a flowing of meaning and, like in all weavings, you start in one place and end up in another. Yet, there must also be a quest for coherence and for a finished product which is balanced and whole within itself.

The solution to the lengthy sentence is to break it apart into two or three separate sentences. This sometimes creates a further problem, because the new sentences might sound and appear choppy. In other words, it is not always a matter of replacing commas with periods. Sometimes, the whole paragraph has to be re-worked.

Still another option is to find a way to use the lengthy sentence as a poetic arrangement within itself. This would have to be done skillfully and with full command of language and the connection of thoughts. Moreover, such sentences would need to be used along with both standard and short sentences. Otherwise, the fluency of the Akathist would likely become obstructed, tedious, and the meaning lost.

3) Not too many years ago, this would not have been a problem: the use of masculine nouns and pronouns to represent both men and women. When we read the word mankind, we know that it refers to all people as species or creation. The same is true, or used to be true, in certain uses of the word men. Likewise, the use of he and his was, depending upon the sentence, generic for both men and women or inclusive of women.

Personally, I am not against the old-fashioned usage of English, for I understand usage as meaning and not as preference for one gender over the other. Yet, I do find some instances in which the use of men and women or sons and daughters adds emphasis or deeper impact. I have also started to use humankind instead of mankind in some instances, but only when I feel it suits both meaning and impact. I do not use these words to make a political statement.

It is a little more difficult with the use of fathers and forefathers. Again, these are inclusive words, and it becomes cumbersome or wordy to have to specify fathers and mothers or forefathers and foremothers in every instance. The task of writers  is to decide how to manage the point they are trying to make and to use language poetically and prayerfully – again, in the absence of any guidebook or genuine prototype in English.

4) There is also the question of whether to capitalize fathers in reference to the Fathers of the Church. Some writers capitalize apostles and some do not. Nobody capitalizes saints or martyrs. Grammatically, fathers and apostles should always be capitalized when referring to specific or aforementioned individuals or groups. If I were to say that Peter went to the tomb, I could then add that the Apostle stooped down, because Apostle in this instance refers directly back to Peter. In other words, Peter and Apostle are the same person and both words refer to him specifically as proper nouns. Generally, however, apostles probably should not be capitalized, just as the words saints and martyrs are not capitalized (unless used as a title: Saint Peter, the Martyr Agnes).

The capitalization of fathers is more debatable, whether one is referring to fathers as inclusive of the desert fathers, Church fathers, and other saints who could be regarded as our spiritual fathers in the Faith, or whether one is referring only to those fathers who were academically or doctrinally theologians and whom we study as the Fathers of the Church.

 5) There is some tension, or perhaps coordination, between writing in presence tense or past tense. The canonized saints, of course, lived in the past and there is a tendency to speak of them as having done this or that. Yet, the saints are with us in present time, and there is also a tendency to speak of them as though alive and doing this or that.

There should be consistency of the tenses. Nevertheless, a purposeful alteration of the tenses is a way to express time and eternity as well as to symbolize a shift from the actual past deeds of the saint to our current praises of and supplications to the saint.

6) In researching the lives of saints, it seems often to be said of them that, in their youth, they read the Bible and edifying books. I have wondered, in the early centuries of the Church before the printing press was invented, how these saints obtained books. They could only have had handwritten documents. But, I suspect that some of them did not have access to very much reading material, and that the reading of books was attributed to them in honor of their virtuous character or perhaps as a pedagogical technique. Although I think reality and accuracy are certainly important, I have followed suit inasmuch as I think it is harmless to encourage people to read appropriate books. If those saints had lived in later centuries, they most likely would have studied books as a part of their spiritual growth. Spiritually and poetically, we understand the meaning behind the mention of books.

7) Having written several Akathists at this point, I have had opportunities to develop different patterns and styles of verses. But first, let me reiterate that all verses are written in couplets. So, if there are 12 verses (the 13th verse always being repeated), then there are 6 couplets. Each verse of the couplet says the same thing but in a different way, or the second verse of the couplet complements the first verse in some way.

Now, there seem to be three basic ways to write verses: (A) according to a pattern, (B) freestyle, in which the verses are varied in style and seem somewhat spontaneous, and (C) semi-pattern, or a partial pattern within an otherwise freestyle arrangement.

As an example of a simple pattern, the verses in the Akathist to Saint John of Kronstadt, Miracleworker, basically run: AA, BB, AA, BB, AA, BB, R.

A different pattern is found in the Akathist Asking God for Faith in which the verses basically run: AB, AB, CC, AB, AB, CC, R.

There are other Akathists in which there is no discernible pattern except for the fact of the couplets. Then, there are still other Akathists in which, for example, the first 8 verses (4 couplets) might be written freestyle and the final 4 verses (2 couplets) might be written in a pattern.

 Also, the arrangement of verses can vary from one section of the Akathist to another: they can be repeated as pattern, freestyle, or semi-pattern.

 For example, the pattern of verses under Ikoi 1, 2, 3, 4, might be repeated under Ikoi 5, 6, 7, 8, and then again under Ikoi 9, 10, 11, 12, creating a format of a patterned Akathist in its entirety. In other words, the sections of the Akathist have been divided into patterned sequences of thirds.

Such patterns, of the verses and of the sections of the Akathist, can be varied in numerous ways. Not only does this enrich the content of the Akathist, the flowing or weaving of the words and sentences and the connection of thoughts, but it contributes to the writing of more and different Akathists on the same topic or to the same saint.

8) As mentioned above, the verses of the Akathist are written in couplets. I found myself writing in what I will call quads. Normally, couplets would run something like: 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, etc., with 1a and 1b being a couplet, and 2a and 2b being a couplet. Now, in a quad, the couplets, or the course of thought or sequence in meaning, run: 1a, 2a, 1b,2b .

Here is an example of a quad from the Akathist Asking God for Faith:

 1a — Glory to You, for You are compassionate and abundant.

2a — Glory to You, for we repent of our malice and wastefulness.

1b — Glory to You, for You are all-knowing and all-seeing.

2b — Glory to You, for we renounce our conceit and biases.

 

In a typical couplet arrangement, these verses would have run:

1a — Glory to You, for You are compassionate and abundant.

1b — Glory to You, for You are all-knowing and all-seeing.

2a — Glory to You, for we repent of our malice and wastefulness.

2b — Glory to You, for we renounce our conceit and biases.

All the verses in each section of the Akathist Asking God for Faith  are written in a pattern of quad, couplet, quad, couplet. The quad is a variation of the couplet, and gives the writer further flexibility in the organization of words, precision in meaning, and evoking worship.

9) Finally, each Akathist has a life of its own. What is appropriate to one Akathist, in terms of style, might not be workable in the exact same way in another Akathist. Although there are rules of grammar and standards of good writing, the Akathist is basically a poem — and poetry involves a specialization of usage and style quite different from a book or essay. To some extent, the rules are not necessarily broken but artistically modified to create form and develop meaning.

As disciples of Christ and as readers or writers  of Akathists, let us thank God for language and worship.

Disclaimer

The author cannot guarantee that the contents of these Akathist Hymns are free of errors, and the author is not responsible for any such errors. Each reader is responsible for forming their own assessment of the accuracy of content.

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These Akathist Hymns may be reproduced in part or in whole and redistributed by not-for-profit organizations and churches. Individuals may reprint these Akathist Hymns for personal study and prayer. These Akathist Hymns may be reprinted in any useful and respectful manner, although credit must not be taken for the texts which are original to the author.

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