Agni Parthene

O Virgin pure, immaculate/ O Lady Theotokos
O Virgin Mother, Queen of all/ and fleece which is all dewy
More radiant than the rays of sun/ and higher than the heavens
Delight of virgin choruses/ superior to Angels.
Much brighter than the firmament/ and purer than the sun’s light
More holy than the multitude/ of all the heav’nly armies.
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

O Ever Virgin Mary/ of all the world, the Lady
O bride all pure, immaculate/ O Lady Panagia
O Mary bride and Queen of all/ our cause of jubilation
Majestic maiden, Queen of all/ O our most holy Mother
More hon’rable than Cherubim/ beyond compare more glorious
than immaterial Seraphim/ and greater than angelic thrones.
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

Rejoice, O song of Cherubim/ Rejoice, O hymn of angels
Rejoice, O ode of Seraphim/ the joy of the archangels
Rejoice, O peace and happiness/ the harbor of salvation
O sacred chamber of the Word/ flow’r of incorruption
Rejoice, delightful paradise/ of blessed life eternal
Rejoice, O wood and tree of life/ the fount of immortality.
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

I supplicate you, Lady/ now do I call upon you
And I beseech you, Queen of all/ I beg of you your favor
Majestic maiden, spotless one/ O Lady Panagia
I call upon you fervently/ O sacred, hallowed temple
Assist me and deliver me/ protect me from the enemy
And make me an inheritor/ of blessed life eternal.
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

At the beginning of Vespers in the Eastern rite you can often hear this hymn to the Theotokos. Even though its content is deeply rooted in the tradition of Marian hymnology of the Eastern churches, the hymn itself, contrary to what one may first think, is only about hundred years old. Its author is St. Nectarios of Aegina (1846-1920). In 1889, hieromonk (a monk ordained to the priesthood) Nectarios was consecrated bishop of Pentapolis (the ancient diocese of Cyrenaica in what is now Libya), with the seat in Cairo. His popularity among the people made the local clergy jealous who intrigued to remove him from his post. He returned then to Athens where he became a professor of theology. It was then that he wrote Agni Parthene. According to the legend it happened as follows. Nectarios was praying with a sense of desolation and abandonment by everyone. Suddenly, this sense disappeared and a sense of mysterious peace filled him. At the same time he heard a chant. Having raised his eyes, he saw the Theotokos surrounded by angels, singing to her glory:  “Αγνή Παρθένε Δέσποινα”. The Theotokos told Nectarios to write the hymn down so that people could sing it together with the angels. According to another version of this story, the Theotokos told Nectarios to write a hymn that the angels could sing. Be it as it were, it’s hard not to associate this with the vision of the Mother of God and her spiritual role we heard about from Br. Pawel Rudnicki. According to it, the Theotokos is the “Lady of the Subconscious”, leading out of darkness to the light of Christ. It seems that this was the role this encounter with the Mother of God played in the life of the author of Agni Parthene, who was experiencing a very dark time in his life.

In comparison with the kitschy Western Marian hymns that were written in the same period of time, this hymn strikes us with its theological and mystical depth and above all because its author managed not to make it sweetly sentimental. It’s hard not to think that Western Marian devotion could have taken a totally different shape if it continued the original pattern developed within Eastern Christianity in a greater degree.

And here are several renditions of the hymn we found on the internet:

– in Greek, sung by the Serbian singer, Divna Ljubojević;
sung by Greek Catholic monks from Univ (Ukraine);
sung by Orthodox nuns from Wojnowo (Poland);
in English;
in Arabic;
in Korean;
in Romanian;
in Spanish;
in French

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One Response to Agni Parthene

  1. Mike says:

    Beautiful. Thank you. That is my favorite Marian hymn.

    Peace be with you,
    Mike+

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