An akathist (Greek, akathistos) is a hymn dedicated to a saint, holy event, or one of the persons of the Holy Trinity. The word akathist itself means "not sitting”. The name derives from the fact that during the chanting of the hymn, or sometimes the whole service, the congregation is expected to remain standing in reverence, except for the aged or infirm who may sit.
When the word akathist is used alone, it most commonly refers to the original hymn by this name, the 6th century Akathist to the Theotokos.
On the fifth Saturday of Lent, the Byzantine Catholic Churches celebrate this special service in honour of the Mother of God. It is a prayer of veneration, thanksgiving and petition and is an expression of profound joy.
Akathist Saturday does not have any real relation to the Great Fast, but occurs at this time for historical reasons. The melody and profound content of this hymn incorporates the whole teaching of the Eastern Church concerning Mary. In the Akathist we meditate and pray about the privileges, role and graces of the Mother of God in our salvation. As we do so, we realize the power of her intercession and protection. It is difficult for our hearts to remain unmoved at the beauty and profound imagery of this prayer. It is the crown of all the services in honour of Mary in the Eastern Church.
The writing of akathists continues today. Most of the newer akathists are of a generic form imitating the original akathist to the Theotokos into which a particular saint's name is inserted.