Value Of Spiritual Perfection In The Metaphorical Symbolism Of The Akathist


At the turn of the 20th ‒ 21st centuries, drastic socio-political changes revive the role of religion and the Church in social life. The religious style, which is part of the functional and stylistic paradigm of the modern Russian language, has been progressively studied. Religious consciousness is recognized as an important extralinguistic factor that forms the religious style. The religious consciousness tends to appeal to spiritual values and operate with abstract concepts. The need to convey transcendental meanings in an understandable verbal form determines such a stylistic feature of the religious style as symbolization. The allegorical method of explication of non-material religious phenomena is implemented in religious texts by certain language means. Cognitive metaphors, which allow replacing complex abstract spiritual concepts with descriptions of specific (familiar) material objects or phenomena, are of great importance. Symbolization is implemented in all genres of the religious style. This paper attempts to classify cognitive metaphors used to create a description of the spiritual perfection of a holy person, using the example of akathist texts dedicated to Orthodox saints. The analysis of texts has allowed allocating a few groups of metaphors that reflect the features of religious, including axiological, as well as heuristic and physiological perception of the world. Spiritual perfection as an abstract concept of religious consciousness acquires material outlines in the texts of akathists. Each group of metaphors reveals a specific aspect of the multifaceted phenomenon of the spiritual world.

Keywords: Religious style, genre, akathist, value, metaphor


Axiological assumptions of the akathist as a genre of religious style reflect the system of values of the religious worldview. The Gospel of Matthew says: "Be as perfect as your heavenly Father" (Matt, 5:48). Spiritual perfection becomes a conceptual value for a man of faith that is a way to save soul for eternal life. Craving for salvation, as well as the idea of duality (coexistence of two worlds ‒ the sacred and the profane), inherent in religious consciousness (Itskovich, 2015), are projected on the constructive principle of religious style ‒ "absolutism within the boundaries of the hierarchical dichotomy of the earth and the sky" (Kupina & Matveeva, 2017, p. 19). Proto-textuality, as a special constructive dominant of the religious style, determines "the continuity of methods of textual processing of the worldview concepts put forward" (Itskovich, 2018, p. 9).

The very first akathist was created as a unique hymn of praise to the most Holy Theotokos. Sanctity and spiritual perfection become the object of glorification of the original text. Subsequent texts retain their laudatory specificity. The fundamental intention of praise (Itskovich, 2018) is realized in the texts of akathists in accordance with the peculiar stylistic feature of the religious style ‒ "symbolization of the sacred world and the spiritual state of man" (Kozhina, 2018, p. 134), which allows explaining the abstract through the specific by means of metaphors.

The effect of metaphor as a language means extends from the field of linguistics to the field of cognitive processes. In the texts of akathists, metaphors become "a means of cognizing reality" (Popova & Kurochkina, 2015) and ensure "the unity of cognitive schemes and verbal expression" (Fauconnier, 1994). Metaphorical structuring of "one concept in terms of another" (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003), that is the concept of spiritual perfection in language means of subject-specific semantics, becomes a functional and stylistic feature of the akathist.

Problem Statement

The religious functional style has recently become the object of academic research. Not all genres of the religious style are completely described and analyzed. For example, the genre of akathist is poorly studied. The problem of the akathist's originality, associated with such stylistic feature of the religious style as symbolization of abstract religious concepts, was indicated as early as in the 19th century by the researcher of Church hymnography Popov (2013): "Church singer" <needs> "to express the spiritual in a material image that would not put bounds to the former, and once this tangible image shapes the spiritual, <...> it would disappear like husk together with its distinct physical features and limitations" (pp. 87-88). Authors of akathists actively use "metaphorical representations" (Gibbs, 2008) of abstract spiritual concepts. Studying the texts of akathists makes it necessary to classify metaphors into groups on the basis of their linguistic-mental correlation with a certain concept of religious consciousness. The present article attempts to describe spiritual perfection as a conceptual value of a holy person addressed by the akathists.

Research Questions

The research subject is represented with the metaphorical symbolism of akathists dedicated to Orthodox saints, which transmits the value of spiritual perfection of a holy person.

In akathists, metaphors do not serve as a figural means, but as a way of understanding an abstract concept. The research task assumes covering a number of important questions. How are metaphors used in the akathist genre? What metaphors perform the functions of "translators" from the abstract sphere to the material one?

If representation of a spiritual concept is expressed by different groups of metaphors, what features of an abstract concept does each group of metaphors reveal? Do groups of metaphors that provide understanding of the unfamiliar through the familiar relate to the peculiarities of perception of the surrounding world?

Purpose of the Study

The research purpose consists in studying and describing the metaphorical symbolization of the value of spiritual perfection in the texts of the akathists dedicated to Orthodox saints. The following tasks have been set to achieve the purpose:

description of the metaphors denoting the holy persons addressed by the akathists;

classification of the metaphors according to the identified differential features;

determining the conditionality of groups of metaphors by the peculiarities of human perception of the world.

Research Methods

The analysis is based on the material of akathist texts dedicated to Orthodox saints. About 150 texts have been studied. The research methods include continuous sampling, taxonomic description, linguistic and cultural analysis.


Let us turn to research results. Comprehension of spiritual perfection in the texts of the akathists is based on metaphors that are as close as possible to material perception. People cognize the world using various senses. In accordance with the specifics of sensory perception, the following types of metaphors are used in akathist texts: metaphors of visual perception; metaphors of auditory perception; metaphors reflecting the olfactory way of perception, metaphors of taste perception and metaphors of tactile perception.

Visual perception is represented with the metaphors of light: (Akathist to All the Holy who shone forth in the land of Russia); (Akathist to the Holy Martyr Galaktion of Vologda); (Akathist to the Holy Martyr Grand Duchess Elisaveta Feodorovna). "Light" metaphors also include the metaphors of fire (flame): (Akathist to Blessed Ambrose of Optina); (Akathist to St. Demetrius of Rostov); (Akathist to St. Basil the Great).

The metaphors of fire can also be referred to the group of tactile perception metaphors, since they most often contain the seme of heat: (Akathist to Blessed Moses the Hungarian); (Akathist to the Martyr Hermogenes, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia).

Another group is represented with the metaphors of auditory perception, which convey a state of spiritual perfection through sounds. "Sound" metaphors include descriptions of musical instruments:, (Akathist to St. Cyril and St. Methodius); (Akathist to the Holy Great Martyr Demetrius of Thessaloniki); (Akathist to Blessed Ephimius of Suzdal). The metaphors denoting the sound of human voice or bird singing are also used: (Akathist to St. John Chrysostom); (Akathist to the Blessed Fathers, Shone on the Holy Mount of Athos).

Metaphors that reflect the olfactory features of perception are explicated through the description of a special fragrance and its source: (Akathist to St. Xenia of Saint Petersburg, fool-for-Christ); (Akathist to St. Seraphim of Sarov); (Akathist to the Blessed Grand Duchess Euphrosyne of Moscow).

Metaphors that symbolically transform taste perception are represented by two types. Some autonomous metaphors based on tactile features are also used: (Akathist to Blessed Arsenius of Novgorod);, (Akathist to Saint Alexy, Metropolitan of Moscow and all Russia). There are also complex metaphors that combine associations based on synchronous tactile-auditory perception:- (Akathist to St. Daniel the Stylite);- (Akathist to St. Nina, Enlightener of Georgia).

The group of metaphors based on sensory perception is supplemented by metaphors from the world of living and inanimate nature, which are represented as objects of perceptual knowledge. Let us consider a group of metaphors from the world of living nature. Saints are compared to birds: (Akathist to the Holy Martyr Tatiana); (Akathist to Blessed Euphrosyne of Polotsk) (Akathist to All the Saints pleasing God from everlasting). Saints are compared to plants: (Akathist to the Holy Martyrs Florus and Laurus) (Akathist to Blessed Tikhon of Kaluga); (Akathist to the Holy Cathedral of the Kiev-Pechersk's Saints). A Saint, a spiritually perfect man is described using the metaphors of a bee: (Akathist to St. Nektarios of Aegina); (Akathist to St. Great Prince Vladimir);

The group of metaphors representing edible fruits of the plant world is close to the group of metaphors of nature (and implicitly correlates with the group of metaphors of sensory perception): (Akathist to All the Saints pleasing God from everlasting); (Akathist to the Holy Cathedral of the Kiev-Pechersk Saints). The attributive sign of assigns to the metaphor the meaning of spiritual food, useful and necessary for nourishment of the soul, and taking origin in the perfection of a Holy person. The assumption is supported by a group of metaphors associated with the designation of food and drinks, which allegorically denote the Saint: (Akathist to St. Nicholas of Myra); (Akathist to Blessed Arsenius of Novgorod).

Metaphors of objects and phenomena from the world of inanimate nature reveal hidden transcendental meanings through the material expression of the comprehensible and recognizable. Thus, the akathists to saints contain the metaphors associated with understanding of the essence of "beginning". The beginning of the day is mentioned:, (Akathist to St. Joasaph of Belgorod); (Akathist to Blessed Alexander of Svir). The beginning of a new (after the winter period) natural cycle is also mentioned: (Akathist to St. Charalambos). The metaphors of the construct a latent allusion to the Gospel Revelation, in which the Lord speaks about himself: "I am alpha and omega, the beginning and the end" (Rev. 1:8). The divine property of the "beginning" can be understood as the starting point of a person's spiritual development.

Metaphors from the world of inanimate nature are represented by several subgroups. Subgroup of metaphors, denoting the phenomena of nature: (Akathist to All the Saints pleasing God from everlasting); (Akathist to St. Luke (Voyno-Yasenetsky) of Simferopol) (Akathist to the Holy Martyrs Faith, Hope and Charity and their mother Sophia); (Akathist to Saints Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom); (Akathist to the Holy Grand Duchess Anna Kashinskaya); (Akathist to St. Arsenius of Tver).

The following subgroup of metaphors of the natural world is associated with the metaphors of celestial bodies: (Akathist to Blessed Arsenius of Novgorod); (Akathist to the Holy forty Martyrs of Sebaste);,(Akathist to St. Simeon of Verkhoturye); (Akathist to St. Martyr Catherine).

Metaphors for objects of the world of inanimate nature include:

  • metaphors of ground (land): holy ground bringing up the seed of the God's word (Akathist to St. Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow and all Russia); field plowed to spiritual fertility (Akathist to St. Barsanuphius of Tver); holy pasture of Cypriots (Akathist to St. Spyridon, Bishop of Trimythous);
  • metaphors of water: river, filled with the grace of God's waters (Akathist to the Holy great Martyr Paraskeva); multi-healing inexhaustible treasure (Akathist to Blessed Sergius of Radonezh); life-giving source, pouring out the grace of healing (Akathist to St. Tikhon of Zadonsk);
  • metaphors of stone: stone of hope of life (Akathist to Blessed Ambrose of Optina).

Metaphors from the world of inanimate nature are considered as particular manifestations of "pre-understanding" (Demyankov, 2005) of one or another aspect of spiritual perfection. Each image of the surrounding world is assigned a semantically differential feature that correlates with the inner state or actions of a holy person. For example, metaphors of a non-man-made object or phenomenon often include an adjectival index that has converging (often axiological) characteristics:,,.

Axiological component in the structure of metaphors is manifested through denoting the objects having a material value or using the lexeme 'treasure': (Akathist to the Holy Great Martyr Demetrius of Thessaloniki);,;, (Akathist to St. Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow and all Russia); (Akathist to St. John of Korma); (Akathist to St. Andrew the Apostle);, (Akathist to St. Mary of Egypt).

In the group of metaphors of non-natural material objects, the value of spiritual perfection is communicated through metaphorical interpretations of sacred objects:, (Akathist to St. John Chrysostom); (Akathist to Blessed Alexander of Svir) (Akathist to the Holy Great Martyr Anastasia of Sirmium); (Akathist to Preeminent Apostles Peter and Paul).

The texts of akathists also contain the metaphors of everyday material objects: (Akathist to St. Great Prince Vladimir); (Akathist to St. Joasaph of Belgorod); (Akathist to St. Nektarios of Aegina);, (Akathist of St. Arsenius of Tver); (Akathist to Blessed Arsenius of Novgorod); (Akathist to Blessed Varnava Gefsimanski); Precedence is the key peculiarity of these metaphors. Many metaphors of everyday material objects are used in the primary source ‒ the first "Akathist to the most Holy Theotokos" as an understanding of the spiritual perfection of the Mother of God. It should be noted that description of the system of metaphors used in the "Akathist to the most Holy Theotokos" is not covered by the present research). Precedence complements the cognitive perception of the metaphor by indicating a continuity with the primary text.

Akathists to God's saints contain the metaphors related to socially significant human activities: (Akathist to St. Tikhon of Zadonsk); (Akathist to St. Theodosius of Chernigov); (Akathist to St. George of Danilovsk); (Akathist to St. Gury of Kazan); (Akathist to St. Kornelius of the Pskov Сaves); (Akathist to Blessed Matrona of Moscow); (Akathist to the Holy Great Martyr and healer Panteleimon); (Akathist to the Martyr Joseph, Metropolitan of Astrakhan); (Akathist to the Holy Great Martyr George the Victorious).

Metaphorical description of a holy man's actions is most often based on the designation of those types of work that are mentioned in the Gospels in relation to the earthly life of Christ (cf.: (Matt 15:30)) or to a mention of a kind of activity in the parables of Christ (cf.: (Matt 21:33–42)). Genesis of this group of metaphors is largely determined by the constructive principle of the religious style ‒ proto-textuality, that is continuity with the Holy Scripture as the "canonical text that conveys the thoughts of God" (Itskovich, 2018).

The principle of proto-textuality is explicitly expressed in a group of metaphors based on the precedence of proper names. The names of Saints known from the Holy Scriptures are perceived as attribution of spiritual perfection:,(Akathist to St. Alexius, Metropolitan of Moscow and all Russia); (Akathist to St. Daniel the Stylite);, (Akathist to Blessed Euthymius of Suzdal).

Understanding of spiritual perfection based on the principle of proto-textuality is manifested in the use of allusions to quotations from the Gospels when designating a saint:(Akathist to the Blessed Fathers, Shone on the Holy Mount of Athos) (cf.:. (Matt 5:13)); (Akathist to St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia) (cf.:. (Mark 12: 17));(Akathist to the Holy King Constantine and Queen Elena) (cf.: (Matt 8:21)).


The analysis of texts shows that the akathist as the genre of religious style is characterized by a high level of metaphoricity due to the specifics of religious consciousness. The proposed classification demonstrates the ability of cognitive metaphors to act as verbal-mental vehicles of transcendental meanings. The concept of perfection (holiness), which represents a conceptual spiritual value for a religious person, is represented in the texts of the akathists by several groups of metaphors. Each group of metaphors reflects a certain way of cognizing the world, related to both the features of physiological perception, and the general moral and spiritual state of a person, with the level of their erudition, knowledge of the proto-text of the Holy Scripture and the primary source. The study of the possibility of metaphorical understanding of important conceptual notions in the texts of akathists seems to be promising.


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Ryadovykh, N. A. (2021). Value Of Spiritual Perfection In The Metaphorical Symbolism Of The Akathist. In D. K. Bataev, S. A. Gapurov, A. D. Osmaev, V. K. Akaev, L. M. Idigova, M. R. Ovhadov, A. R. Salgiriev, & M. M. Betilmerzaeva (Eds.), Knowledge, Man and Civilization - ISCKMC 2020, vol 107. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1351-1357). European Publisher.