In the Eastern Church, the Theotokia (i.e. hymns to the Theotokos) are an essential part of the Divine Liturgy. The positioning of Marian hymns in the Orthodox liturgical services effectively places the Theotokos in the most prominent place after Christ, in that the Theotokia immediately follow the hymns that praise Christ. In the Theotokia people repeat the name Mary many times as a sign of their close friendship with her, and as an expression of the desire to call her by her name. Parts of the Axion Estin hymn date back to the earliest days of Orthodoxy.
In the Eastern Church, the Theotokia often include biblical references that emphasize the mystery of the Incarnation. These Marian hymns have been used in daily prayers since early Christianity (they became part of liturgy later) as a way to teach people the Orthodox beliefs, and to prepare them against ideas considered heresies. Marian hymns remain a key element in the liturgy of the Coptic Church and are included in every canonical hour, day and night.
The widely used Akathist Hymn (meaning the unseated hymn) to the Theotokos (Mother of God) is attributed to Saint Romanos the Melodist who composed many (perhaps several hundred) hymns to saints during the 6th century. In the Orthodox weekly liturgical cycle, Wednesday is dedicated to the Theotokos, and all daily services include numerous Marian hymns. These take precedence over the veneration of other saints and angels.
While the formations of the Divine Liturgy in the 6th and 7th centuries preceded the beginnings of the period of Byzantine Iconoclasm, it was perhaps during the 11th century that the Theotokia became part of the liturgical books of the Eastern Church. As of the 12th century an increasing number of diataxeis, giving the order of the liturgy included Marian hymns.
By the 13th century, Triodion liturgical books were combining references to icon veneration within hymns, e.g. "...to those who honor your holy image, O reverend one, and with one accord proclaim you as the true Mother of God and faithfully venerate you". Centuries later, the Sunday of Orthodoxy continues to combine Marian hymns and the veneration of icons in a manner that confirms the identity of Mary as the Theotokos.
Hymns, feasts and miraculous Marian icons are now combined within Eastern church practices, e.g. the Akathistos to the "wonder working" Theotokos Iverskaya (which has a feast day as well). Marian hymns, litanies and the veneration or Benediction of the icons of Mary are combined in the Maronite Church's, Benediction of the icon of the Virgin Mary. Here a hymn litany includes the repetition of the phrase: "We petition you...". This Marionite hymn litany has two parts: first the giving of praise to Mary, then the petitions.