Thursday, October 1, 2009

St. Romanos the Melodist, the Righteous, and his Kontakia

St. Romanos the Melodist, the Righteous - Commemorated on October 1 (Icon courtesy of used with permission)

"Saint Romanus the Melodist was born in the fifth century in the Syrian city of Emesa of Jewish parents. After moving to Constantinople, he became a church sacristan in the temple of Hagia Sophia. The monk spent his nights alone at prayer in a field or in the Blachernae church beyond the city.

St Romanus was not a talented reader or singer. Once, on the eve of the Nativity of Christ, he read the kathisma verses. He read so poorly that another reader had to take his place. The clergy ridiculed Romanus, which devastated him.

On the day of the Nativity, the Mother of God appeared to the grief-stricken youth in a vision while he was praying before her Kyriotissa icon. She gave him a scroll and commanded him to eat it. Thus was he given the gift of understanding, composition, and hymnography.

The Theotokos appearing to St. Romanos and giving him the gifts of "understanding, composition, and hymnography" (

That evening at the all-night Vigil St Romanus sang, in a wondrous voice, his first Kontakion: "Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One..."*** All the hymns of St Romanus became known as kontakia, in reference to the Virgin's scroll. St Romanus was also the first to write in the form of the Oikos, which he incorporated into the all-night Vigil at his places of residence (In Greek, "oikos").

For his zealous service St Romanus was ordained as a deacon and became a teacher of song. Until his death, which occurred about the year 556, the hierodeacon Romanus the Melodist composed nearly a thousand hymns, many of which are still used by Christians to glorify the Lord. About eighty survive." (taken from:

The Most-holy Theotokos appearing to St. Romanos the Melodist (Source:, used with permission)
"Today the Virgin gives birth to him who is above all being,
and the earth offers a cave to him whom no one can approach.
Angels with shepherds give glory,
and magi journey with a star,
for to us there has been born
a little Child, God before the ages.
***Prelude of the Kontakion of St. Romanos On the Nativity of Christ, translated by Fr. Ephraim Lash:

St. Romanos the Melodist, the Righteous (taken from:

"[Saint] Romanos was entirely within the grace of Christ and whatever he wrote was perfect."

The following is a short excerpt from Fr. Ephraim Lash describing properly the origin and form of the "kontakion":

"A “kontakion” is a poetic form frequently encountered in Byzantine hymnography. It was probably based in Syriac hymnographical traditions, which underwent an independent development in Greek-speaking Byzantium. We can perhaps best describe it as a “sermon in verse accompanied by music”. In character it is similar to the early Byzantine festival sermons in prose, but meter and music have greatly heightened the drama and rhetorical beauty of the speaker’s often profound and very rich meditation. The form generally consists of 18 to 24 metrically identical stanzas (called “oikoi”, or “houses”), preceded, in another meter, by a short prelude (called a “koukoulion”, or “cowl”) . The first letters of the stanzas form an acrostic, which frequently includes the name of the poet; the last line of the prelude introduces a refrain, which is repeated at the end of all the stanzas. This form became especially popular after the magnificent work of St.
Romanos the Melodist during the 6th century.

The main body of a kontakion was chanted from the pulpit by the preacher after the reading of the gospel, while a choir, or even the whole congregation, joined in the refrain. The length of many kontakia, and the epic character of some, point to a kind of recitative, but unfortunately, the original music which accompanied the kontakia is now all lost." (taken from:, see the link for the full translation of St. Romanos' most famous Kontakion: "On the Nativity of Christ" by Fr. Ephraim Lash)

The kontakia of St. Romanos are used throughout the church year. Besides that on Christ's Nativity, many attribute the Akathist of the Theotokos to his hand, another service that is prayed daily throughout the world. In addition, parts of his Kontakia are used as the Kontakion and/or Oikos for the Feasts of the Veneration of the Holy Cross during Great Lent, Palm Sunday, the Ascension of Christ, etc.

For more on these beautiful theological hymns translated by Fr. Ephraim Lash, see: and On the Life of Christ: Chanted Sermons by the Great Sixth Century Poet and Singer St. Romanos.

St. Romanos the Melodist, the Righteous (Icon courtesy of used with permission)

Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The image of God, was faithfully preserved in you, O Father. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Romanos, your soul rejoices with the angels.

Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
As a harmonious harp of lofty wisdom from on high and an expounder of things seen in God-inspired ascents, we extol thee, Father Romanus, and we hymn thee. As a trumpet of the gifts that pass the mind of man, do thou rouse us to divine and saving watchfulness, as we cry to thee: Rejoice, O Father elect of God.

St. Romanos the Melodist, depicted with the Most-Holy Theotokos who enlightened him (
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

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