October 1 - Holy Father Romanos the Melodist


My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,



Romanos, our Holy Father, hailed from Syria, having as his hometown the Hellenized city of Emesa, which is now Homs, situated on the Orontes River. He offered himself wholly to Christ from his youth and was even then adorned with the virtues. When he came of age, he flourished in his service as a deacon of the Church of Berythus (Beirut). He went to Constantinople in 496 A.D., during the years of Anastasios I (491-518 A.D.). He spent his time in the Church of the Most Holy Mother of God in the Kyrou quarter, which was a suburb outside the great city walls built by Emperor Constantine, Romanos led a godly life, taking up his cross and following after Christ. He spurned the things of the flesh as transitory. By his asceticism, he caused the desires of the flesh to wither away, as he adorned his soul with purity. It was there, in the Kyrou quarter, with all reverence and modesty, that he prayed night and day. He entered the temple of the Theotokos where he would sanctify his mind, soul, and body. He also, however, often-times kept vigil at the church of the Theotokos of Vlachernai, and in the morning would return to the church of the Theotokos of Kyrou. It was in this church that he received the grace of composing and setting to music the kontakia hymns for the entire Ecclesiastical year. The kontakia hymns, a kind of sermon in verse, celebrate major feasts and Saints. His hymns recreated stories from the Old and New Testaments and from religious hagiography (iconography) that were often linked to Church feast days. His language was simple, and the tonic system replaced the Hellenic meter. The composition was terse, with refrains playing an important part. The extent of his debt to Syriac religious poetry has been much debated.

It is worthwhile to hear of the miracle which was recorded by the ecclesiastical writer and poet, Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos (13th century, later the Monk Neilos) who was a priest at Hagia Sophia and had access to the patriarchal library. In the days of Emperor Theodosios the Younger (408-450 A.D.), a certain man named Kyros beheld an inexplicable light shining in a cypress tree. Upon closer examination, he discovered a magnificent icon of the Theotokos and Child. At his own expense, Kyros also bore the founder's name, though it was dedicated to the Mother of God. The holy icon became famed throughout the Empire for its countless miracles on behalf of those who hastened to the Theotokos with faith. Pilgrims arrived daily in the Kyrou quarter to venerate the holy icon. It was also one of the first places that the Deacon Romanos visited, and where the stranger from Syria found a home. It was in that church that he would spend the rest of his life.

Nikephoros Xanthopoulos describes Saint Romanos initially as one utterly wanting in harmony and possessing an unpleasant singing voice. On account of these deficiencies, he was mocked and made a jest of by many people, even though he was a tried and proven laborer in asceticism and virtue. This awkwardness in his performance is also mentioned by Nikodemos the Hagiorite (1748-1809 A.D.) in his Synaxaristes. As a result, Romanos kept supplicating the Mother of God before her wonderworking Kyriotissa icon that she might grant him the grace of chanting melodiously.

Now on the eve of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, during the sixth ode, Romanos fell into a light sleep. In a vision, he found himself near the pulpit (amvon). He then beheld the Theotokos, who appeared as she was depicted in her Kyriotissa holy icon, holding n her right hand a rolled-up scroll (which later came to be known as a kontk or kontakion). She handed him the scroll, commanding him to open his mouth and swallow the paper. It then seemed to Romanos that he ate the scroll, which tasted indescribably sweet. When he was roused from the vision, he looked up and saw that the Kyriotissa holy icon was in its usual place. From that hour, he was endowed with the grace that he had sought earnestly form her. The Virgin Theotokos had illumined his soul and filled his mind with divine understanding. Romanos then climbed to the pulpit, looked once again at the holy icon, and began to sing in an angelic voice the Kontakion of the feast, chanting in the Third Mode: "Today the Virgin giveth birth to Him Who is transcendent in essence; and the earth offereth a cave to Him Who is unapproachable. Angels with shepherds give glory; with a star, the Magi do journey; for our sake, a young Child is born, Who is Pre-Eternal God." All were gladdened at the hearing of these magnificent words and this exalted melody. In honor of the miracle which took place during the sixth ode of the canon, today the appointed Kontakion hymn is still read at that moment of Orthros (Matins).

The grace of this gift from the Patroness of poets and musicians, the Theotokos, remained with Saint Romanos for the rest of his life. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, the deacon-poet adorned the Orthodox Church with God-inspired hymns for most of the feasts of the liturgical year, and he wrote a Kontakion hymn for each Saint commemorated in the liturgical calendar. More than one thousand (1,000) Kontakia hymns are ascribed to him, of which eighty-five have been preserved, and of which fifty-nine are of undisputed authenticity. Many times he signed himself in the acrostic as "the humble one." The year was 518 A.D. when he delivered the Nativity Kontakion hymn. He spent the rest of his life in the monastery church of the Theotokos of Kyrou, having acquired the incorporeal life while still in the flesh, until he reposed in the Lord sometime after 555 A.D. At that monastery, his manuscripts were treasured for years afterward. Thus, the sound of his words filled the whole world taught men to chant with beauty unto Christ, His All-Holy Mother, and the Saints. Saint Romanos the Melodist now has joined the choirs of the incorporeal ones on high (Angels), where joy and delight abound. O most blessed Romanos, vouchsafe that we too may receive the glory and Kingdom on High. (Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George