Romanos the Melodist

Romanos is considered to be the greatest hymnographer of our Church and the inventor of Kontakia. He was born in Emessa of Syria and became a deacon of the Church of Berytos. His peak was in the 6th century, the golden century of Church hymnography. His work was monumental: he composed hymns for almost all the principal feasts of the year, and for many feasts of Saints.

Romanos is extensively studied by several scholars in the West. One of them called him «new Pindarus», and another «the greatest ecclesiastical poet of the world».

From Syria he came to Constantinople in order to study, and stayed in the monastery of Theotokos of Kyros. Once on the eve of Christmas, he fell asleep within the Church by the ambo. Then the Mother of God appeared to him and gave him a paper wrapped around a cylinder (also known as «kontakion»), which he ate. From that point he received the gift of a good voice and musical knowledge, because up to that point he was totally amusical and awful in his voice. He then composed the Kontakion of the Nativity «Ἡ παρθένος σήμερον» which he sung from the ambo, leaving the faiful with awe. This was his first Kontakion; many others followed afterwards, including the well-known «Ἐπεφάνης σήμερον», «Τὰ ἄνω ζητῶν», «Τὴν ἐν πρεσβείαις ἀκοίμητον Θεοτόκον», «Ὡς ἀπαρχὰς τῆς φύσεως» and others.

He also composed hymns for the feasts of the Lord, of the Mother of God, and of some Saints, as well as the Stichera in tone plagal II «Αἱ Ἀγγελικαὶ προπορεύεσθαι δυνάμεις». He wrote the compunctional Kontakion «Ψυχὴ μου, ψυχὴ μου, ἀνάστα τὶ καθεύδεις;» which is sung together with the Great Canon. Besides the Kontakia, Romanos was also the first to introduce the Oikoi.

The renowed byzantinologist Prof Krumbacher published in Munich several unpublished chants of Romanos and others, from manuscripts of the library of the monastery of St John the Theologian in Patmos. Under the title «Kontakarion» there exists in the library of Moscow a greek manuscript which contains Kontakia and Oikoi for the whole year, but does not include all compositions of Romanos. Already we do not use most of the Kontakia composed by Romanos, because these were mostly replaced by Canons. Nevertheless, the renowed hymn of Romanos to the Nativity of Christ, whose first strophe is the well-known Kontakion of Christmas still remained in use. Until the XIIth century, it was sung every year at formal dinners by the joint choirs of the Churches of St Sophia and of the Apostles. Our Church observes the memory of St Romanos on the 1st of October.