St Romanos: the images and the drama of Holy Scripture

Today (October 1) is the Feast of St Romanos the Melodist, one of the greatest of all hymn-writers, who flourished in the early 6th century.

ROMANOS’ poetry generally relies on imagery and drama and contains little or no theology. The Christological debates of the period, for example, are not at all reflected in his kontakya. Written in simple popular Greek, they must have played a tremendous role in bringing the themes of Biblical history to the masses; they undoubtedly strengthened profoundly that understanding of Christianity centred on the liturgy, which became so characteristic of the Byzantines.

John Meyendorff, “Byzantine Theology”. See Holy Trinity Mission.

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THE eye of thy heart hath become wise, O Romanos, tabernacle of the Holy Trinity; having perfectly and religiously received the true knowledge, thou poureth forth with teaching inspired by God.

Thy honourable tongue hath welled forth with streaming springs, it resoundeth with things divine; it maketh plain to us without disguise the birth of Christ from the Virgin, though it be beyond all words.

Behold, plenteously hast thou nurtured our understanding by thy wise tutorship and thy joyous melodies, and filled us with sweetness and godliness, O godly voice, O Romanos.

Theotokion

THOU art higher than all the host [of heaven], O Virgin: for thou hast taken up in thy womb the Son of God, which hath made them all; and thou hast given him birth, remaining a virgin yet.

Irmos

THERE is none holy beside thee, O Lord my God. Thou hast lifted up the horn of thy faithful, O Good One, and founded us upon the rock of our confession of thee.

From the Feasts of October 1 in the Menaion.

Romanos’s most famous hymn is probably ἡ Παρθένος σήμερον, of which the first verse is repeatedly sung on Christmas day, and which is much-loved by Orthodox Christians. You can see many more Kontakia by Romanos translated into English at the St Nicholas’s Russian Orthodox Church website.

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