Saint of the Day – 1 October – St Romanos the Melodios (c 490-c 556) Deacon, Hymnographer, Poet, Writer – born in c 490 in Syria and died in c 556 of natural causes in Constantinople. Patronages – Cantors. Also known as – Romanos the Melodist, Romanus l’Hymnographe, Romanos Melodhos, Romanos Melode, Psaitis Dhikeosinis, Sweet Singer, Romain, Romano, Romanus, Glykophonos.
St Romanos was born to a Jewish family in either Emesa (modern-day Homs) or Damascus in Syria. He was baptised as a young boy (though whether or not his parents also converted is uncertain).
When he grew old enough he became an altar boy and then a singer, a reader and finally a Deacon – at first in his home town of Beirut and later in Constantinople where his family had moved. Romanos wanted to serve God to the best of his ability; he prayed a great deal and was the first to come to Church and the last to leave, thus served as a Sacristan in the greatest Church of Contantinople, the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom). He lit the vigil lights with great reverence for he loved Holy Virgin and the Saints, before whose images they burned. Most of all, he like the Church choir and was always happy when he was allowed to sing.
According to legend, Romanos was not at first considered to be either a talented reader or singer. He was, however, loved by the Bishop of Constantinople because of his great humility.
Once, around the year 518, while serving during the All-Night Vigil for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, he was assigned to read from the Psalter. He read so poorly that another reader had to take his place. Some of the lesser clergy ridiculed Romanus for this and being humiliated he sat down in one of the choir stalls. Overcome by weariness and sorrow, he soon fell asleep. As he slept, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him with a scroll in her hand. She commanded him to eat the scroll and as soon as he did so, he awoke.
He immediately received a blessing from the Bishop, mounted the ambo and chanted his famous Hymn of the Nativity, “Today the Virgin gives birth to Him Who is above all being….” The Emperor, the Bishop, the clergy and the entire congregation were amazed, both at the profound theology of the Hymn and Romanos’ clear, sonorous voice as he sang.
According to tradition, this was the very first Hymn (kontakion) ever sung. The Greek word “kontakion” refers to the shaft on which a scroll is wound, hence the significance of the Blessed Mother’s command for him to swallow a scroll, indicating that his compositions were by divine inspiration. The scene of Romanos’s first performance is often shown in icons.
Romanos wrote in a literary dialect—i.e., he had a popular but elevated style—and abundant Semiticisms support the view that he was of Jewish origin. Arresting imagery, sharp metaphors and similes, bold comparisons, antitheses, coining of successful maxims and vivid dramatisation characterize his style.
He is said to have composed more than 1,000 hymns celebrating various festivals of the ecclesiastical year, the lives of the saints and other sacred subjects, some 60 to 80 of which survive.
Among his most well-known Hymns are:
The Nativity of Christ
The Martyrdom of St Stephen
The Death of a Monk
The Last Judgment
The Prodigal Son
The Raising of Lazarus (for Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday)
Adam’s Lament (for Palm Sunday)
The Treachery of Judas
St Romanos served in the Hagia Sophia, to the end of his life at the Monastery of Kyros, where he was buried along with his disciple St Ananias.