Friday, January 11, 2008

St Romanos the Melodist

News from my friend David Schütz that he's applying to be considered for the permanent diaconate – please God, this will come to pass – made me think about sainted deacons, such as the three great martyrs SS Stephen (my confirmation patron), Lawrence and Vincent, and three great confessors among the glorified ranks of levites, SS Romanos the Melodist, Ephræm, and Alcuin of York.

St Romanos, a convert from Judaism and hierodeacon at Constantinople, is justly famed as a peerless hymnographer (the Akathist is attributed to him; it bears the same indulgences nowadays as the Rosary); one of his greatest compositions, legendarily given him by the Blessed Virgin herself, together with the gift of melodious singing, is his Nativity Kontakion (see icon: he's holding the text she gave him): in its full form, it is a dialogue between Our Lady and the Magi, since in the Byzantine Rite the Gospel of Christmas Day is St Matthew ii, 1-12; as this is the Western Rite Gospel for the Epiphany, whose sometime Octave is still in progress, it seems most appropriate at this season to link to it here.

As to venerating St Romanos himself, these are the Byzantine Kontakion and Troparion for him, who is feasted on the 1st of October:

Thou wast adorned from childhood with the godly virtues of the Spirit; thou wast a precious adornment of the Church of Christ, all wise Romanos, for thou didst make it lovely with beautiful hymnody.  Therefore, we entreat thee, grant thy divine gift to those who desire it, that we may cry out to thee: Rejoice, all-blessed Father, beauty of the Church.

Thou didst gladden Christ's Church by thy melodies like an inspired heavenly trumpet.  For thou wast enlightened by the Mother of God and didst shine on the world as God's poet.  We lovingly honour thee, O righteous Romanos.

The couplet given in the Menaion for St Romanos is quite beautiful, I found (thanks to a consultation of the Acta Sanctorum for October, Tome I, pp. 56-59):

Before indeed with hymns Romanos celebrated the Divine Word; 
But he celebrates now, however, with angels.

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