Today (1 October) is also the feast of St Romanos the Melodist, patron saint of church singers, and I don’t want to miss out this feast this year because I have been thinking of St Romanos lately. Fr Stephen has put an icon of St Romanos (not this one) in the choir loft for us, and I’m very happy about that. here is one version of his Life, which I have pinched wholesale from fatheralexander.org (and edited very gently) – it doesn’t provide an author, but the site is edited by Bp Alexander of ROCA in California.
Venerable Roman, called “the Melodist,” was a Greek by origin; he was born in the middle of the 5th century in the Syrian town of Emesa. Upon graduation from school he became Dean of the Church of the Resurrection in Beirut. When Emperor Anasthasius Dikor (495-518) came to power, Roman moved to Constantinople to become a cleric at the Patriarch’s Church of St Sofia. He assisted tirelessly at the church services despite the fact that he was endowed with neither vocal talent nor musical ear. And still Patriarch Euphimius cared for Roman and even drew him closer to himself, appreciating Roman’s sincere faith and virtuous life.
The Patriarch’s sympathy to Roman invoked jealousy in some of the church’s clerics and they started to harass Roman. During one of the pre-Christmas services these clerics pushed Roman forward on to the ambo and made him sing. The church was full of believers and the service was being carried out by the Patriarch himself and attended by the Emperor and his court. Embarrassed and scared, St Roman was singing incoherently with his trembling voice and was disgraced in front of the entire parish. Back at home and completely depressed, St Roman prayed arduously and very long that night in front of the icon of the Mother of God, pouring out his grief to her. The Mother of God appeared to him and gave him a paper scroll, which she told him to eat. A miracle happened: Roman was endowed with a beautiful melodic voice and a poetic talent. Inspired, he created his famous kontakion to the Christmas feast: “Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable one; Angels with shepherds glorify Him and the magi journey with the star: since for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child. (A Kontakion is a short prayer expressing the essence of the feast).
On the next day, Saint Roman came to the church for the vigil before Christmas. He insisted on being permitted to sing on the ambo – and this time he sang his hymn “Today the Virgin…” so beautifully that all the people were exalted. The Emperor and the Patriarch thanked Saint Roman, and people called him ‘the Melodist’. From that time on, Saint Roman beautified the services with his wonderful singing and ardent prayers.
Loved by everyone, Saint Roman became a teacher of singing at Constantinople and contributed greatly to making Orthodox services still more beautiful. His poetic talent gained him an honorable place among church composers. He is believed to be the author of over a thousand prayers and hymns devoted to various feasts. His most famous prayer is the akathist to the Annunciation of the Theotokos which is sung on the 5th Saturday of Great Lent, ad which has become a model for other akathists. Holy Roman died in 556.
- Holy Trinity calendar
- Catholic Encyclopedia
- article from ROCOR – also includes the story of Cassiane, a female hymnographer, to whom I must return either on her feast or on one of those for which her hymns are often used.
- a collection of English translations of kontakia by St Romanos from St Nicholas, Dallas, TX
- an article on Romanos’ Kontakion for the Nativity, with translations, by Fr Ephrem Lash
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 Romanus.
Kontakion of St Romanus the Melodist Tone 8
From thy childhood divine virtues and gifts of the Spirit were bestowed on thee, O wise Romanus./ Thou wast a precious adornment of the Church with thy beautiful chanting, O blessed one./ We entreat thee to grant us thy divine gift that we may cry to thee:/ Rejoice, O most blessed Father, comeliness of the Church.
A very timely story indeed – I have just been asked to join the rota of readers in the parish, and to start helping to conduct the choir sometimes. I’ve enjoyed this brief time of singing safely from the back row, propping up the altos and standing back from responsibility, just doing what I’m told, but it’s over now. I love church music but I have never liked the responsibility of leading it, so here I go with much trepidation and humility. I have a lot to learn, not least how to turn away softly from those who could not do the same but feel it incumbent upon them to criticise…
I can’t find any choir prayers, or prayers of/for church musicians so if anyone knows of one, please comment!
I also want to share some photos of the consecration of our new church – on the parish website here. At the moment, because it’s news, there are links to Fr Stephen’s interview on Radio Oxford and videos etc etc from the front page, but they will doubtless be archived elsewhere on the parish site. NB the choir on the youtube clip is not us! I realise I missed most of what went on during the consecration because of being up in the choir gallery, but there we are.
Holy St Romanos, pray to God for us.