Saint Romanos the Melodian

The father of Byzantine hymnody is considered to be Romanos, a converted Jew born in Syria, and active at Constantinople during the reign of Anastasios I, (491-518). He produced hymns that rank him as the greatest Byzantine poet and caused the title Melodos ("maker of songs") to be applied to him. Until the second half of the 9th century, poet and musician were usually one person.

According to one version of a legend, the Virgin appearing to Romanos in a vision, ordered him to eat a scroll; and he, following her command, found himself endowed with the power of writing works of the kind called kontakia, (in English "collects" with the accent on the first syllable). A kontakion (single) is a special kind of hymn which summarizes and applies the meaning of a Feast or day. It is sung before the Epistle.

The hymns of Romanos are considered to be unsurpassed in early Byzantine hymnology because of their inspiration, diction, and poetic quality. They are based on accent and controlled by the qunatities of the syllables. His celebrated Christmas hymn (Kontakion), H Parthenos Simeron, Behold, the Virgin today, continues to be one of the most impressive Orthodox hymns and was used at the Christmas Eve banquet of the Byzantine imperial Orthodox hymns and was used at the Christmas Eve banquet of the Byzantine imperial palace to the end of the 12th century. The Feast day of St. Romanos is October 1.

The above information was gathered during a research done by me over 30 years ago in graduate school for the music class "Hymnology".

The National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians, founded in 1976, established St. Romanos as the Patron Saint of all church musicians.

By Jeffrey N. Economou (written 1/8/98)