The Life of Saint Romanos the Melodist

St.   Romanos was born in Syria in the fifth century. His parents were neither rich   nor famous but they were good Christians and loving parents. Romanos grew up   with love for God in his heart. When he grew old enough he became an altar boy   and then a singer and reader in church - at first in his home town of Beirut   and later in Constantinople. 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. He lit the vigil lights with great reverence for he loved 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.
  In those days the service of Matins, celebrated on feast days was very different   from what it is now. During the service, psalms and verses from the Old Testament   were chanted and then a singer stepped out into the middle of the church and   sang a hymn called a “kontakion” which was much longer than the kontakions   we sing today and explained the meaning of the event celebrated by the feast.   Very often these singers improvised, that is to say, they thought up the words   as they sang them and the faithful in the church would chant the response. Of   course good singers were very much appreciated, for they had to be good musicians,   as well as talented and well educated to be able to improvise such hymns. It   was an honored position.

The Bishop of Constantinople   became very fond of the new young singer Romanos. He saw his good life and how   devoted he was to his service in church. Very soon he made Romanos one of the   official readers and singers of the greatest church in Constantinople - Hagia   Sophia (Holy Wisdom). The other singers did not like this at all. They were   very proud of their voices and of their ability to compose hymns and they resented   that an inexperienced newcomer like Romanos was singing like them.

Christmas was drawing   near and the great church of Hagia Sophia opened her doors to crowds of worshipers.   On Christmas Eve, especially, Vespers were celebrated very solemnly, for the   Emperor and his court were in church. The Patriarch himself officiated. When   the time came for a singer to come out and sing his Christmas hymn, the jealous   readers suddenly pushed Romanos to the center of the Cathedral. “If you   are good enough to be an official singer,” they said teasingly, “Go   out now and do as we do - sing an appropriate hymn.”
  Romanos felt paralyzed. Everyone was looking at him and waiting. His mouth went   dry. Not a single thought came to his mind, not a sound to his lips. In the   silence the people waited smiling and whispering. At last, his eyes full of   tears, Romanos escaped trying to hide behind the crowd of singers.

When the service   had ended , Romanos remained alone for a long time in the dark and echoing cathedral.   The fragrance of incense still filled the air and the vigil lights continued   to glimmer in front of the icons. Romanos’ eyes were drawn to the image of the   Mother of our Lord. “Oh, gentle Mother,” he prayed “help me,   help me. My mind is empty, my lips are silent. How shall I glorify your new-born   Son?”
  Late that night Romanos returned home comforted by his long prayer and went   to bed. While he slept he had a vision. The Mother of our Lord entered his room.   She held in her hand a small scroll of paper and coming nearer to Romanos said   very gently, ” Open your lips.” She then placed the paper in his mouth   and ordered Romanos to swallow it. Romanos obeyed and immediately woke up. The   room was empty, but his heart was full of great happiness and excitement while   his mind was full of beautiful and sacred words.

It was Christmas   morning and Romanos hurried to the Cathedral to attend Matins. As the moment   came for a singer to step out and improvise a hymn, Romanos, without any hesitation,   went forward. He was not afraid today; he did not hesitate to think. A beautiful   melody burst from his lips and words that he had never heard before arranged   themselves into sentences:
  “Today the Virgin gives birth to the transcendent One,
  And the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable One;
  Angles with shepherds glorify Him!
  The wise men journey with the star,
  Since, for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child!”
  No one had every heard the prayer before, but it was so beautiful that the choir   and entire congregation of the faithful took up the last words:
  “Since, for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child!”

As soon as the service   was over, the Patriarch hurried over and to Romanos and asked him who had taught   him this wonderful hymn. Humbly, the young singer told of the miraculous vision   and the gift he received.

Saint Romanos used   his gift gratefully the rest of his life. He developed his God-given talent   composing many beautiful hymns, and as you attend church services on major Holy   Days, you may be sure that some of the prayers you hear were written by Saint   Romanos.