Saint Romanos the Melodist
Have you ever wondered where some of our hymns come from? It always amazes me that these beautiful words have been preserved for so long. It makes me feel connected to that time period. You may be wondering who St. Romanos was and what he had to do with our hymns.
The abbreviated version of his life: He was a monk that lived around 518 AD. He served as the deacon of the church of Agia Sofia in Constantinople. Back then Deacons would face the congregation and chant most of the service. St. Romanos had trouble reading and singing out loud. He had a dream that the Theotokos asked him to eat a scroll of music. When he woke up, he was able to sing with confidence. He began to sing new hymn that might be familiar to you –
“Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!”
Sweet Song: A Story of St. Romanos the Melodist
I have an awesome picture book that tells this story that you can share with your class or your children, Sweet Song: A Story of St. Romanos the Melodist by Jane G. Meyer. The book has beautiful illustrations and talks about St. Romanos’ life.
I like this book because it shows St. Romanos as a young man. I feel that kids can relate to the story and the illustrations because of the youthfulness of St. Romanos in this book. The story exemplifies that bible verse, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27) Even though singing and speaking in public were not strong talents of St. Romanos, God worked through him to create beautiful hymns that we still sing today. If you don’t have this book, it sure to be a keeper. It would be a nice gift for a Sunday School teacher, too, since they could use the book in a lesson around his feast day in October or for Christmas.
Craft – St. Romanos Ornament
Since St. Romanos wrote the Nativity Kontakion that we sing at Christmastime, I thought making an ornament would be perfect!
Images printed front to back (st romanos ornament 8.5 x 11)
Optional: Jingle Bell
- Print out a copy of the images below. You will want to print it front to back so that the icon will be on the front and the words on the back.
- Have the children use markers to color the icon. Whenever I color icon pictures, I like to do straight lines going from the inside to the outside. Then it makes the halo look like it is glowing. 🙂
- Carefully cut out the icon. When I have my kids cut out things, I usually cut around the image so that they don’t have to try to hold a big piece of paper.
- Punch a hole in the top. I cut around the halo so that we’d have enough room for the hole. I thought the kids might cut it too close to the edge.
- Carefully put a piece of ribbon through the hole and it a knot at the bottom of the ribbon. This will keep the ribbon in place.
- Optional: Since St. Romanos created music, I thought it’d be fun to put a jingle bell on the top to help kids remember that is known for his hymns.
- Tie the ribbon again at the top so you have a loop.
After the craft is done, it would be a good idea to practice singing the hymn together that he wrote.
The hymn written on the St. Romanos icon is the one that we sing on Christmas. This is the hymn that he has written on his scroll on the real icon. Unfortunately, I had a lot of difficulty finding a good video of the hymn with the words. Below is the hymn for the prefeast which we sing during Divine Liturgy from November 26-Dec 24. This is really good hymn to add to your nightly prayers to help children learn it since they get to sing it each week at church.
I found this neat video that shows the actions of the hymn along with beautiful chanting of the Kontakion. It is a short video and it will surely engage your children and/or students. 🙂
Nativity Kontakion – Sung throughout the Nativity Fast. It has the words along with the music.
Orthodox Nativity of Christ animation & hymn for kids!
Fun Fact – Do you know what the word Kontakion means?
I just LOVE fun facts about our faith! When I was reading about St. Romanos’ life, I wanted to know what he was holding. I mean, I knew it was the Nativity Kontakion, but why do we call some hymns a Kontakion? What does that word mean?
In the early church, the sermon was written out on long scrolls and hung on a large rod or stick. They had to hang it up because it was so long. It was called the kontakia, which comes from the Greek word that means rod or stick. The preacher would chant the kontakia right after the gospel was read.
After each part of the hymn was a refrain, which is a part of a song that repeats itself. The whole church and choir would sing the refrain.
The kontakions that we know of today are small parts from the longer versions. The part we sing is usually the beginning of the longer kontakia hymn.
When you go to Divine Liturgy this week look at the hymns that are sung at the Small Entrance. One of them is named the kontakion for the day.
I bought some dowel rods at the craft store and printed out a copy of the Nativity sheet music. I thought that this is a fun way to present the hymn to the kids to sing during evening prayers. It also reiterates what the word Kontakion means.
- I used a tape runner to put the glue down. You will want to be sure to get to the edge of the paper so that it sticks to the wooden rod.
- After each end is done, tightly roll the the rods so that it looks like a scroll.I hope that you have enjoyed the book, crafts and videos. Have a blessed Nativity!