Frederica Mathewes-Green on St Romanos’ Kontakion of the Nativity

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St Romanos the Melodist

Saint Romanos the Melodist (Greek: Ρωμανός ο Μελωδός. lived c. 490-556), was one of the greatest of Byzantine Greek hymnographers, called “the Pindar of rhythmic poetry”. He is the patron saint of all church singers. Baptized as a young child and originally from a Syrian Jewish family, he served as a sacristan and deacon in Beirut and then at the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. His most famous masterpiece, the Kontakion of the Nativity of Christ, came to him in a miraculous dream in which the Theotokos instructed him to swallow a scroll after he had, earlier that day, performed terribly while attempting to chant in the cathedral. Since Romanos normally chanted poorly, when he chanted his beautiful new competition on the Eve of the Nativity, all those in attendance were astonished, both at the new-found beauty of his voice and the profound theological depth of his hymn. Romanos flourished during the sixth century, which is considered to be the “Golden Age” of Byzantine hymnography.

Khouria Frederica is an acclaimed Orthodox author, whose work has appeared in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, the LA Times, First Things, Books & Culture, Sojourners, Touchstone, and the Wall Street Journal.

She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, a commentator on the Hallmark TV network, a columnist for the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and Christianity Today, Her podcast “Frederica Here and Now” is carried on Ancient Faith Radio.

She has published 9 books, including The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God (Paraclete, 2009), Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy (HarperCollins, 1997) and The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation (Paraclete, 2001). Her essays were selected for Best Christian Writing in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006, and Best Spiritual Writing in 1998 and 2007. She has published over 700 articles.

She has also appeared as a speaker over 500 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont; at the Smithsonian Institute, the Aspen Institute, Washington National Cathedral, the Los Angeles Times Book Festival, the American Academy of Religion, the Veritas Forum, the Family Research Council, and the National Right to Life Committee.

She has been interviewed almost 700 times, on venues including PrimeTime Live, the Diane Rehm Show, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, CNN, NBC, Fox News, and by Time, Newsweek, the New Republic, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the New York Times.

She lives with her husband, the Rev. Fr. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Baltimore, MD, where he is pastor and she is Khouria (“Mother”) of the Maryland parish they founded, Holy Cross Orthodox Church.

Sources:
http://www.frederica.com/bio/
http://www.holycrossonline.org/our_parish/khourias_corner/

Here is a YouTube link to another rendition of the beautiful kontakion, performed at St. Basil the Great Greek Orthodox Church on December 12, 2010 under the direction of Bill Attra by the combined St. Romanos Chorale.

Byzantine Hymn of Victory to the Theotokos

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To thee, the Champion Leader, do I offer thanks of victory:
O Theotokos, thou who hast delivered me from terror.
But as thou that hast that power invincible,
O Theotokos, thou alone can set me free.
From all forms of danger free me and deliver me,
That I may cry unto thee: Hail, O Bride without bridegroom!

The above video is chanted by the Boston Byzantine Choir and taken from their album “First Fruits”. Here is a link to the chant in its original Greek.

Sixth century mosaic of the Theotokos and Christ child uncovered in the apse at Hagia Sophia, the mother cathedral church at Constantinople dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God. Following the Ottoman conquest of the imperial city in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II “the Conqueror” permitted his soldiers three days of unchecked license to raid, pillage and slaughter as they wished, but then he rode into the ruined city and dismounted in front of the desecrated cathedral where only days before a final Liturgy had been offered by and on behalf of the city’s Orthodox and Catholic defenders. Upon entering, the sultan gaped in awe as he entered the sacred space raised almost a thousand years before to the glory of the Triune God on Emperor Justinian’s orders. Mehmed had the building preserved, but altered significantly, as a mosque to symbolize the triumph of Islam over the Christian faith of the Eastern Romans. Only recently have Turkish authorities permitted the uncovering of the white Islamic tiles, under which gleam magnificent Byzantine Orthodox mosaics such as these.

St Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople composed this hymn of thanksgiving on the eve of the Annunciation in the year 718 after miraculous events attributed to the intervention of the Mother of God and the bodiless powers of heaven repulsed repeated land and naval sieges by Arab Saracens to capture the Byzantine imperial capital.

Here is the link through which I located the following information on the background of the composition of St Germanus’ hymn.

In 717-718, led by the Saracen [Umayyad] general Maslamah [full name: Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik, called Μασαλμᾶς in contemporary Byzantine accounts], the Arab fleet laid siege once more to the city. The numerical superiority of the enemy was so overwhelming that the fall of the Imperial City seemed imminent.

But then the Mother of God, together with a multitude of the angelic hosts, appeared suddenly over the city walls. The enemy forces, struck with terror and thrown into a panic at this apparition, fled in disarray. Soon after this, the Arab fleet was utterly destroyed by a terrible storm in the Aegean Sea on the eve of the Annunciation, March 24, 718.

Thenceforth, a special “feast of victory and of thanksgiving” was dedicated to celebrate and commemorate these benefactions. In this magnificent service, the Akathist Hymn is prominent and holds the place of honour.

It was only on the occasion of the great miracle wrought for the Christian populace of the Imperial City on the eve of the Annunciation in 718 that the hymn “To thee, the Champion Leader” was composed, most likely by Saint Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople.

Rejoice Virgin Theotokos! Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee! Blessed art Thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, for Thou hast borne the Saviour of our souls!”

Great and Holy Friday Lamentations (Stasis 2)

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wrYdIRxM8E

“Right is it indeed,
Life-Bestowing Lord to magnify thee:
For upon the cross were thy hands out stretched,
and the strength of our dread foe hast thou destroyed.

They that hear Thee
shall see Thee and be glad
from Thy words have I set my hope. . .

Earth with trembling shook,
and the sun concealed his face with darkness;
for the light unwaning that shines from thee,
with thy body sank to darkness and the grave.

Let now thy mercy be my comfort
according to thy statement to thy servant.

That I may renew man’s lost nature now from beauty fallen,
gladly in my flesh I take death on me:
wherefore, mother, slay me not with bitter tears.

I am Thine, save me
For after thy statutes have I sought.

Ah, those eyes so sweet
and thy lips, O Word, how shall I close them?
How the dues of death shall I pay to thee?
So cried Joseph as he shook with holy fear. . .”

Great and Holy Friday Lamentations (1st Stasis)

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In a grave they laid Thee,
O my life and my Christ,
And the armies of the Angels were sore amazed
As they saw the praise of Thy submissive love.

Verse: Thou hast enjoined Thy commmandments, that we should keep them most diligently.

O my dear Christ Jesus,
King and Ruler of all,
Why to them that dwelt in Hades didst Thou descend?
Was it not to set the race of mortals free?

Verse:I will confess Thee with uprightness of heart, when I have learned
judgments of Thy righteousness.

In a grave they laid Thee,
O my Life and my Christ,
Yet the Lord of death has Thou by Thy
death destroyed;
And the world of Thee doth drink rich streams of life.

Verse: In my heart have I hid Thy sayings that I might not sin against
Thee.

O my sweet Lord Jesus,
My salvation, my light,
How art thou now by a grave and its darkness hid
How unspeakable the mystery of Thy love.

Verse: Make me to understand the way of Thy statutes, and I will ponder on Thy wondrous works.

Thou, O Christ was buried
In a tomb newly made,
Thus renewing the whole nature of mortal men
By arising from the dead as God in truth.

Verse: Before I was humbled, I trangressed therefore Thy saying have I
kept.

“Who will give me water
For the tears I must weep?”
So the Maiden wed to God cried with loud lament,
“That for my sweel Jesus I may rightly mourn.”

Verse: Thou art good, O Lord and in Thy goodness teach me Thy statutes.

Savior, Thou wast hidden
‘Neath the earth like the sun,
And was covered as with shrouds by the right of death.
But more radiantly do Thou arise, O Lord.

This video featured the Boston Byzantine Choir.