A blog by Dr. David B. Gowler (Oxford College of Emory University) chronicling the journey of writing a book for Baker Academic on the reception history of the parables of the New Testament Gospels: The Parables after Jesus: Their Imaginative Receptions across Two Millennia.
Many people have never heard of Romanos the Melodist (ca. 485-555), but his voice is another extremely important one in the early church that I will highlight in the book.
Romanos is the greatest Byzantine liturgical
poet and hymn writer—some argue that he is perhaps the most famous liturgical
poet of the Orthodox Church—and, as such, was often called the “Christian
Pindar” (Trypanis 1971: liii). Romanos was born in Emesa (Syria), was educated and
became a deacon in Beirut, and later moved to Constantinople, where he spent
most of his life serving the church during the reign of Emperor Justinian.
Beyond those few details, little else is known about Romanos other than his
creation, according to tradition, of around thousand kontakia (although only approximately eighty-nine extant kontakia are attributed to him, and
probably only around sixty of them are authentic).A kontakion is a chanted
sermon that combines dramatic dialogue and theological teachings (Hastings
1999: 70). Such kontakia consist of at
least one prelude and usually between thirteen and twenty-four stanzas (each
called an ikos) in the same meter; each
stanza ends with the same refrain. Kontakia
encourage participation from the congregation both in form and content (Lash
1995: xv-xxix). Only the texts of these kontakia
survive; the accompanying music has not.
According to church tradition, Romanos received the spiritual gift of
composing kontakia during a dream he
had of the Virgin Mary. Mary gave him a scroll, told him to swallow it, and
when he awoke from his trance began to chant his first kontakion, which was about the Nativity of Jesus (Lash 1995:
xxvii). An analysis of the authentic Romanos kontakia, however, reveals the influence of hymns by Ephrem the
Syrian (Benedetto 2008: 577), as well as earlier Greek sermons and other
sources (see Lash 1995: 240-261). My next two posts will be about Romanos's interpretation of the Prodigal Son parable.