Songwriting and Theology – Romanos the Melodist

This week in Songwriting and Theology, a course I’m taking at Duke Divinity in Durham, NC we are studying the “kontakion’s” of Romanus the Melodist, a 6th century deacon and poet of the (eastern orthodox) church who served in both Beirut and later in Constantinople.

Romanus was famous as a preacher poet.  He wrote his hymnic verse in the popular form of the day called “kontakian.”  A “kontakion” is a poetic form frequently encountered in Byzantine hymnography. We can perhaps best describe it as a “sermon in verse accompanied by music”.  A full kontakion was a poetic sermon composed of from 18 to 30 verses, each with a refrain, and often united by an acrostic.

Here is an example

“When they had told all their story,
the magi took the gifts in their hands and worshipped
The Gift of gifts, the Myrrh of myrrh.
They brought Christ gold and myrrh and then incense
And cried, “Accept our triple gift,
As you do the Thrice Holy Hymn of the seraphim.27
Do not reject them like those of Cain,
But embrace them like Abel’s offering,28
Through her who gave you birth,
and through whom you have been born for us,

a little child, God before the ages.”

The reason for this assignment from Dr. Ruth.

By having you look at Romanos, I am hoping that the assignment instills in you even more deeply creative ways of using the Bible to explore and evoke what it means to be saved. I think it is essential as songwriters who are stewards of the church’s faith to be able to find a ground where what we write is both deeply personal and broadly common and accessible for all Christians. I think the Bible provides that point of intersection.

This Weeks Assignment: using his kontakion on the Nativity as the example, write 1 stanza speaking of the birth of Christ in continuity with prior history of God’s dealings with humanity, e.g., as either reversal of a negative state or condition or as fulfillment of promise or anticipatory types.

The world is pierced with Godliness
The incarnation comes
The virgin Mary bears the Word
And wonders at her Son

A child so perfect in her arms, Emmanuel in his grace!

The shepherds marvel at the sign
The sky is pierced with light
The angels sing a brand new song
Their chorus rocks the night

The long awaited, now is here – Gloria in excelsis!

The prophetess and prophet speak
This child will be a sword
To pierce the hearts of Israel
To raise up and cast down

A child so peaceful in their sight, Messiah here at last!

He was pierced for our transgressions
Our great savior through and through
By His wounds we are healed
Through His life, we know shalom

To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God I come

(c) 2011 Bruce Benedict

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑