Arabic Christmas Carol

The Hymn of the Nativity in Arabic by St. Romanos the Melodist

The original YouTube link calls this a “Christmas Carol” and “Byzantine Hymn”. But this is not a carol, and it is not just another “Byzantine Hymn”: it is the Christmas Troparion written by the incomparable St. Romanos the Melodist, shortly after a vision of the Mother of God in which she unlocked his talent.

Church Legend

St Romanus was not a talented reader or singer. Church legend has it that during this time, Romanos’ voice was quite harsh and rasping and he was also tone deaf. It is said that the congregation cringed at hearing his voice.  Once, on the eve of the Nativity of Christ, he read the kathisma verses. He read so poorly that another reader had to take his place. The clergy ridiculed Romanus, which devastated him.

st romanos

It was in the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos in the Blachernae quarter of Constantinople, that he received the gift of sacred poetry. After a religious retreat there, in his sleep on Christmas eve, the Mother of God appeared to the grief-stricken youth in a vision while he was praying before her Kyriotissa icon. The Most Holy Theotokos told him not to despair. Blessing him with her right hand, she held forth a scroll with her left hand, saying, “Take the scroll and eat it.” The saint, in his dream, opened his mouth and swallowed the parchment. Thus was he given the gift of understanding, composition, and hymnography. It was Christmas Day, and immediately he awakened and marveled and glorified God. According to an account by Poulos, the service commenced as usual and when it came time for the voice of Romanos to be heard, the participants braced themselves for the accustomed cacophony that would ensue. Then, mounting the pulpit in the church, Romanos began the strains of his kontakion: Today the Virgin gives birth to the one who is above all living things. But when the tone rolled across the church like the sound of a heavenly angel, the stunned listeners stood transfixed. When he had finished, the confused priest signaled him to continue and once again the resonant voice reverberated in the house of God. Then it dawned on one and all that a miracle had occurred. He was now hailed as the “Melodist” (Melodos), “Sweet Singer” (Glykophonos),  and “Righteous Chanter” (Psaltis Dhikeosinis). (taken from: http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=102826)

 

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