St. Romanos the Melodist (born AD 475 in Damascus) wrote this hymn, the Kontakion of the Nativity of Christ. Orthodox Christians sing it on Christmas Eve.

Frederica Mathewes-Green Uploaded by on Dec 24, 2010


What is a kontakion?

A “kontakion” is a poetic form frequently encountered in Byzantine hymnography. It was
probably based in Syriac hymnographical traditions, which underwent an independent
development in Greek-speaking Byzantium. We can perhaps best describe it as a
“sermon in verse accompanied by music”. In character it is similar to the early Byzantine
festival sermons in prose, but meter and music have greatly heightened the drama and
rhetorical beauty of the speaker’s often profound and very rich meditation. The form
generally consists of 18 to 24 metrically identical stanzas (called “oikoi”, or “houses”),
preceded, in another meter, by a short prelude (called a “koukoulion”, or “cowl”) . The
first letters of the stanzas form an acrostic, which frequently includes the name of the
poet; the last line of the prelude introduces a refrain, which is repeated at the end of all
the stanzas. This form became especially popularl after the magnificent work of St.
Romanos the Melodist during the 6th century.

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