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St Romanos the Melodist: from the Second Kontakion on the Nativity

The first kontakion of St Romanos the Melodist on the Nativity is well known and much loved. His lesser known second kontakion on the Nativity, however, is also worthy of attention. This dramatic sung-homily opens with the Mother of God singing praises to the newborn child in her arms whom she acknowledges as the “immutable Word that became flesh.” Eve, in Hades, hears the song of praise and rouses Adam from his sleep to tell him the good news. Initially hesitant because he has been deceived by the voice of a woman before, Adam relents and, upon hearing the song, speaks to Eve, upon which they go to the cave in Bethlehem and together petition the mother holding her infant son to change their poverty and remove their shame.

Hearing their prayer the Mother of God tells them to “chase off [their] distress, for I gave life to joy!” Then, in her compassion, she prays to the son in her arms whom she knows to be “God before the ages”:

“Child, since you exalted me through your condescension,

my needy race implores you now through me.

For Adam came to me sighing bitterly,

and Eve, in her suffering, joins him in lament.

And the cause of this is the serpent

that stripped them naked of honor. Therefore they beg

that they be covered, calling out to me: ‘Most favored one’”

Upon hearing the prayer of His mother, Christ speaks to her thusly:

“Mother, both on account of you and through you I save them.

Unless I wanted to save them, I would not have dwelled in you,

I would not have shone forth from you, you would not have been called my mother.

I make the manger my home because of your race,

and willingly am now drawing milk from your breasts.

For their sake you carry me in your arms.

Me, whom the cherubim do not see, behold: you do see and carry,

and caress me like a son, most favored one.”

“I obtained you as mother, I, the Creator of creation,

and like an infant I grow, I, the Perfect from the Perfect.

I am wrapped in swaddling clothes

on account of those who long ago wore clothes made from skin,

and the cave is for me something desirable on account of those who hated

the delights of paradise, but who loved corruption:

They transgressed my life-bearing commandment.

I descended to earth that they may have life.

And if, noble lady, you would also learn of the other deed

which I intend accomplishing for them: together with all the elements

the event will distress you, most favored one….”

“The one being carried in your arms, with his hands pierced by nails

you will shortly see, because I love your race.

The one whom you are feeding, others will give gall to drink.

The one whom you are kissing is bound to be covered with spitting.

The one whom you called ‘life’, you will be able to see

hanging on a cross, and you will lament him as one who has died.

But you will greet me when I have risen, most favored one.”

“And all these events shall I experience willingly,

and the cause of all these events will be the attitude

which from former times until the present time

I showed as God towards men, seeking to save them.”

Hearing this the Mother of God is grieved, but Christ says to her:

“Mother, stop weeping about what you are ignorant of,

for if this will not be accomplished, all these will perish

on behalf of whom you are entreating me, most favored one.”

“But consider my death to be mere sleep, my mother.

For having remained willingly in a tomb for three days,

I will appear to you afterwards

having come to life again, and renewed the earth and those of the earth.

Mother, proclaim this to all, and be enriched by it.” [if !supportLineBreakNewLine] [endif]

St Romanos’ second kontakion thus demonstrates eloquently the nature of the Nativity as the Winter Pascha, and its essential connection with our Lord’s Passover through his death and resurrection.

With love in Christ,

Fr John

(translation of the kontakion by J.H. Barkhuizen)

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