The Nativity Kontakion of Saint Romanos the Melodist


Roman_the_MelodistMost Orthodox are probably familiar with the Kontakion of the Nativity (Third Tone) by Saint Romanos the Melodist. The Byzantine melody is lovely and serene.

The translation in the Jordanville Prayer Book, 4th ed. reads:

Today the Virgin giveth birth to Him Who is transcendent in essence; and the earth offereth a cave to Him Who is unapproachable. Angels with shepherds give glory; with a star the Magi do journey; for our sake a young Child is born.

Originally the Kontakion was not merely a single stanza inserted after the 6th Ode of the canon, but a much more substantial genre. The familiar Nativity Kontakion is the prelude of a hymn that consists of twenty-four more stanzas. Much of the Kontakion describes a dialogue between the Mother of God and the Magi, and each stanza ends with the refrain, “a little Child, God before the ages”. The first stanza is still chanted as the oikos just after the prelude-that is before the 7th Ode of the canon of the Feast of the Nativity.



The last three stanzas of the Nativity Kontakion translated by fr.Ephraim Lash:

When the blameless Virgin saw the magi bringing
new and radiant gifts and worshipping,
the star showing him, the shepherds praising him,
she implored the Maker and Creator of all these, saying,
‘Accept, my Child, a trinity of gifts,
grant her who gave you birth three requests.
I pray to you for the seasons
and for the fruits of the earth and for those who dwell on it.
Be reconciled to all, because through me you have been born
a little Child, God before the ages.

‘For I am not simply your mother, compassionate Saviour;
it is not in vain that I suckle the giver of milk,
but for the sake of all I implore you.
You have made me the mouth and the boast of all my race,
and your world has me
as a mighty protection, a wall and a buttress.
They look to me, those who were cast out
of the Paradise of pleasure, for I bring them back.
May all things understand that, through me, you have been born
a little Child, God before the ages.

‘Save the world, O Saviour. For this you have come.
Set your whole universe aright. For this you have shone
on me and on the magi and on all creation.
For see, the magi, to whom you have shown the light of your face,
fall down before you and offer gifts,
useful, fair and eagerly sought.
For I have need of them, since I am about
to go to Egypt and to flee with you and for you,
my Guide, my Son, my Maker, my Redeemer,
a little Child, God before the ages.’