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Saint Romanos the Melodist on Prophet Elijah


This Kontakion, a form of sung sermon, was composed by Saint Romanos the Melodist around 500. Note how Saint Romanos explains the prophet's ascent in the last verses.

This Kontakion, a form of sung sermon, was composed by Saint Romanos the Melodist around 500.

Note how Saint Romanos explains the prophet’s ascent in the last verses.

This is from Kontakia of Romanos, Byzantine Melodist, II: On Christian Life, translated and annotated by Marjorie Carpenter (1970: University of Missouri Press) pp. 115-131.


Elijah, of great renown, prophet with foresight of the great works
Of our God, thou who didst with thy word hold back the rain clouds,
Intercede for us before
The only Friend of man.

Strophe 1:

When he saw the great lawlessness of man
and the great love of God for man,
The prophet Elijah was provoked and angered
And cast pitiless words at the God of great pity, saying:
“Make Thy anger felt against those who now disregard Thee, most just Judge.”
But in no way did he change the heart of the good Lord for the chastisement
Of those who had scorned Him; for always He awaits the repentance of all men,
The only Friend of man.

Strophe 2:

Then when the prophet saw that all the earth was in a state of lawlessness
And that the Exalted One was not angered but even allowed it,
He was moved to anger, and he declared to the Merciful One:
“I shall take control over and punish the impiety of those who scorn Thee.
They have all despised Thy great long-suffering; and they have not considered
Thee as All-Merciful Father. But Thou, the Lover of children, dost take pity on Thy sons,
Thou, the only Friend of man.”

Strophe 3:

“Now, I shall judge in favor of the Creator;
I shall completely wipe the impious from off the earth.
I shall decree their punishment; but I fear His divine kindness,
For the Lover of man is troubled by a few tears.
What, then, can I think up in the face of such goodness?
And how shall I counteract His mercy?
Perhaps in strengthening my decree with an oath,
So that, shamed at it, the Just One will accept
My harsh sentence, and in so doing confirm my judgment
That He as the All-Powerful One
Is the Friend of man.”

Strophe 4:

The oath preceded the judgment and was a preamble of the decisions;
But if you wish, let us hurry to the Bible and let us read the words.
For the prophet said in his anger, as it is written:
“By the life of the Lord, neither dew nor rain shall fall except at my word.”
But at once the King answered Elijah: “If I see repentance
And tears flowing freely, it will be impossible for Me
Not to supply My mercy to men.
I am the only Friend of man.”

Strophe 5:

The prophet at once spoke up and put forward the rightness of his oath:
“I have sworn by Thee,” he said, “the God of all, the most holy Lord,
That rain will not be given except by my command.
Whenever I see that the people have repented, I shall entreat Thee.
It is not, then, in Thy power, O most just Judge, to do away with the punishment,
Resulting from the oath that I have made. Guard and seal it
As Thou dost restrict Thy tender care,
O only Friend of man.”

Strophe 6:

Famine besieged the land, and the inhabitants were brought to ruin,
Groaning and raising their hands in supplication to the All-Merciful.
The Master was distressed by a dilemma:
On the one hand, He wished to open His heart to the supplicants
And to hasten His compassion;
But, on the other hand, He respected the oath of the prophet.
He did not give rain, but He devised a pretext
That would restrain and distress the spirit of the prophet,
He, the only Friend of man.

[The next 24 strophes describe how God manages to soften Elijah’s heart towards suffering humanity, by means of a famished widow and her dying son. At last Elijah relents and allows God to send forth His rain, until…]

Strophe 30:

Then, after a certain amount of time had passed, Elijah saw man’s sin,
And he took thought as to how an even harsher punshment might be inflicted.
The Merciful One, observing this, said to the prophet:
“I know the zeal that you have for righteousness, and I know your intention,
But I feel for the sinners whenever they suffer beyond all measure.
But you, as blameless, grow angry, and are not able to endure it.
Yet I cannot endure that anyone be destroyed;
I am the only Friend of man.”

Strophe 31:

But after this, the Master, seeing that Elijah was harsh toward men
And that he was disturbed about the race of man, separated him from the earth,
Saying: “Be set apart from the dwelling of men.
But I, as One who pities, shall descend to men and become man.
Depart, then, from the earth, since you are not able to endure the sins of men,
While I, a heavenly being, shall be with the sinners, and save them from their sins,
I, the only Friend of man.”

Strophe 32:

“If, as I have said, prophet, you are unable to live with men who have sinned,
Then, come, and with Me inhabit the domain of My friends; there is no sin there.
But I shall descend, since I am able to take on my shoulders the lost sheep,
And to cry to the fallen: ‘All you who are sinners, come, hurry to Me and find rest,
For I have come, not to punish those whom I created, but to snatch sinners from iniquity;
I, the only Friend of man.'”