Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Christmas Chronicle

I very seldom buy things on a whim. Generally, if I am spending money on something, it is because I need it, or (after a good deal of thought) have decided that I would like to own the thing. Books are one of the few exceptions to this - especially of they are selling for a good price. A Christmas Chronicle by Aloysius Horn was one such impulse buy. It was for sale for $7.00 and I figured it was worth that to have some Christmas reading. It was an excellent investment - a rather delightful mishmash of legends, traditions, and historical tidbits about the celebration of Christmas, from the early days of Christendom, to fairly modern times. They are all short little articles - seldom more than a page, often merely a few paragraphs, but they make for fascinating reading. One of the little stories concerned a certain Saint Romanus the Melodist. (First of all - the Melodist?!? How cool a title is that? How can you not like Saint Romanus right off, with that title attached to the end of his name?) I shall give the story in full: 

To the last part of the 5th century and the first part of the 6th belongs St. Romanus the Melodist, who has been called the greatest of the Greek hymn writrs. 80 of his hymns have survived to our day. He was a Syrian Jew who when quite young, converted to the Christian faith. Later, he became a decon in the church of Beirut, and during the reign of  Emperor Anastasius I (491-518) he moved to Constantinople. It was here on Christmas Eve that Our Lady appeared to St. Romanus in his sleep and gave him a roll of paper, saying, "Take this paper and eat it." From what the saint could later recall, it seemed to him that he did what h had been directed to do. Then he awoke and in great exaltation of spirit went to the Church of the All-Holy Mother of God to assist in the Christmas Liturgy. When the Gospel-book was about to be carried solemnly into the sanctuary, he went up into the deacon's ambo or pulpit and extemporaneously recited his new Christmas hymn:

This hymn, said to be the first of its kind, is still sung in the Christmas Offices of the Byzantine rite, and until the 12th century, it was solemnly sung on this festival at the banquet in the imperial palace by the combined choirs of the greatest churches in Constantinople, Santa Sophia and the Holy Apostles.

I can only imagine how incredible that must have sounded, and what a beautiful tradition that was. There is something delightful about hearing a song of such antiquity, composed as it was, in a fever of inspiration, and with such a tradition associated with it, and knowing that it is still sung at Christmas Mass.

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