Romanus the Melodist is one of these, poet, theologian and composer. He learned the foundations of Greek and Syrian culture in his native city, and then moved to Beritus (now Beirut), to complete his classical education and knowledge of rhetoric. After being ordained permanent deacon — around 515 — he was a preacher in this city for three years. He then moved to Constantinople, until the end of the reign of Anastasius I – around 518 – and from there he settled in at the monastery of the Church of the Theotokos, Mother of God.
A key moment of his life took place there: the Synaxar tells us that Mary appeared to him in his dreams and gave him the gift of poetic charism. Mary, in fact, asked him to swallow a scroll. Upon waking the next day, it was Christmas, Romanus began to recite from the pulpit: “Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent” (Hymn On the Nativity, I. Proemium). He became in this way a preacher-cantor until his death (around 555).
Romanus is known in history as one of the most representative authors of liturgical hymns. At the time the homily was for the faithful practically the only opportunity of catechesis. Thus Romanus was not only an eminent witness of the religious sentiment of his day, but also of a lively and original method of catechesis. Through his compositions we can see the creativity of this form of catechesis, of the creativity of the theological thought, of the aesthetic and the sacred hymnography of the era.
The place where Romanus preached was a shrine on the outskirts of Constantinople: he would ascend the pulpit, located in the center of the Church, and he would speak to the community using a rather elaborate setting — he used images on the walls or icons on the pulpit to illustrate his homilies, and even used dialogue. He recited chanted metrical hymns, called kontakia.
Benedict on Romanus the Melodist