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Andrew Mellas
PhD Student at The University of Sydney
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Tears of Compunction in Byzantine Hymnography

Today we do not conceive of compunction as an emotion intertwined with the experience of paradisal nostalgia and an outpouring of tears; the Byzantines did. This project unravels the passion of compunction in Byzantium by examining the liturgical poetry of Romanos the Melodist, Andrew of Crete and Kassia the Hymnographer.

Tears of Compunction in Byzantine Hymnography

Investigating the affective stylistics of Byzantine hymnography, this project approaches medieval compunction by reconstructing the historical performance of the texts that embodied, mobilised and enacted this quintessential Byzantine passion. Mellas revisits the dialogic kontakia of Romanos the Melodist, the poignant hymns of Kassia the Hymnographer and the epic kanon of Andrew of Crete, exploring how the ritual dynamics of the liturgy where they were performed unveiled tears of compunction amidst the cosmic drama of human salvation. He argues that the passion of compunction—its emergence, development and ritualization—signified an important event in Eastern Christendom, shaping the Byzantine project of Christianity and becoming an integral aspect of its affective mysticism, which was exemplified in its hymnography.

Experiencing hymnography in Byzantium was a liturgical event. The sacred space, the soundscape, the ‘lightscape’, every movement, each gesture and kiss, even the scent and taste of the liturgy were infused with meaning and emotional significance. The Byzantines saw the order of their highly ritualized society as images of the celestial world. Even a simple procession around the church traced the circle of eternity and consecrated time in their eyes. Language, music and movement were inextricable, and interiority was not merely an allegorical construct; hymnography and holy ritual evoked godly passions, creating an inner space of experience. In reconstructing the performance of compunction in Byzantine hymnography, this project explores the relationships between these modalities and the affective field they created.

Publications:

Mellas, A. 'Tears of Compunction in St John Chrysostom’s On Eutropius'. Studia Patristica 83 (2017): 159–72.

Mellas, A. 'The Passions of His Flesh' - St Cyril of Alexandria and the Emotions of the Logos. Phronema 29.1 (2014):81–100.

Mellas, A. 'Feeling liturgically'. In Creating Liturgically: Hymnography and Music. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Orthodox Church Music, 8–14 June 2015, pp. 392–413. Joensuu: ISOCM, 2017.

Mellas, A. ‘Words Tinctured with Passion - St Gregory of Nyssa’s In Canticum Canticorum and the Emergence of Affective Mysticism in Byzantine Hymnography’. Phronema 30.2 (2015): 169–85.

Mellas, A. ‘The Chora Within: Unveiling Asceticism in St Athanasius’ Life of St Antony. In Alexandrian Legacy: A Critical Appraisal, edited by D. Costache, P. Kariatlis and M. Baghos, pp. 122–38. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015.