A Kontakion (also kondakion, kondak, and kontak; plural kontakia, kondakia) is a type of thematic hymn in the Orthodox Church and other Eastern Christian churches. Originally, the kontakion was an extended homily in verse consisting of one or two proemia (preliminary stanzas) followed by several strophes, usually between 18 and 24. The kontakia were so long that the text was rolled up on a pole for use in the services -- the genesis of the name kontakion, which means "from the pole" in Greek. It is typical of the form that each of the proemia and strophes end with the same refrain. Acrostics are also a hallmark of this hymnographic form.
In current practice, the kontakion has been greatly abbreviated. Only the (first) proemium and first strophe are sung or read after the sixth ode of the canon at orthros. The proemium alone is sung at the Divine Liturgy, following the troparia, and most other services of the daily cycle. The kontakion is not sung at vespers.
According to tradition, Saint Roman the Melodist wrote the first kontakion, the Kontakion for the Birth of Our Lord, by divine inspiration. Legend aside, Roman established the kontakion in the form it retained for centuries, and he is the most famous composer of kontakia.
- Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
- And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
- Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
- The wise men journey with a star!
- Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!
- —Kontakion for Christmas, Roman the Melodist