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April 30, 2019

Saint Clement the Hymnographer, who was a Composer of Canons

St. Clement the Hymnographer (Feast Day - April 30)


Clement gladdened the earthborn below with songs,
He departed gladdened like the songs and intelligences.

Though we have little information on Saint Clement, we know from an anonymous canon dedicated to him that he "dwelt on the holy mountain," which at that time, most probably, was Mount Olympus in Bithynia. He was a zealous iconophile who venerated the holy icons and suffered on behalf of this as a Confessor. It is said that he died in peace while in exile. He was born, most likely, before 765 and he must have died sometime after 824, as we can conclude from his canon on Saint Niketas of Medikion, who died in the same year.

He is primarily known as a composer of canons, and probably composed around thirty of them. He was not a melodist but he borrowed his motifs from other canons already in use by the Church. He always signs his works with the acrostic ΚΛΗΜΕΝΤΟΣ (KLEMENTOS, which is Clement in Greek) formed by the initials of the theotokia,* the consistent use of which is supposed to be also his contribution to hymnography. Also, all but a few of his canons contain references to the veneration of icons or the heresy of iconoclasm.

Probably one of the earliest references to holy images in hymnography is encountered in the theotokion of the fifth ode of the canon for the Archangels Michael and Gabriel (Nov. 8), composed by Clement, which reads:

Ἐν δυσὶ τελείαις ἕνα σε γινώσκομεν φύσεσι κύριον, ἐνεργείαις ἄμφω καὶ θελήσεσιν ὄντα ἀσύγχυτον, τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, ἐκ γυναικὸς λαβόντα σάρκα, ἧς τὴν θέαν τιμῶμεν τοῖς πίναξιν.

We acknowledge you, one Lord in two complete natures, both in energies and wills unmingled, the son of God, who received flesh from a woman, whose countenance we honor in icons.

Not only does the theotokion clearly reflect the current controversy, but it also raises icon veneration to a dogmatic level and situates it within the context of Christology. This is evident from the hymnographer’s reference to — or rather, his confession of — the two complete and unmingled natures and the two energies and wills of Christ. The hymnographer alludes to the doctrinal definitions of the Synod of Chalcedon (451), at which one nature theology was condemned, and of the Third Synod of Constantinople (680/681), which denounced one energy and one will theology as heresies. Iconoclasm, which iconophiles regarded as a continuation of the previous Christological heresies, is condemned at the end of the stanza through reference to the veneration of icons of the Virgin, who played a vital role in Christ’s incarnation by giving him flesh. Packed with succinct yet pointed articulations of Orthodoxy, the stanza was clearly designed to uphold the correct doctrine for the spiritual benefit of the congregation.

It should be noted that some believe this Clement was the Clement to whom Saint Theodore the Studite wrote three epistles (302, 433 and 538), or at least they confuse the two. There we learn that Clement succumbed to the heretical iconophiles and left the Studion Monastery, but he later returned to Orthodoxy and was rehabilitated into the monastic community. He became a disciple and notary of Theodore the Studite. He together with Theodore visited Saint Ioannikios on Mount Olympus. In 868 he was the successor of Saint Nicholas as abbot of Studion Monastery.


* There are nine odes to a canon only during Great Lent, because ode 2 is a penitential ode and only used during Great Lent, and this coincides with the nine letters of ΚΛΗΜΕΝΤΟΣ. However, outside of Great Lent there are eight odes to a canon, and for these the Λ is dropped and the acrostic reads as ΚΗΜΕΝΤΟΣ.