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History of Hymns: "Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain"

"Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain"
John of Damascus
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 315

John of Damascus

Come, ye faithful, raise the strain
of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought forth Israel
into joy from sadness;
Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s sons and daughters,
Led them with unmoistened foot
through the Red Sea waters.

“Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain” is a Greek Resurrection hymn written by John of Damascus (c. 675-749) in the 8th century. The translation by John Mason Neale (1818-1866) first appeared in Christian Remembrance (April 1859) in an article on “Greek Hymnody” and then in Hymns of the Eastern Church (1862) in four stanzas.

The text is the first ode from the Canon for St. Thomas’s Sunday, the Sunday after Easter or Low Sunday, and is based on the canticle “The Song of Moses” from Exodus 15. A clear connection can be seen in the hymn from Exodus 14 and 15 through the vivid language used. “Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain” can be used the Sunday after Easter.

The main theological theme of this hymn is deliverance. Stanza one discusses the joy the Israelites had after being delivered from Pharaoh across the Red Sea. This stanza provides an easy link to Moses and his song.

The next three stanzas transfer the focus to Jesus. They discuss Jesus’ resurrection and the deliverance brought to humankind from their sins through this action. The hymn serves as praise to God for continuing to deliver God’s people throughout history.

John of Damascus was born at the end of the seventh century and lived well into the eighth century. Around 730, he gave away everything he had and retired to the monastery of St. Sabas, where he was ordained a priest. During this time John wrote works containing a justification for orthodox faith, including his Foundation of Knowledge.

John was among the greatest and most important of the Greek hymn writers. He wrote many canons, a new form of hymnody during his time, for important festivals. Canons, usually sung during monastic office of Lauds and based primarily on nine Canticles, are usually divided into nine odes. An ode is composed of short dramatic strophes in which the climax occurs in the last line. Each strophe has the same number of lines and syllables.

Organized Greek hymnody began, at the earliest, in the 7th century. From 700-900 many Canons were written that contained long odes usually in reference to the Resurrection or at least linked with Easter. The publication of John Mason Neale’s Hymns of the Eastern Church, a collection of Greek Canons from the 5th to the 11th centuries in English poetic form, contributed to a renewed interest in early Christian and Byzantine hymnody.

When translated into English, these poems tended to be awkward for singing. John Mason Neale’s translations are in metrical patterns that are more accessible for English singers while remaining true to the original ideas of the Greek.

“Come Ye, Faithful, Raise the Strain” can be found in many hymnals in many forms. ST. KEVIN and AVE VIRGO VIRGINUM are the most common tunes names found. The version in The UM Hymnal contains four stanzas as found in Hymns of the Eastern Church by Neale, plus an additional alleluia stanza, and uses the tune ST. KEVIN.

Ms. Mash is a student of Dr. Michael Hawn’s in the sacred music program at Perkins School of Theology.

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