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Voices only: ‘Carol of the Bells’ (original Ukrainian version) and a poignant verse of ‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear’

A prayer for 2024: “Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.”

Welcome to Voices only — Christmas edition.

This season I’ve heard “Carol of the Bells” only a few less times than Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” and Wham’s “Last Christmas.” (I had to tap out of “Whamaggedon 2023” sometime in late October. And if you’re still playing, allow me to ruin it for you … )

A lot of folks don’t know that “Carol of the Bells” has a Ukrainian origin. It was a New Years’ folk song called “Shchedryk” (“Bountiful Evening”) or “The Little Swallow.” In the song, a bird flies into a house to tell its occupants — in the midst of a tough Ukrainian winter — of the good fortune they will have in the spring.

Composer Mykola Leontovych wrote the piece in the early 1900s and the Ukrainian National Chorus popularized the song in the West during a tour in 1919 — just two years after the Bolshevik Revolution. After that came the Great Depression, World War II and the Soviet Union. And now, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Here’s a version of the piece sung a cappella by Ukrainian artist Eileen:

This song really hits home in the midst of the conflict, which is nearing the two-year mark as I write this. The swallow tells the farmer that, in spite of the terrible winter, he has a beautiful wife and sheep that will have babies and, as a result, “coin you will have in a big pile.”

Ukrainian and American Christians pray at the meeting place of the Chernivtsi Church of Christ in Western Ukraine in mid-2022.

Ukrainian and American Christians pray at the meeting place of the Chernivtsi Church of Christ in Western Ukraine in mid-2022.

In the same way, we pray for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters to hold on just a little longer. This war will end, and the seeds of faith that they have planted during this troublesome time will yield a harvest beyond what any of us can imagine.

Related: War in Ukraine: Links to The Christian Chronicle’s coverage

Speaking of Ukraine — and conflicts in Israel, Sudan and many other parts of the world ….

Recently, our church sang the hymn “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” published in 1849 by Edmund H. Sears, and one verse really resonated with me. You don’t see it in every transcript of the lyrics, so I don’t know if it was added later, but it goes like this:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

That’s my prayer for 2024 — that men of strife will hush their noise and allow God’s justice to prevail.

Thank you so much for reading and supporting The Christian Chronicle in 2023. I pray for all of us to experience peaceful days and bountiful evenings in 2024.

(A big pile of coin might be nice, too.)

Filed under: Christianity in Ukraine christmas Christmas and Churches of Christ Churches of Christ in Israel Churches of Christ in Ukraine International Israel Hamas war Pray for Ukraine Russia Ukraine war Sudan Ukraine Ukraine war Voices Only

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