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Voices Only: ‘Prayer for Ukraine’

Here’s a video that’s been making the rounds on social media. It’s a group of Christians singing in a metro station in Kyiv, Ukraine, just days before the attacks from Russia began. Now many Ukrainians are hunkered down in those same subway tunnels as explosions rock their capital.

Related: ‘We stay, pray and try to bring hope’

I asked my Ukrainian friends if someone could translate the lyrics. The title is “Prayer for Ukraine.” Here’s what I got lyric-wise:

May my prayer flow to you like incense sweet to you, my Lord, and may my heart without ceasing sing praises to my gracious God.

Merciful God, we pray for the people. Merciful God, we pray for Ukraine. Save us from sin and forgive. Your grace to the people reveal. Merciful God, I know you’ll take me into your glorious heavenly temple. You gave us joy, peace from above. You died for the people you love. Put their names to the book of life.

You gave the way, truth and life in your eternal living word so that all people prayed the one who was crucified and shed His blood.

I’ve been in the midst of some beautiful singing in Ukraine. In 2015 I spent a couple of days in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin during a spring singing festival. About 120 Christians — representing Churches of Christ across Ukraine, including many meeting in exile after the 2014 conflicts in the east — joined their voices in harmonious Russian. They paused on occasion as a soloist sang — almost chanted, really — Bible verses from the prophets and the Gospels.

Irpin', Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine

In this video, the congregation sings “O God, Jesus Christ” as Miroslav Seliverstov sings Isaiah 61:1-3 (“The spirit of the Lord is on me…”)

The camp’s organizer was American — Stan Bryan. A rancher in northeastern Oklahoma, he preached for a small Church of Christ across the border in Cherryvale, Kan. In 1994, he was part of a 200-member mission team from the U.S. that helped plant churches across the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. Bryan’s group helped launch the Petrovsky Church of Christ — once one of the largest congregations in the country. Now pro-Russian separatists occupy the church’s building.

In this video, women sing texts telling of Christ’s crucifixion. The congregation responds “Christ is risen from the dead.”

Bryan launched the singing camps about 18 years ago. He’s always on the hunt for Russian- and Ukrainian-language songs. Some that he finds come from the the Russian Orthodox tradition, which uses a cappella singing. He also mixes Bible verses about the resurrection of Christ with Russian-language version of traditional American hymns.

Related: Why Ukraine matters to Churches of Christ

A few are English translations. Here’s a Russian version of “Low in the Grave He Lay.”

“I am trying … to give people a vision of what can be done in our churches if there is some leadership to gather and train people to sing,” Bryan said. “In fact, these festivals — without any doubt — show the kinds of things that can be done musically in any church if there is leadership that prioritizes and invests in singing with time, money and work. The singing at our festivals represents many years of hard work — a great improvement over only five years ago. Progress can be achieved in any place and in any church where people have the desire and do the work.”

In this song, “Alleluia,” Julie Strakova sings Psalms 66:1-5 (“Shout for joy to God, all the earth!”) and John 1:1-3,14 (“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”)

Helen Strakhova, one of the participants, told me that the camp provided a great time of spiritual enrichment — especially in the midst of her country’s current conflict.

“I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy. Every minute of it I’m happy,” said Strakhova, who was baptized during the 1994 campaign.

Though she appreciates the style of a cappella worship she learns at the camps, she has a nostalgic fondness for her old, English-language hymnal.

“I love, ‘What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus,’” she sang. “This was the very first song I was taught 21 years ago.”

And this one is one of my favorites: a Russian-language hymn written by church member Konstantin Zhigulin.

What’s your favorite a cappella song? Send us a video link and a short description of what the song means to you. We might use your selection in a future Voices Only.

Filed under: a cappella a cappella hymn a cappella worship internally displaced refugees Russia Ukraine conflict Russian Russian hymns Russian Orthodox Russian separatist Ukraine Voices Only Voices Only

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