|John of Damascus had an unusual childhood for someone who would be remembered for writing Christian hymns. John’s father was a Christian who served as the chief financial adviser to the Caliph Abd-el-Melik, the man who built the magnificent Jerusalem mosque, the Dome of the Rock. John grew up in a wealthy household and, when his father died, assumed his father’s role as advisor to the Caliph.
However, John felt a spiritual call that led him to renounce his wealth and retire to Mar Saba, a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley near Jerusalem. He spent the rest of his life there, and became famous for his writings, preaching, and hymns.
“Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain” is one of two hymns written by John of Damascus that are still found in many hymnbooks today (the other is “The Day of Resurrection”). We have both of these hymns available today because of the work of John Mason Neale, who translated them into English in the 19th Century—a thousand years after John wrote them.
This hymn begins with a celebration of the Exodus—the great miracle that freed Israel from slavery in Egypt. It speaks of God bringing “Israel into joy from sadness” and recounts Israel’s journey through the Red Sea to freedom. It then moves to a celebration of Christ’s resurrection—the freedom that he achieved from his tomb of death. It then calls us to sing “Alleluia” in praise of Christ, “our King immortal,” God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan