The Ancient Prophecies Foretold

This multi-verse hymn was written for the Nativity Fast by Monsignor Russell Duker of the Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church, in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Several cantors have suggested its inclusion in the forthcoming hymnal.

Current version:

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This hymn was provided to me as a scan by cantor John Michalski of a leaflet that appears to be the work of Mr. John Vernoski. There are slghtly different versions in the material distributed by cantor Jerry Jumba in his Advanced Cantor School, and it appears from this material that "The Ancient Prophecies" was originally intended to be sung as part of a weekly candle ceremony, like that of the Roman Advent wreath. Each of the verses is assigned a start date, a colored c andle, and a theme; presumably one hymn would be sung the first time, then two verses, and so on. There is also a verse and a new refrain to be used starting on the feast of the Nativity.


Here is the text I have:

Begin singing this verse on November 15:

The ancient prophecies foretold
the coming of the birth
of God's anointed Savior
who brings peace upon earth.

He shall be born unto us,
and God will be with us;
and we shall find Him
in the cave of Bethlehem.

Begin singing this verse on the first Sunday of the Fast:
O star of Bethlehem you shine
with brilliance in the sky,
to lead us all to God's own Son
who will save all mankind. Refrain

Begin singing this verse on the second Sunday of the Fast:
The lowly town of Bethlehem,
in the Judean hills,
will be exalted from above
by God's own Gift of Love. Refrain

Begin singing this verse on the third Sunday of the Fast:
With jubilation angels sing
glad tidings of the birth,
proclaiming glory in heaven
for God's Son born on earth. Refrain

Begin singing this verse on the December 6:
As humble shepherds watched their flocks,
these tidings were announced:
The Savior's born in David's town,
in swaddling clothes He's found. Refrain

Begin singing this verse on the second Sunday before the Nativity:
O Magi from the East, you bring
gold, frankincense and myrrh,
and searching for the newborn King
these gifts you now offer. Refrain

Begin singing this verse on the Sunday before the Nativity:
O Joseph, you protect and watch
the Infant Son of God.
In solitude you ponder your
commitment to our God. Refrain

Begin singing this verse on the vigil of the Nativity:
The holy Virgin Mary now
fulfills the will of God,
accepting His divine request
to bear the Son of God. Refrain

Sing this verse and refrain on the Feast of the Nativity and throughout the post-feast:

Emmanuel, Christ God the Lord,
is born for us this day.
We come now to adore our King,
this good news we all say:

He has been born unto us,
and God is now with us;
and we have found him
in the cave of Bethlehem.



Here is the verse melody in the version I have in hand:

The melody is simple, upbeat, and singable. With regular accents on the first and third beat of each measure, the word "upon" is slightly out of kilter.

The slur over "Savior" is not repeated for the other verse. I tried setting all of them to music, but this was rather hard to do because of spacing issues on the page; and to print out each verse under separate lines of music made it much harder to follow. So if his hymn is included, I would just give the words for veres 2-8; this ends up matching the written-out music I was given quite closely.

If you sing the verses to this melody, you will find some bad accents at:

in the Judean hills

proclaiming glory in heaven

these gifts you now offer.

Overall these are not too bad. Whether and how to correct them depends on how well-known the text is.


The real problem with this hymn, in the version I have, is the refrain melody:

I am not sure where this setting came from, but it is uncomfortably close to the melody for the refrain of the well-known Roman Catholic hymn, I am the Bread of Life, by Suzanne Toolan, RSM:

Quite simply, we can't use this melody without gaining copyright permission – and using a well-known Roman Catholic "folk tradition" melody could cause quite a bit of controversy in our church. So what can we do?

Cantor Adam Kemner, who pointed out the above issue, wrote a new refrain melody which avoids the problem entirely. (I made a small change to his version.)

Christine Lehman and Steve Petach of St. Mary's Co-Cathedral in Sherman Oaks, California proposed the following:

sound file

I tweaked it to give it a little more forward motion and make it sound more like a melody than a harmony:

sound file

Which one do you prefer? (I have provided an MP3 of each.) Please post on the blog!

The text, round 2

Cantor Marilyin Hertenstein provided me with this setting of the same hymn from the Pittsburgh Byzantine Catholic Archieparchial Choir.

This settings fixes some of the bad text accents, but the verses which used to refer to the future now speak of Christmas as something which has already happened - not a message we want for a hymn looking forward to the feast!

That got me thinking. As the hymn is presently constituted, we are announcing the Nativity by verse 4 (out of 9), even if we are still singing a pre-Nativity refrain. Is there are way to fix this? Here is what I did:

I also decided to put all the text under notes. Here is the result. (The jury is still out on the melody for the refrain.) What do you think? Please post on the blog!

Include in the hymnal?

As noted in the article on Come, O Jesus, we have relatively few hymns for this liturgical season. This one should be included, once any problems are resolved.

To contribute to this discussion...

Please post your comments and suggestions here, and they will be incorporated into this article.