Eternal Father, Strong to Save

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Sung by the U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters

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An instrumental sample of a single verse from Eternal Father, Strong to Save.

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"Eternal Father, Strong to Save" is a hymn traditionally associated with seafarers, particularly in the maritime armed services. Written in 1860, its author William Whiting was inspired by the dangers of the sea described in Psalm 107. It was popularized by the Royal Navy and the United States Navy in the late 19th century, and variations of it were soon adopted by many branches of the armed services in the United Kingdom and the United States. Services who have adapted the hymn include the Royal Marines, Royal Air Force, the British Army, the United States Coast Guard and the United States Marine Corps, as well as many navies of the British Commonwealth. Accordingly, it is known by many names, variously referred to as the Hymn of Her Majesty's Armed Forces, the Royal Navy Hymn, the United States Navy Hymn (or just The Navy Hymn), and sometimes by the last line of its first verse, "For Those in Peril on the Sea." The hymn has a long tradition in civilian maritime contexts as well, being regularly invoked by ship's chaplains and sung during services on ocean crossings.

Origin[edit]

The original hymn was written in 1860 by William Whiting, an Anglican churchman from Winchester, Great Britain. Whiting grew up near the ocean on the coasts of England, and at the age of thirty-five had felt his life spared by God when a violent storm nearly claimed the ship he was travelling on, instilling a belief in God's command over the rage and calm of the sea. As headmaster of the Winchester College Choristers' School some years later, he was approached by a student about to travel to the United States, who confided in Whiting an overwhelming fear of the ocean voyage. Whiting shared his experiences of the ocean, wrote the hymn to "anchor his faith".[1] In writing it, Whiting is generally thought to have been inspired by Psalm 107,[2] which describes the power and fury of the seas in great detail:

Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away.
Psalm 107: 23-26

Within a year the text appeared in the influential first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (HA&M) in 1861 and its circulation became widespread throughout England.[3] The text was substantially revised by the compilers of that edition. In response Whiting continued to revise his own text, releasing another version in 1869 and third in 1874, the last one incorporating most of the suggested changes by HA&M.[4]

Meanwhile, John B. Dykes, an Anglican clergyman, composed the tune "Melita" to accompany the HA&M version of 1861. Dykes was a well-known composer of nearly three hundred hymn tunes, many of which are still in use today.[5] "Melita" is an archaic term for Malta, an ancient seafaring nation which has been a colony of the British Empire. It was the site of a shipwreck, mentioned in Acts of the Apostles (chapters 27-28), involving the Apostle Paul.

The original words of the 1861 version are:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Certain verses have been changed in modern hymnals for various reasons. The first verse refers to God the Father's forbidding the waters to flood the earth as described in Psalm 104. The second verse refers to Jesus' miracles of stilling a storm and walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. The third verse references the Holy Spirit's role in the creation of the earth in the Book of Genesis, while the final verse is a reference to Psalm 107.[6]

Navy adaptation[edit]

The adoption of the hymn for devotional use and benedictions in the armed services was first recorded in 1879. In that year, Lieutenant Commander Charles Jackson Train was a navigation instructor at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and the master of the Midshipman Choir. Train began the practice of concluding Divine Services with the 1861 version of the hymn every Sunday, whereby it eventually became an academy, and then a service-wide, tradition, becoming known as the Navy Hymn. Various changes were made to the lyrics to suit changes in the culture and technology of the navy.[7] Numerous additional variants have been written as well for various purposes, often to specifically represent a particular branch of naval service.[8]

Adoption of the hymn by the Royal Navy may have occurred earlier than its use in the United States, though no clear records exist for when the hymn was first used. However, the hymn was in widespread use by the 1890s in the British naval services, though it was felt the text did not succinctly capture the experience of the navy enough and the wording has thus evolved. An extra verse was added during World War I to reflect the introduction of the Royal Naval Air Service.[9] The result today is a hymn somewhat different from its American counterpart, with the optional fifth verse for specific service branches being recited between the second and third verses.

Episcopalian adaptation[edit]

In 1940, the U.S. Episcopal Church altered three verses of the hymn to include travel on the land in the second verse (referencing Psalm 50) and in the air in the third verse (again referencing Genesis). This was published as Hymn #513 while the original lyrics were also published as Hymn #512 in The Hymnal 1940. The Hymnal 1982, which is in current use by most Episcopal congregations in the USA, has further revised this version (as Hymn #579) with opening line "Almighty Father, strong to save..." by adding the word "space" to the final verse, so it ends "Glad praise from space, air, land, and sea", acknowledging the possibility of space travel.[10] The Hymnal also has a more traditional water-only version (as Hymn #608) with opening line "Eternal Father, strong to save..."[11] The 1940 version — incorporating sea, land, and air is:

Almighty Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.
O Christ, the Lord of hill and plain
O'er which our traffic runs amain
By mountain pass or valley low;
Wherever, Lord, thy brethren go,
Protect them by thy guarding hand
From every peril on the land.
O Spirit, whom the Father sent
To spread abroad the firmament;
O Wind of heaven, by thy might
Save all who dare the eagle's flight,
And keep them by thy watchful care
From every peril in the air.
O Trinity of love and power,
Our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them whereso'er they go,
Thus evermore shall rise to thee
Glad praise from air and land and sea.

Stanzas 2-3 of the version in the 1940 Hymnal were written by the American bishop Robert Nelson Spencer (1877–1961) and published in 1937.

Other variants[edit]

Several additional or variant verses are in use in the U.S. military services, including the Marines, Seabees, submariners and Coast Guard.[12]

Naval (General)

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
And those who on the ocean ply;
Be with our troops upon the land,
And all who for their country stand:
Be with these guardians day and night
And may their trust be in thy might.
-Author unknown, about 1955

Ship Commissioning

O Father, King of earth and sea,
We dedicate this ship to thee.
In faith we send her on her way;
In faith to thee we humbly pray:
O hear from heaven our sailor's cry
And watch and guard her from on high!
-Author and date unknown

Ship Decommissioning

And when at length her course is run,
Her work for home and country done,
Of all the souls that in her sailed
Let not one life in thee have failed;
But hear from heaven our sailor's cry,
And grant eternal life on high!
-Author and date unknown

Fliers

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
Through the great spaces in the sky
Be with them always, in the air
In darkening storms and sunlight fair.
Oh hear us when we lift our prayer
For those in peril in the air.
-Version evolved from Mary C.D. Hamilton's "Lord Guard and Guide the Men Who Fly" (1915)

Submariners

Lord God, our power evermore
Whose arm doth reach the ocean floor
Dive with our men beneath the sea
Traverse the depths protectively
O hear us when we pray, and keep
them safe from peril in the deep.
-David B. Miller, 1965

Female Sailors

O God, protect the women who,
in service, faith in Thee renew;
O guide devoted hands of skill
And bless their work within Thy will;
Inspire their lives that they may be
Examples fair on land and sea.
-Lines 1-4, Merle E. Strickland, 1972,
and adapted by James D. Shannon, 1973.
Lines 5-6, Beatrice M. Truitt, 1948

Military Families

God, who dost still the restless foam,
Protect the ones we love at home.
Provide that they should always be
By thine own grace both safe and free.
O Father, hear us when we pray
For those we love so far away.
-Hugh Taylor, date unknown

United States Marines

Eternal Father, grant, we pray
To all Marines, both night and day
The courage, honor, strength, and skill
Their land to serve, Thy law fulfill
Be Thou the shield forevermore
From every peril to the Corps.
-J.E. Seim, 1966

Coast Guard

Eternal Father, Lord of hosts,
Watch o'er the men who guard our coasts.
Protect them from the raging seas
And give them light and life and peace.
Grant them from thy great throne above
The shield and shelter of thy love.
-George H. Jenks, Jr., 1955[13]

Navy Seals

Eternal Father, faithful friend,
Be swift to answer those we send
In brotherhood and urgent trust
On hidden missions dangerous
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For SEALs in air, on land, and sea.
-Author and date unknown

Navy Seabees

Lord, stand beside the men who build
And give them courage, strength, and skill
O grant them peace of heart and mind
And comfort loved ones left behind.
Lord, hear our prayer for all Seabees
Where'er they be on land or sea.
-R.J. Dietrich, 1960

Doctors and Corpsman

Creator, Father, who first breathed
In us the life that we received,
By power of Thy breath restore
The ill, and men with wounds of war.
Bless those who give their healing care,
That life and laughter all may share.
-Galen H. Meyer, 1969
Adapted by James D. Shannon, 1970

Astronauts

Eternal Father, King of birth,
Who didst create the heaven and earth,
And bid the planets and the sun
Their own appointed orbits run;
O hear us when we seek thy grace
For those who soar through outer space.
-J.E. Volonte, 1961

Arctic Exploration

Creator, Father, who dost show
Thy splendor in the ice and snow,
Bless those who toil in summer light
And through the cold Antarctic night,
As they Thy frozen wonders learn;
Bless those who wait for their return.
-L.E. Vogel, 1965

Notable uses[edit]

"Eternal Father, Strong to Save", typeset from The Hymnal Army and Navy which was used by American forces during World War II

This hymn was among those sung on August 9, 1941,[14] at a church service aboard the Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales attended by Winston Churchill (who requested that the hymn be sung) and Franklin D. Roosevelt at the conference creating the Atlantic Charter.[15] It was also disputably the last song sung during the Sunday Church Service on 14 April 1912 aboard the RMS Titanic, just hours before it sank.[16]

On Saturday, May 19, 2012, it was the last hymn to be sung during the Church Service held upon a symbolic field of battle at Windsor Castle as part of the Armed Forces Tribute to the Commander in Chief of the combined services, HM Queen Elizabeth II. The Tribute marked the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee, or 60th anniversary, of her accession to the thrones of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, and Dominions and Realms of the Commonwealth of Nations, as well as her accession to the position of Sovereign and Head of State of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Use in funerals[edit]

This hymn has been played or sung at a number of funerals for those who have served in or been otherwise associated with the U.S. Navy. It was sung at the funeral of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, played by the Navy Band at the funeral of John F. Kennedy, sung at the funeral of Richard Nixon, and played by the Navy Band and the Coast Guard Band during the funeral of Ronald Reagan. Roosevelt had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Kennedy was commanding officer of PT-109 in World War II, and Nixon served in the Navy during World War II in the Pacific Theater.[17] The hymn was also played to close the funeral of R. Buckminster Fuller, as well as at the Memorial Ceremony in Norfolk, VA for the USS Cole (DDG-67) after the bombing of the ship in October 2000. The hymn was also played at the funeral services of those killed among the crew of the USS Maine at the beginning of the Spanish-American War. It was performed by the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters at the State Funeral of President Gerald R. Ford, who had served in the Navy during World War II in the Pacific Theater. The hymn was sung by the congregation attending the funeral of news broadcaster Walter Cronkite at St. Bartholomew's Church in New York City. This was the last hymn sung at the funeral of Claude Choules, the last living fighter from WWI, at his funeral in Fremantle, Western Australia on May 20, 2011.

In popular culture[edit]

The hymn, and variants of it, make numerous appearances in films, TV shows, literature and other formats.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Eternal Father, Strong to Save". Center for Church Music. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  2. ^ Osbeck, Kenneth W. (1985). 101 More Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications. p. 81. ISBN 978-0825434204. 
  3. ^ Monk, William Henry (1861). Hymns Ancient and Modern. London, UK: Novello and Company. 
  4. ^ Glover, Raymond F. (1994). The Hymnal 1982 Companion. New York, NY: Church Hymnal Co. p. 608. ISBN 978-0898691436. 
  5. ^ Osbeck, Kenneth W. (1985). 101 More Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications. p. 80. ISBN 978-0825434204. 
  6. ^ Osbeck, Kenneth W. (1985). 101 More Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications. p. 81. ISBN 978-0825434204. 
  7. ^ ""Eternal Father, Strong to Save": The Navy Hymn". Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  8. ^ "Eternal Father -- The "Navy Hymn"". Department of the Navy. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "The Royal Naval Hymn". Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  10. ^ Glover, Raymond F. (1994). The Hymnal 1982 Companion. New York, NY: Church Hymnal Co. p. 579. ISBN 978-0898691436. 
  11. ^ Glover, Raymond F. (1994). The Hymnal 1982 Companion. New York, NY: Church Hymnal Co. p. 608. ISBN 978-0898691436. 
  12. ^ "Eternal Father, Strong to Save: The Navy Hymn". Naval Historical Center. 1997-11-03. 
  13. ^ http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/e/t/eternalf.htm, Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  14. ^ Hal Buell, ed. (2006). World War II Album: The Complete Chronicle of the World's Greatest Conflict. New York City: Tess Press. p. 124. ISBN 1-57912-408-9. 
  15. ^ "W.G. Parker". Ohinemuri.org.nz. Retrieved 2011-09-02. 
  16. ^ Lord, Walter (1976). A Night to Remember. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-004757-8. 
  17. ^ Myers, Whitney V. (May 26, 2008). "The Story Behind Eternal Father Strong to Save". Whitney Tunes. 
  18. ^ "The Secretary's Newsletter". Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland. 2008. Retrieved 2010-09-25. [dead link]
  19. ^ http://www.stjohnscollege.edu/resources/magazines/thecollege_2010_spr.pdf
  20. ^ "Collegiate neighbors face off for croquet cup". WTOP.com. 2009-04-20. Retrieved 2011-09-02. 
  21. ^ "St. John’s College | Events | Annapolis | Croquet". Stjohnscollege.edu. Retrieved 2011-09-02. 
  22. ^ "Rite of spring: St. John's crushes Navy at croquet • Top Stories (www.HometownAnnapolis.com - The Capital)". www.HometownAnnapolis.com. 2010-04-18. Retrieved 2011-09-02. 

External links[edit]