“Fierce was the wild billow”: An Eastern Orthodox hymn

This hymn, originally written in Greek, is ascribed to Anatolius of the seventh century. The following is an English translation by John Mason Neale from 1862.

Fierce was the wild billow, Dark was the night;
Oars labored heavily, Foam glimmered white;
Trembled the mariners, Peril was nigh:
Then said the God of God, “Peace! it is I.”

Ridge of the mountain wave, Lower thy crest!
Wail of Euroclydon,* Be thou at rest!
Sorrow can never be, Darkness must fly,
Where saith the Light of light, “Peace! it is I.”

Jesus, Deliverer, Come thou to me;
Soothe my voyaging Over life’s sea:
Thou, when the storm of death Roars, sweeping by,
Whisper, O Truth of Truth, “Peace! it is I.”

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* Euroclydon (Gr. Euros [east] + kludo [billow, surge]): the name given in ancient times to the stormy northeast wind that blows in the Adriatic Gulf (see Acts 27:14). Feared among sailors for its destructive power, it is known today as the “Gregale.”

Jesus walks on water

Jacques Richard Sassandra (1932- ), Christ Walking on the Water. Woodcut after Jacopo Tintoretto’s Christ at the Sea of Galilee.

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This poem is based on the New Testament episode of Christ’s walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52)—not to be confused with the similar account of Christ’s calming the storm from Matthew 8:23-27 (cf. Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25). 

In this story Jesus tells his disciples to board a boat and cross the Sea of Galilee ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he stays on shore to pray. When the disciples reach mid-sea, a storm hits, and they struggle to keep the boat from toppling over. By this time it is past midnight, so the sky is pitch black, but in this blackness they can sense the movement of a figure atop the water. Thinking it’s a ghost, they squeal like crazy, only to be interrupted by the soft, calm words of their master: “Take heart! it is I. Do not be afraid.” Then Jesus climbs into the boat with them, and when he does, the storm stops.

When the disciples were in trouble, they couldn’t see Jesus anywhere. “Why has he abandoned us?” they probably thought. “We can’t handle this ourselves!” But he was in control of the situation the whole time. In fact, he used the storm as an opportunity to test Peter’s faith and display his power.

At the risk of sounding trite, let me hammer in the obvious lesson here: Sometimes when life’s storms hit us, we feel helpless and alone. But it’s important to remember that God is with us during the storms—he steps right into them for our sakes, reassuring us with his presence and with the promise of inner stillness. At any time we can beckon him to our boat, as does the writer of this hymn, and he will come bringing peace and rest.

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