Excerpt from: Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition

Foreword: Orthodox England

England arise! The long, long night is over,
Faint in the East behold the dawn appear;
Out of your evil dream of toil and sorrow
Arise, O England, for the day is here!

Edward Carpenter, 1844-1929

In this quiet corner of Essex stands this little church, raised up as the sun was going down on Saxon England, nigh on one thousand summers ago. Those who toiled here for the glory of God and the good of their fellow-man little knew that the English land and people were soon to be tricked out of their age-old Christian heritage, which had made them an integral part of the first thousand years of Christendom. For their Christendom, a Commonwealth of Faith, was about to be finally sundered by a movement which would subvert the centre and so the whole of the Faith in Western Europe. As the 11th century progressed, this movement gradually isolated the West from the sources of Christendom in the East.

In England a clear break is marked by the Norman invasion of 1066. The Normans brought with them the illusions of worldly power and glory, of 'the Establishment', which have so deluded the governments of these islands down the centuries. The first victims of the Normans were the Old English themselves, the most venal of whom soon accepted the dubious privileges of the race-based and then class-based Norman Establishment. The Normans, the shock-troops of the new spirit of Western Europe, which had made the Western Church into a State, brought Old England to rack and ruin by fire and sword, leaving the fortunate to flee to Constantinople and Southern Russia. Their next victims were the Celtic peoples, the Welsh, the Irish and the Scots. And after them rulers and barons spread their lust for power abroad in bloodletting in Europe in vain, dynastic claims. Then their descendants sought after power and commerce and exploitation overseas, and that ended in the slaughter of the Great War, when a million young people from these islands were sent by heartless leaders to futile deaths in a Continental war. As the poet Maurice Hewlett wrote in 1916 in his The Song of the Plow: 'The governing class is by the race even now preponderatingly Latin-French with a Scandinavian admixture; by tradition, breeding and education it is entirely so. All the apparatus, all the science, all the circumstances of government are still Norman! For nearly the whole of the second millennium England and all these islands have been caught up in something other than Orthodox Christianity - because neglecting to seek first the things of the Spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven.

Yet behind and beyond the delusions of recent history still there shines that full brightness and beauty of the Christian heritage of that other, inner England of the Old English. Accepting the Faith from Celt and Roman alike, in the West of England there lies Glastonbury and its inspiring legends. On the Somerset coast, in a secret place, the little Saxon church at Culbone still recalls that spirit. In the North, Holy Island and the traditions of St Cuthbert are called to mind in the church at Escomb in County Durham. And in the East there is Canterbury, the Mother-City of English Christianity, whose old spirit can still be felt in the church at Bradwell, which the Apostle of Essex, St Cedd, built down by the sea.

For underneath the outer England with all its illusions that the Normans brought and imposed, flowed and still flows another Christianity, still continued in the East, though cruelly harassed and at times disfigured by States and their hirelings. This Christianity is Orthodoxy. Some, glancing at it superficially, might see in it only a foreign ritual or folklore, a mere culture, but it is in fact the Gospel Faith, the Faith of the Apostles and the Fathers, the Faith and rightful spiritual heritage of the Christian Commonwealth of the first millennium. To it, this land, these islands and all the Western corner of Europe once belonged, before that revolutionary movement of the 11th century which cut them off first from their own past, one thousand years of Faith, and then from all the Christian East in Europe and Asia and Africa. Orthodox Christianity is the Faith revealed to the repentant in their quest for the Holy Spirit; it is thus that confession of the Holy Spirit which brings us to partake of the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Should we accept this Orthodox Christianity, we would thus accept the struggle for the Holy Spirit; the struggle for the soul of English History, the soul of England; and in so doing we would accept, 'not ceasing from the mental fight' of prayer, the struggle to build Jerusalem here 'in England's green and pleasant land'. That is to say we would accept the struggle to rebuild the Orthodox Christian heritage of the English land and people, the denormanising of our hearts and minds, the restoration and resurrection of England.

And this struggle is foreshown by the standard that flies above many of England's churches, as above Orthodox England, the blood-red cross on the field of white, the standard of the Resurrection and the standard of Jerusalem and the standard of England. For after struggle we shall pass from the 'dark, Satanic mills' of the 'mind-forged manacles' of human reason that rejects the grace of God, to the bright, Paschal joy of the heart that leaps, as it is lit by the grace of God.

And the very stones of this little church, grown anxious in their watching and waiting as they approach their thousandth anniversary, whisper to me that it must be so.

Even so, Come, O Lord Jesus!

Fr. Andrew Phillips

St Katharine's Church, Little Bardfield, Essex.

21 July 1995, St Edgar the Peaceful, King of All England

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More details of the book "Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition" and where to buy it, can be found on The English Orthodox Trust page of this site.