Talk given to the girls of St Felix School at Southwold in Suffolk on
7 March 2001
What were you doing at this time yesterday? And a week ago? And on this day a year ago? Difficult to remember? Today I am going to take you back in time not a day, or a week, or a year, not even 1,000 years, but some 1,400 years.
Imagine: at that time Southwold was a tiny fishing hamlet, Ipswich, the oldest English settlement, was only a small village, and London had a population of perhaps three thousand. This was a wild area, criss-crossed by tracks, sparsely populated, with much marsh and woodland. People lived in thatched huts, often near rivers, which they used for transport. There were no stone or brick buildings, apart from a few Roman ruins. Not far from here, at Rendlesham near Woodbridge, was the chief place of all East Anglia, the palace of the King. It was today what we would call a barn. Nearby, at Sutton Hoo, kings were buried in their longships, their bodies buried together with slaves, living sacrifices. Then mounds were raised over them, almost like pyramids.
At that time England was divided into Seven Kingdoms. There were often civil wars between them. There were no police. Might was Right. There were no schools, no hospitals, no books, no reading and writing, because there was no alphabet as we know it. There were no shops for food and clothes, you had to eat what you could grow and dress in wool. Often there were famines because people ran out of food. It was a dark and cold age with little comfort.
But just as a dark room can become light, so a dark age can become light, if someone is willing to bring that light. And into cold hearts can come warmth, if someone is willing to bring that warmth. This happened here in about the year 630. At that time a man called Felix came here from France. There he had instructed the once exiled King of East Anglia, Sigebert, in the Christian faith and had baptised him. Now back in East Anglia, that same King had invited Felix to come here. Tradition tells us that this man, Bishop Felix, began preaching the Gospel of Christ in what is now Felixstowe, the place later named after him.
Felix built churches, monasteries, a Cathedral, probably not far from here at Dunwich, and also a school. This was the first school in East Anglia, in fact the first St Felix School, the inspiration for this School. Indeed, without it, the world-renowned East Anglian University of Cambridge would never have come into existence.
In seventeen years, Felix travelled the length and breadth of East Anglia, transforming it through his missionary journeys, through Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. He travelled by boat, by horse and on foot. Many people remembered him and his name, at Felixstowe and at Flixton and at Flitcham. Even as far afield as Yorkshire there is a place called Felixkirk which is named after him.
So well remembered is he that in the last four years, two new churches here in Suffolk have been dedicated to him, including our own Orthodox church in Felixstowe. We have written down his life for the memory of future generations, a service has been written to him, part of which you have heard sung today, and icons of him painted, one of which you can see behind you. Christians honour him in their different ways.
Why is he so honoured so long after he lived here? Because he brought light where before there had been darkness, warmth where before there had been cold, comfort where before there had been no Church. In other words, where there had been no civilization and no culture, no alphabet and no books, no schools and no education, no hospitals and no healthcare, no laws and no unity, he and his followers brought all these things inasmuch as they brought the Church.
So what does St Felix mean to you and to me, to us, today? Now that we have inherited all these things that he and his followers brought, who is St Felix for us? In order to answer this question, we will have to travel through time again. We began by travelling back through time, now I want to take you forward through time.
Many of you have no doubt wondered about your future. Maybe you have asked yourselves the question: 'Where will I be in one year's time, in ten years' time, in twenty years' time?'
A high-flying lawyer?
A government minister?
A businesswoman based in New York and travelling all over the world?
A software programmer?
A missionary in Africa?
A famous writer about a girl magician?
A singer or musician on stage in front of thousands?
A famous actress?
A social worker in a deprived part of London?
A mother with six children, a happy family?
Whatever your hopes, whatever your dreams, you who have the life and the talents that God has given you and created you for, remember these words:
Be truly students of St Felix, be like St Felix: bring light where once there was darkness.
Take these words into your hearts and then you will be able to say to yourselves: 'I have made a difference, my life is not in vain, it is not worthless and empty and futile, my life is full and positive, not bitter, cynical and negative. Through me light has been brought into darkness, cold hearts have been warmed, comfort has been given'. You will say: I have lit a candle in people's minds and inspired them, starting a fire in their very souls.
Then you will have been like St Felix, bringing light instead of darkness, and you will have done good for God and for man.
you for listening.