UNITED IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, UNITED IN THE SAINTS
First of all, I would like to thank Vladyka Elisei most warmly for inviting me here today. My first direct contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church were with the old Oxford Russian Orthodox parish, before the modern chapel was built, and with Ennismore Gardens, back in 1972, thirty-five years ago. Since then, especially over the last year, there have at last been many long-awaited changes in Orthodox life in these islands. It is indeed thanks to these changes that I am at all able to speak here today on the subject of the Saints of England and our Unity in Christ. Glory to God: Thou art the God that workest wonders!
England is associated with different things by different people. To some, England is the land of business, to others, the land of finance, to others, the land of job opportunity, to others, the land of sport, to yet others, the land of quaint traditions. Unfortunately, the one thing with which England is not associated by most people is holiness. And yet England was and, spiritually, is, the land of three hundred saints (1). And that is the subject of this talk, the Saints of England and our Unity.
I would also like to point out that my subject is our unity in the Saints of England, not the English Saints. For if we were to limit ourselves simply to one ethnic group, then we would have to put aside some of the greatest saints of England, as you will see. The Saints of England, like the Saints of Russia, come from many backgrounds and races (2). In addition, I will not speak today of all the saints of England, even less of all the saints of the Isles. My time is too limited to speak of the Celtic saints of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall; my subject concerns only some of the principal saints who have striven to bring the light of Christ to the territory of England 'at sundry times and in divers manners' (Heb 1,1).
What is a saint? A saint is one who is united to God through repentance. The only difference between ourselves and the saints is our lack of repentance. The human soul is like a mirror. A saint is a soul whose mirror shines without a speck of dirt and so reflects the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, our souls are dirtied and darkened, reflecting not the Light of God, but our own human darkness. This is why the Holy Church sets the Feast of All Saints on the Sunday after the Coming Down of the Holy Spirit, for it is the Holy Spirit, Who cleanses and polishes our souls 'from all impurity', through repentance.
The First Age of Holiness in England
It is often overlooked that Tradition tells us that both the Chief Apostles, Peter and Paul, preached in the land that is now called England (3). This is why in London the two greatest churches are dedicated to them. Thus, Westminster Abbey in the west is dedicated to the Apostle Peter and St Paul's Cathedral in the east to the Apostle Paul. These two holy apostles are the Patron-Saints of London. How long before we Russian Orthodox set up here a church dedicated to them and so honour local tradition?
Tradition says that other Apostles of the Seventy, St Simon the Zealot and St Aristobulus (4), also evangelized here. However, I would like to focus on just one saint of this First Age of Holiness in these islands. His name, meaning 'white', is also the name given by the Romans to this whole country, Albion. His name is Alban (5).
St Alban lived probably at the beginning of the fourth century and he was a soldier, probably a Celt by race. At that time, there were thousands of martyrs, martyred in the same persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. For example, almost in the same year, but at the other end of the Roman Empire, there was the case of another soldier, the Great-Martyr George the Victorious.
'I worship and adore the Living and True God, Who created all things'. These are the words which Alban, the Protomartyr of Britain, uttered over seventeen hundred years ago, probably in the year 305, just a few miles from where I speak today in the city to the north of London that is now called St Albans. With these words, which brought Alban the glory of martyrdom, we have a whole Orthodox catechism.
They mean that our God is the God of the Living, the God of Life and Resurrection, therefore the True God, from Whom all Truth proceeds. This God, and no other, created all things. This God, the Living God, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not the god of vain philosophers and intellectuals, is the God Who alone is worthy of worship and for Whom we can die in martyrdom, as did St Alban. The true England, the spiritual England, the England that shines in the darkness of men's souls, is founded on these words of our holy Protomartyr Alban. We should all learn them by heart: 'I worship and adore the Living and True God, Who created all things'.
The Golden Age of Holiness in England
Archaeology and also Church documents confirm that Church life was organized in Roman Britain and bishops worked here and took part in Church Councils. However, we also know that with the invasion of the pagan English from Denmark and northern Germany in the fifth and sixth centuries, Church life all but disappeared until the events of 597.
It was in that year that the Pope of Rome, St Gregory the Dialogist (+ 604), known in the West as St Gregory the Great, the compiler of our Orthodox Liturgy of the Presanctified, sent here a mission (6). Composed of forty monks, it was led by an Abbot, later an Archbishop, Augustine, who founded the Church which became the Church of the English. This he did not in London, but in the chief town of Kent, Canterbury, the place closest to the Channel ports and Gaul, through which his mission had journeyed.
Although he lived here for only seven years, it was St Augustine (+ 604), the first Archbishop of Canterbury, who began the spiritual enlightenment of the English. More than that, he gave the English an alphabet, a literature, a culture, a Christian civilization. Together with him he brought other missionaries, who set about spreading the faith throughout England, men such as St Laurence (+ 619), St Mellitus (+ 624), the first Bishop of London, and St Paulinus (+ 644) (7), the first Bishop of York. These were followed by missionaries from France, such as St Felix (+ 647), Apostle of the East (8), and St Birinus (+ 650), Apostle of the West.
Despite great initial difficulties and pagan resistance, within two generations the mission had been successful, spreading nationwide. This was in no small measure due to the sacrifices of a series of Kings and Queens who at that time ruled the Seven Kingdoms into which England was divided. Among these are St Ethelbert, King of Kent (+ 616), the English St Vladimir, and St Edwin (+ 633) and St Oswald (+ 642) in the north of England. Aided to a great extent by their Queens and noble daughters and sons, they founded the Church of God in England.
St Augustine's mission in the south was completed by help from Irish monks in the north of England. There were trained at the monastery at Lindisfarne, founded by the Ionan ascetic St Aidan (+ 651). They include the two holy brothers Sts Cedd (+ 664) Apostle of Essex (9) and Chad (+ 672) (10), English but brought up in the faith by the Irish. Other Englishmen were also affected by this movement, for example the great wonderworker St Cuthbert (+ 687) (11) and the holy hierarch Wilfrid (+ 709), whose Lives we still have. They had different but complementary approaches to the Faith, like St Joseph and St Nil in Russia and the relics of St Cuthbert are venerated to this day in Durham.
Then there were the two great Abbesses, spiritual mothers of England. These were St Hilda (+ 680), who prepared no fewer than five bishops, including St John of Beverley (+ 721) (12), the great Yorkshire saint, and St Audrey (+ 679) (13), whose arm relic survives to this day in the city of Ely in Cambridgeshire. Then came the learned Abbots, St Benedict (+ 689) in the North, who imported so many icons and sacred books into this country, and St Aldhelm (+ 709) (14) in the West Country. He wrote a treatise on virginity which can be read to this day. But I would particularly like to dwell on one of the greatest figures of this golden age, the first and only Greek Archbishop of Canterbury, St Theodore (+ 690) (15).
St Theodore was born in Tarsus, in southern Asia Minor, not far from Cyprus, the city of the Apostle Paul. Arriving in England in his sixties in the year 668, he was appointed to be Archbishop of Canterbury. This was because as a Greek working in Latin, he would be neutral in the ethnic dispute which had then arisen between English and Celt. It was he who truly established the Church in these Isles, bringing Eastern practices to counterbalance the Roman formalism and legalism. For these were already appearing in the Patriarchate of Rome and four centuries later they would lead to it altogether falling away from the Universal Orthodox Church. He was a uniter and re-organized Church life here, establishing new dioceses, making peace between the two different ethnic groups in England, teaching and setting the Church on a firm Orthodox footing that would last for centuries afterwards.
After St Theodore, I must also mention the two greatest figures of the eighth century, who reflect the English Orthodoxy of the time. On the one hand, we have the ascetic hermit and wonderworker, St Guthlac of Crowland (+ 714), whose life, which we still have, reads like that of an English St Antony the Great. On the other hand, we have the learned St Bede the Venerable (+ 735), who compiled many, many books from the Holy Fathers and made them available, also translating part of the Gospels available in English. Virtually all of his work survives intact to this day. This age closes with English missionary saints, like St Clement (+ 739), who worked to enlighten Frisia in the north of Holland and St Boniface (+ 754) (16), the Apostle of the German Lands.
The Silver Age of Holiness in England
At the end of the eighth century, in the year 793, England began to suffer attacks from pagans. Just as Orthodoxy had been established in Russia and then was attacked by the Tartars under the Mongol khans, so in England, the flourishing monasteries and churches were also attacked by pagans. These pagans were the Danes, commonly called Vikings. This then was the age of martyrs and it was to continue right until the fall of Orthodox England in the eleventh century. For when England fell to the Normans in 1066, we should not forget that the Normans were in fact only Northmen, Vikings who had settled in northern France and superficially become Christian, but certainly not Orthodox.
From this age of the martyrs, I cannot fail to mention St Edmund (17). He was the King of East Anglia, who resisted the Viking attacks until 869, when he was taken prisoner by them. Refusing to renounce his Faith, he was tied to a tree and shot through with arrows, then beheaded. The martyr Edmund died with the name of Christ on his lips. Some have compared his destiny to that of the martyred Tsar in Russia. Indeed, within thirty years of his martyrdom, Danish settlers, whose fathers had martyred him and hundreds of others, had accepted baptism, venerating him as a saint and minting coins with his holy image on them. As a result, St Edmund became the first Patron Saint of England, right up until the fifteenth century, when veneration for him was replaced by that for St George. It is said that one day his relics will be returned to the town that is named after him, Bury St Edmunds, and when that happens, the end of the world will come.
From this period of the ninth century, we should also mention St Swithin the Wonderworker (+ 862) (18), the saint of Winchester, which then was the English capital, London being only a trading post. As a result of the efforts of King Alfred the Great (19) at the end of the ninth century to restore the Church, in the tenth century a number of great saints come to the fore, notably the Three Holy Hierarchs of England, Sts Ethelwold of Winchester (+ 984), Dunstan of Canterbury (+ 988), Oswald of York (+ 992) (20). Martyrdom continued with the slaying of the King of England, St Edward, in 979 in internecine warfare between different power groups (21) and St Alphege, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, slain by the Vikings in 1012 (22).
We should also mention here the last English missionary, this time to Scandinavia, the martyred Apostle of Sweden, St Sigfrid (+ 1045). It was he who, in Sweden, baptised St Anna of Novgorod (+ 1050) (23). St Anna married Yaroslav of Novgorod and one of their sons, St Vladimir of Novgorod (+ 1052) (24), is venerated as a saint. Given these links, it is no surprise to learn that the English St Botolph (+ 680) (25) was venerated in Kiev in the mid-eleventh century or that Gytha, the daughter of the last English King, Harold, was killed by the Normans at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, took refuge in Russia (23).
Gytha, or Gita Garoldovna as she is called in Russian sources, married Vladimir Monomach and one of their sons is also recognized as a saint. This is St Mstislav (+ 1132) (in holy baptism Theodore). The youngest son son, Yuri (George) Dolgoruky, founded Moscow (23). Indeed 28 May this year marked the 850th anniversary of his death. I think that there are not many of you here today who knew that Moscow was founded by one who was half-English. As you may know, the police cars in Moscow all bear the icon of St George on their doors, for he is the patron-saint of Moscow. But St George is also the patron-saint of the founder of Moscow, the Anglo-Russian George, or Yuri, Dolgoruky. When I see police cars in Moscow, it is of him that I think and I say a prayer for him and his mother and a prayer to his brother, St Mstislav.
The Twentieth Century
We come now to the twentieth century and yet more saints and yet more links. Recently, I stayed at the Convent of Mercy of Sts Martha and Mary on the Bolshaya Ordynka in Moscow. This is the Convent which opened in 1909 under Abbess St Elizabeth (26), the sister of the martyred Tsaritsa Alexandra and the favourite grand-daughter of Queen Victoria. There orphans and the sick were cared for. St Elizabeth spoke and wrote English fluently and, as a child, often spent time in England, especially at Windsor. As you know, Abbess Elizabeth herself was martyred in 1918 and is loved as a great saint.
The church at the Convent, which is now reviving, was only returned in November 2006 and desperately needs funding for restoration work. Just a few days ago I was there, sitting by the grand piano in the Convent, which survived revolution, civil war, purge and persecution. The piano was played both by St Elizabeth and also the martyred Tsar himself. The new head of the Convent, Natalia Anatolievna, needs our help. It is my personal dream that the Convent, a Patriarchal dependency, may one day come to be considered also as a sort of English Dependency in Moscow, where all these saints who link us may be venerated. I am not sure what we, who so desperately need to open many more churches in London and elsewhere, who so desperately need to be able to pay our priests salaries, so that they can work for the Church full time, can do in Moscow. Nevertheless, I am convinced that our veneration for St Elizabeth will itself bring miracles.
At this point I must mention another New Martyr, St Nicholas (Johnson) (27). Of Anglo-Russsian extraction, he had been born in Russia. In 1918 he was martyred together with the Grand Duke Michael, to whom he was private secretary. His icon exists and is venerated. Nor can I fail to speak of another more recent Anglo-Russian link, that of Blessed Sampson (Sivers) (28). Born of an English mother and a Russian father, he became Orthodox as a young man and reposed in Moscow in 1979. He is revered by many as one of the great elders of the last half-century. His life is well known in Russia, many consider him to have been a saint. You can find out more about him on our website, where I have also translated the Canon of Repentance that he wrote.
Finally, I would like to speak to you of what happened, just over two weeks ago, on 16 May. In Moscow for the great and historic events that took place there, I was with one whom I hope I have the privilege of calling my friend, Fr Alexander Shargunov. He may be well known to some of you through his many writings. On that morning, that of the leavetaking of Pascha, the day before the Ascension and the events of 17 May at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Fr Alexander turned to me and asked him to concelebrate with him. Naturally, I said yes. So we both turned to the large icon of St John of Shanghai which he has in his altar and took our blessing from St John and concelebrated, the day before the rest of the two parts of the Russian Church.
It is this St John who is the last saint of whom I wish to speak to you today, for he is a saint who links our little parish in Felixstowe, which is dedicated to him, with you - and you are all warmly invited to our patronal feast on Saturday 30 June. Indeed, he links not just ROCOR with the Patriarchate and vice versa - two weeks ago His Holiness Patriarch Alexis consecrated an altar at the new church in Butovo to St John. He not only links English and Russian, but also links the whole Orthodox oikumene together, for he was a universal saint, who is venerated on all the continents and in many languages.
St John was also Archbishop here in London, with responsibility for England as well as for other countries in Western Europe for some twelve years. Many are the stories told about his time here. Notably, in 1962, when he had to leave us, as he had been appointed Archbishop of San Francisco, he told ROCOR faithful here that he was leaving us in the hands of our Protomartyr, St Alban. And it is here, having turned full circle, that I wish to leave you:
Holy Protomartyr Alban and All the Saints of the Isles, Pray to God for us! (29)
of the Dormition and All Saints,
(The following notes indicate both relevant books and articles which view these saints from an Orthodox perspective, as well as bibliographies for further and more detailed reading).
1) For a full catalogue and gazetteer of these 300 saints, see The Hallowing of England, Anglo-Saxon Books, 1994, 1995 and 1997. For a general survey in Russian of the main Western European saints, see the link 'Saints of Europe' under Orthodox Holiness at www.orthodoxengland.org.uk.
2) See The Saints of Russia and the Universality of Orthodoxy in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, Anglo-Saxon Books and the English Orthodox Trust, 1995 and 1997.
3) For the Apostle Peter, see The Lives of the Saints by St Dimitri of Rostov, 29 June, pp. 649-650, Moscow 1908. For the Apostle Paul see St Paul in Britain by W. Morgan, 1860, reprinted 1984, Artisan Sales, California. See also The Holy Apostles in Britain in Orthodox England Vol 8, No 2, pp. 4-7.
4) For St Simon the Zealot in Britain see St Dimitri of Rostov, 10 May, p. 299, and for St Aristobulus, see St Dimitri of Rostov, 16 March, pp. 321-2.
5) For the Life of St Alban, and those of many others, see A History of the English Church and People by the Venerable Bede (many editions). See also our St Alban, Protomartyr of Britain in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, pp.467-8.
6) See Orthodox Christianity and the Old English Church, The English Orthodox Trust, 1996 and 1998, now available as an e-book at www.orthodoxengland.org.uk.
7) See St Paulinus of York in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, pp. 380-83.
8) See The Story of St Felix, Apostle of East Anglia, The English Orthodox Trust, 2000.
9) See St Cedd, Apostle of Essex in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, pp. 408-411.
10) See St Chad, Bishop of Lichfield in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, pp. 436-8.
11) See St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne: the English St Seraphim of Sarov in The Lighted Way, pp. 24-30, The English Orthodox Trust, 1999.
12) See St John of Beverley in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, pp. 387-90.
13) See St Audrey of Ely, Mother of East Anglia in The Lighted Way, pp. 15-23 and in Orthodox England Vol 2, No 4, pp. 2-6.
14) See The World of St Aldhelm in Orthodox England Vol 3, No 4, pp. 2-9.
15) See St Theodore of Tarsus, Maker of England in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, pp. 305-316. Also St Theodore, Archpastor and Kingdom-Maker in Orthodox England Vol 5, No 1, pp. 12-17.
16) See The 1250th Anniversary: St Boniface of Crediton, Apostle of the German Lands in Orthodox England Vol 7, No 4, pp.2-7 and Vol 8, No 1, pp. 5-11.
17) See The Light from the East: St Edmund, England's Lost Patron Saint in Orthodox England Vol 1, Nos 1-4, reprinted in The Lighted Way, pp. 33-78.
18) See St Swithin of Winchester in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, pp. 400-407.
19) See The Call from Athelney at www.orthodoxengland.org.uk.
20) See England's Three Holy Hierarchs in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, pp. 362-371.
21) See St Edward the Martyr and the Destiny of England in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, pp. 226-236.
22) See St Alphege of Canterbury, Martyr and Patriot in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, pp. 375-379.
23) St Dimitri of Rostov, 10 February, Appendix, pp. 244-255. See also our 1988 article on this in the appendix of Orthodox Christianity and the Old English Church, translated into Russian in Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, No 1, 1990, pp. 59-60. See also the Epic Vladimir Monomach i Gita Garoldovna by Igor Avtamonov, Los Angeles 1988 and also Daughter of the Sunset Isles by Dinah Dean, Barrie and Jenkins, London 1991, briefly reviewed in Orthodox England, Vol 10, No 3, pp.21-22
24) See St Dimitri of Rostov, 4 October, Appendix, pp. 197-99.
25) See From Suffolk to Kiev: St Botolph of Iken in Orthodox England Vol 5, No 4, pp. 6-11.
26) There are several books on St Elizabeth in English and Russian, the biography by Lyubov Miller and the recent royal biography Ella. See also under Orthodox Holiness at our website www.orthodoxengland.org.uk.
27) See Two English Orthodox New Martyrs in Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, pp. 173-75.
28) See under Orthodox Holiness at www.orthodoxengland.org.uk.
29) For the Service to All the Saints of the Isles, see under Hisperica Liturgica at www.orthodoxengland.org.uk