A sermon read before pilgrims in the Church at Whatlington by the site of the so-called ‘Battle of Hastings’ on the occasion of the 950th anniversary of the tragedy, 27 October 2016.
950 years ago, on this very spot, King Harold son of Godwin, the last English King of England, prayed before giving battle to the invader. The latter had a Papal blessing to invade, conquer and forcibly introduce feudal enslavement through castles and knights. This was all in order to bring the Church in England into line with his revolutionary, newly-invented Western European religion, which had already been enforced elsewhere.
The new religion had replaced Christ, making Him unnecessary as Head of the Church, and claimed that the absolute authority of the Holy Spirit now proceeded from its Papal head. For island England was a latecomer to this new religion and the Norman invasion was merely part of a far broader process of subjugation throughout Western Europe that was later to lead to invasion of the Holy Land, called the First Crusade, and determine the pattern of future Western history.
King Harold lost the Battle and died here together with some 7,000 of his men. Massacre and genocide followed the English defeat – 100,000 people, over 5% of the total population, died in the north of England alone, the equivalent of 3.25 million in today’s terms, well over twice the figure of two World Wars combined. The defeat of England and her other regional heroes like Hereward meant that English people became second-class citizens, on the same level as what used to be called Red Indians in North America. As for Wales, Scotland and in the 12th century Ireland, they would also be brought under the same Norman yoke by castle and sword.
Harold’s English people were scattered to the four winds. Some English people fled north to Scotland and Scandinavia, others west to Wales and Ireland. Many of Harold’s surviving military men fled south to New Rome (Constantinople) with the English Navy, at least 235 ships in all. There they settled, as also around the Black Sea coasts, especially around the Sea of Azov near the Crimea, and in Constantinople they founded their own English Church, where a lamp burned before the icon of St Augustine of Canterbury. As for Harold’s daughter, Gytha, she fled east to Kiev, married royally and one of her sons, the grandson of King Harold, founded Moscow.
Today we have gathered to commemorate the some 7,000 men who died in the Battle. They died defending their and our homeland and their and our English Orthodox Christian culture that was in communion with the rest of the Orthodox Christian world. These were real people, they had wives, children and grandchildren, they were flesh and blood, mind and soul, they had names – some of them we know. They died fighting for the culture that had been resurrected in the ninth century by King Alfred from the ruins of the Viking attacks. Let us not forget that Alfred, also called ‘the Lawgiver’ and ‘England’s Darling’, is the only figure in English history to be called ‘the Great’.
Alfredian culture restored Old English Church Civilization, which had been so faithfully recorded by St Bede the Venerable in England’s seventh and eighth century Golden Age. Alfredian culture meant first defeating and then Christianizing pagans, defending towns, rebuilding churches and monasteries, establishing laws, sending alms to the Patriarch of Jerusalem and translating the works of the Church Fathers. King Alfred restored this culture so well that as a result, after his repose, the tenth century became through his descendants the age of the national unity of England and the Silver Age of Church culture, unmatched in its splendour in Western Europe.
However, in the eleventh century the Vikings attacked England again and again and the last Vikings, the Normans, or Northmen, finally destroyed England as it had been, leaving us today with only vestiges of a once great Civilization, as we can see in the remaining books and manuscripts of the School of Winchester, the English capital. These are the rags of a once magnificent and precious raiment of gold and jewels, part of the Old Christian Europe. Today we who are conscious of all this have as our task to tell others these truths which are either hidden from or else indifferent to most.
Today, Orthodox Christian Civilization has its spiritual centres not Canterbury or Winchester, Lindisfarne or Iona, but elsewhere in the east. It is therefore our task to refound spiritual centres here, however modest they may be, for we belong in spirit to this Civilization and keep faith with its values. We live in our spiritual oases here with our heritage of Augustine, Audrey, Cuthbert, Hilda, Theodore, Bede, Edmund, Alfred, Edward, Dunstan, Alphege and all who are present here in their icons. Now we can at the very least pray for the souls who gave up their lives for the Faith, for the King and for England, as well as for the Universal Church, and take inspiration from them.
In the sleep of the blessed grant, O Lord, eternal repose, to the souls of those who fell for the Faith on Senlac Field, King Harold, Princes Leofwyn and Gyrth, Alfwig, Abbot of Winchester, Leofric, Abbot of Peterborough, Deacon Eadric, Aelfric of Huntingdon, Thurkill of Kingston, Godric of Fyfield, Esegar of Middlesex, Hakon, Breme, and all the King’s men, and grant them Eternal Memory!