Saturday, October 26, 2013

Our Great Need for St Alfred Today, Part II: A Significance That Shall Never Wane

Glory to God and His blessing upon all on the Feast Day of St Alfred the Great!

We invite you to read the words Father Andrew wrote in his editorial for Orthodox England (see below), for what he speaks of England could generally be applied just as well to the South, which is in many ways England planted anew in North American soil as M. E. Bradford, G. K. Chesterton, David Hackett Fischer, and others testify.

The other nations composing the Southern ancestry have been and will continue to be emphasized, but today we ask all to focus on the elder root of the Southern tree, England, and her best king and the South’s patron saint, King Alfred the Great.  From him, our father among the saints, comes great hope.

*****

‘St Alfred the Eternal-King of the English’

By Father Andrew Phillips

Your lord sits high in the saddle,
A broken-hearted king,
But our king Alfred, lost from fame,
Fallen among foes or bonds of shame,
In I know not what mean trade or name,
Has still some song to sing;

‘The Harp of Alfred’,
The Ballad of the White Horse,
G. K. Chesterton, 1911

EVERY age has found a different reflection of and a different need for St Alfred; it is as though his significance were eternal and that significance has progressively been revealed to us as time has gone by and as our need for an example has developed.

Thus, the English of St Alfred’s Kingdom found in him our first national King, a warrior champion and defender of the realm, who overcame division and united his realm, one who came from the provinces but became national, a monastic founder and a patient almsgiver – England’s Darling and England’s Shepherd. Soon they found in him also the Truthteller, a model of proverbial wisdom in kingship and shrewd lawgiver. Then they found in him a saintly miracle-worker as well as a national hero.

Later, once they had others to compare him with, they found in him the only King who was worthy to be called Great, bold in arms but also learned in the Divine. More recently, they found in him a model of imperial rule, dispensing wisdom and justice to his various peoples. And what of us, what do we find in this saint among kings, ‘what song has he still to sing’ to our own age? In our darkening times, we recall perhaps the words of ‘The Vision of the King’ in the poet’s above recalled epic:

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?

And now we can answer that we do have joy with a cause and faith with hope. For, inevitably, we also recall the prophetic words of the Great King applied to our own time in the poet’s ‘The Scouring of the Horse’ in the same epic:

And though they scatter now and go,
In some far century sad and slow,
I have a vision, and I know
The heathen shall return.

Despite the truth of this foretelling, we do not fear. There is no need for our thoughts to grow overly dark. Let us recall the King’s words in his addition to the translation of ‘Boethius’: ‘I say, as do all Christian men, that it is a Godly purpose that rules, and not fate’. This means that we should not fear or be daunted by the present rising tide of faithlessness and so evil in our land – there is a Divine purpose even in the darkest of times. As the poet also wrote in ‘Ethandune’ from the same Ballad of the White Horse:

And Alfred born in Wantage
Rules England till the doom.

What do we today find in the great and holy King? We find in him a reflection of the Eternal truth of the Eternal One, the everlasting words of the Word, for that which is true will remain unto the ages and ages; Alfred can never be taken away from us because, like all saints, he is a reflection of the Eternal One Himself. And it is for this reason that in him is the birth of the English nation, but also our rebirth, and therefore our hope.

Hymns to Saint Alfred (also by Fr Andrew; edited by W.G.):

Hearkening to Christ,
thou camest forth from thy flood-girt fastness
to overcome the heathen and lead them forth to holy baptism.
Thou didst build churches, strongholds, shires and swift ships,
restoring the law of God and making thyself beloved of all.
O wise King and glory of free England,
who reignest in the Winchester of the heavenly England,
thou who didst vanquish heathendom through Christ,
establish anew the Orthodox Faith in thy land
that we may glorify God,
Who alone made thee great.

Today the wise Alfred glorifies Christ among his faithful people
and so builds a House of Wisdom.
Therein he puts to shame all the heathen,
showing the Cross to be the greatest weapon of kings against all enemies.
Pray for us, O righteous one, and build a House of Wisdom among us today
that there we may glorify Christ anew.
For this great battle standard has appeared for our sakes and for our salvation.

Source:  Orthodox England, Vol. 17, No. 1, Sept. 2013, pgs. 1-2, accessed 12/25 Oct. 2013 at http://orthodoxengland.org.uk/mag/oe17_1.pdf


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