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This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their birth, -
For Christian service and true chivalry, -
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry
Of the world's ransom, Blessed Mary's Son.

Shakespeare, Richard II

As befits a national institution, the BBC has recently organized an electronic survey and is showing a series of television programmes in order to discover whom the participating public considers to be the top 100 'Great Britons'.

The criteria for selection are rather vague. For instance, although 'Briton' means someone either English, Scottish or Welsh, among the 100 selected 'Britons', there are several Irish candidates and three of French, South African and Arab descent. Again, no definition of the word 'great' has been given. As one journalist has put it, most of those considered by history to be 'great' are 'power-mad psychopaths' - examples like Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and Napoleon spring to mind. Another perspicacious commentator has also made the point that we have to distinguish between 'the legacy and the personality' of 'great' people. Many 'great' people were, frankly, obnoxious.

The results of the poll are fairly predictable. Included in the top 100 are more deserving personalities like the late Queen Mother and her daughter Queen Elizabeth II, the great war-leader Sir Winston Churchill; literary giants like Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Bible translator Tyndale, the visionary William Blake, Austen and Dickens; great humanitarians like Jenner, Wilberforce, Nightingale, Fleming or the admirable repentant figure of Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, who through the blinding flash of Nagasaki saw the light of Christ.

There are also military heroes such as Drake, Nelson, Wellington, Montgomery and Bader; inventors like Stephenson, Watt, Brunel, Baird and Whittle; scientists like Newton and Darwin; explorers like Raleigh, Cook, Livingstone, Scott and Shackleton; recent celebrities like Lady Diana and Lady Thatcher. Then come the usual ephemeral pop musicians, actors, sportsmen and broadcasters, who will be utterly forgotten within a generation or two.

Finally, there are those whose selection seems to us particularly shocking - as indeed does the choice of some of the above. These are those with innocent blood on their hands, such as many royal Anglo-Normans, together with Scottish and Welsh rebels, the wife-murderer and despoiler of monasteries Henry VIII and the bloodied regicide Cromwell, each responsible for acts of darkness in the slaughter of thousands of their fellow-islanders. Here there are ironic examples like Thomas More, responsible for the death of William Tyndale (see above).

Such a national event as this cannot go without Orthodox comment.

Although scarcely surprised, we are still shocked that among the 'top 100 Great Britons', there was not a single Orthodox Christian saint. If this poll had taken place in, say, Russia, we can be sure that figures like St Olga, St Vladimir, St Sergius of Radonezh and St Seraphim of Sarov would have been at the head of the list.

It all proves how secular this country is. In any Orthodox list of the top 100 Britons, we would certainly include the following:

St Alban the First Martyr, St Patrick (born in what is now England and then become the Apostle of Ireland), St David, Apostle of Wales, St Columba of Iona, St Oswald the Martyr, the Irish St Aidan of Northumbria, St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, St Audrey of Ely, St Hilda of Whitby, St Bede the Venerable, St Boniface of Crediton, St Swithin of Winchester, St Edmund the Martyr (the former Patron-Saint of England), St Dunstan of Canterbury and St Alphege the Martyr.

However, even if we were to exclude the saints, our criteria would be rather different from the above; as Orthodox Christians, the ways of the world are not our ways. In the March 2003 edition of the journal 'Orthodox England', we shall be putting forward our candidate for the greatest Englishman.

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