Orthodox England

Excerpt from: Volume 6 Issue 3 Date 1st March 2003

From the Righteous:
A Man for our Time: King Alfred The Great (849-899)

Though small his kingdom as a spark or gem,
Of Alfred boasts remote Jerusalem,
And Christian India, through her widespread clime,
In sacred converse gifts with Alfred shares.


Ecclesiastical Sonnets, No XXVI, 'Alfred'.

Alfred the King, Alfred the Hero,
Alfred the Great, Alfred the Good,
Alfred the Wise, Alfred the Learned,
Alfred the Law-Giver, Alfred the Just,
Alfred the Merciful, Alfred the Truth-Teller,
Alfred the Father of his Land and of our Land,
Alfred the Defender,
Alfred the Father of the Navy,
Alfred the Founder of English Shire and English Town,
Alfred the Philosopher,
Alfred the Father of English Literature,
Alfred - England's Shepherd and England's Darling.

Alfred is the mighty warrior who quelled and drove off the terrible enemy that had baffled the prowess of his forebears; Father of his people who listened to all complaints and redressed all wrongs; Philosopher who raised a barbarous age towards the height of his own mind and founded anew the civilization of England; Lawgiver whose laws, a thousand years on, make part of the freedom of this land.

Severe and purifying trials cleansed him like a noble metal from all dross. 'So long as I live', he wrote, as life was closing about him, 'I have striven to live worthily'; everywhere, indeed, throughout his writings, is the Name and Thought of God. Faith was the groundwork of Alfred's character. It is this height and singleness and nobility of purpose that lift Alfred out of the narrow bounds of Wessex and raise him to the moral greatness of the few whom the world owns as its greatest: Alfred shines brightly in the book of world history as the King, who setting aside every personal aim, lived only for the good of his people.

It is this that still hallows his memory among Englishmen. He stands at the forefront of the Nation, for he is the noblest, as he is the fullest, embodiment of all that is great and lovable in the English temper, of its practical energy, of its patient and enduring force, of the reserve and self-control that give steadiness and sobriety to a broad outlook and restless daring, of its temperance and fairness, of its frankness and openess, of its sensitive kind-heartedness, of its poetic tenderness, of its deep and reverent piety.

From one end of his reign to the other every power was bent to the work of rule. His practical energy found scope for itself in a material and administrative restoration of the wasted land; the energy of his mind breathed fresh life into education and literature; while his ability to inspire trust and affection drew the hearts of English folk to a common aim, and so began anew the upbuilding of England.

In Alfred we venerate the Ideal Englishman, the Victor David overcoming the Great Heathen Army of Goliath and a Forerunner of Spiritual Greatness. His influence pervades English history. Over eleven hundred years since his repose on 26 October 899, still his name resounds. He not only preserved his native Christian Wessex from the Heathen, he also laid the groundwork for the idea of the English Nation. He went down that path of unity that within two generations led to the creation of the Kingdom of England. But that was not enough.

In order to be worthy of survival, Alfred believed it needful to rededicate himself and his people to God. The heathen were not only the foe, but also the scourge allowed by God in order to recall his people from their spiritual and moral failings. Previously folk had not cherished their faith and learning and passed it on to others: 'We were Christians in name only, and very few of us possessed Christian virtues', as Alfred wrote in his rendering of Pastoral Care, the book written by England's Apostle, St Gregory the Great. Thus Alfred fulfilled Bede's vision of an English race united in Christ, he made identical the words English and Christian.

Alfred was the only King of England until the Scotsman James I in the early seventeenth century to write a book. As a translator he actually Christianised the ancient writings of the semi-Christian Boethius and the speculations of the still unbaptized Augustine of Hippo. Alfred is not only the Father of the English Nation but also the Father of English Literature.

The towns and strongholds and ships he built, the books he translated and spread, the chronicle he sponsored and the great law-code he made, were all meant to make him and his people worthy of the grace of God. Alfred was determined to restore England to what it had been, a place of spiritual and cultural life, a place of godliness and learning, ruled by those who obeyed God's laws and preserved peace and moral life. Thus he based his laws on the Law of Moses and the Golden Rule of St Matthew's Gospel: 'That which you would that others do not unto you, do not unto them'. He was a lover of true wisdom, for what he most desired was to live a worthy life, a profoundly Orthodox Christian desire. This lover of true wisdom combined the spiritual and the practical, for inside his English Orthodox head the two were the same: without Christ no man can either live a good life on earth, or gain a place in heaven. He sought wisdom, for the destinies of kings and all men and nations alike are subject to the Wisdom of God for, as he wrote, 'Wisdom is God'.

Still only sixty years ago, Alfred was our model of patriotic inspiration in our darkest hour. His longships were a symbol of an embattled Island-Nation's defences against the weapons of a heathen Reich: Christian against anti-Christian. May his name be an inspiration to us again now. For there is nothing that he needed to do in his time that does not need to be done in our time. It was he whose legacy helped to build the foundations of this land, which today are being set at nought and are being dismantled. As is inscribed on his statue in his birth-place of Wantage:

Alfred found learning dead, and he restored it.
Education neglected, and he revived it.
The laws powerless, and he gave them force.
The Church debased, and he raised it.
The land ravaged by a fearful enemy, from which he delivered it.
Alfred's name shall live as long as mankind respects the past.

to top of page



(c) Orthodox England - Published within the English Deanery of the Church Outside Russia: with the blessing of the Very Reverend Mark, Archbishop of Great Britain and Ireland.