Among the First Orthodox Christians Martyred by Roman Catholics
Today we commemorate those martyred at Hastings in England, namely Blessed King Harold II and his army, who gave their lives in defence of not only their country, but their faith, that of Holy Orthodoxy.
Before the battle, as the two armies were lined up for the fight, William, Duke of Normandy, commanded that an edict from Pope Alexander II be read aloud for all to hear. This order excommunicated King Harold and all who would fight with him, thus severing them completely from the heretical Papist Church, but not from the Eastern Orthodox Churches, for the excommunication was unjust and founded on the Pope's claim to be supreme over all the Churches and all rulers of nations as well.
From 1054 up to this time, the schism of West from East was just beginning to solidify. Indeed, the drifting away of the Western Church from the Eastern had its roots in earlier centuries. It is important to note, however, that the departure of the Roman Church into heresy happened over many centuries. (And, in as much as the Roman Church continues to add even new heresies to old ones, this movement away from the Truth continues to this very day.) The beliefs, teachings, practices and principles of the Roman Church were indeed changing by 1066. Pope Alexander II's excommunication of innocent and pious Christians was evidence of this. At Hastings, the Papacy was now taking sides in worldly affairs, turning temporal matters into issues of eternal salvation. The Battle of Hastings, the Battle for England, was but a warm up for what was to come. For in this battle, the mind of the New Papacy was revealed and the Roman Church took a significant step of departure into heresy.
Pope Alexander had received much support from the Normans, and so, when William, Duke of Normandy, approached him with the matter of conquering England, the pope blessed him to go on what was, in essence, a Crusade to bring England and the English Church into subjection, regardless of the fact that the English Church and people had, for centuries, been pious Orthodox Christians, even receiving approval for their chief hierarchs from the Orthodox Roman Popes since the days of St. Augustine of Canterbury (late 6th, early 7th cent). The English Church and people, however, had yet to be made supporters and subjects of the New Papacy. Being far away from deveolpments in Rome, the Orthodox English were not aware that anything sinister was going on in Rome. Only when the order of excommunication was read before King Harold and his troops, did the Orthodox English finally realize that something had gone horribly wrong. The independence of both their Church and nation were forfeit. By the whim of a wordly pope, both were taken away from the English, and given to foreigners. What would follow the Norman Conquest would be nothing less than cultural and ecclesiastical destruction for England and the English Church and genocide for the English people who dared to resist the onslaught of invasion.
The mastermind of this and other ignoble deeds was the man who would become the successor to Alexander II, Cardinal Hildebrand, the future Pope Gregory VII, architect of the Papal Reformation. In the work of this Hildebrand, we see the culmination of previous Papal errors. Although the Papocaesarism of Pope Nicholas I, the contender against St. Photius of Constantinople, and the unprecedented action of Pope Leo IX in actually leading troops into battle were departures from Orthodox faith and praxis, the work of Gregory VII to subjugate the Western and, though unsuccessfully, the Eastern Churches and secular rulers to papal overlordship served as a sign to the world that the Roman Church had turned her back on Holy Tradition and sought after her own ends.
On this day in 1066 at Hastings, the God-loving King Harold, together with his loyal troops, commended themselves to God, for those whom they had honored as brethren and leaders in the Faith had foresaken them. Shouting the Orthodox English battle cry, which invoked the aid of the Holy Cross, King Harold and his faithful soldiers faced down their foes and would have had the victory in a closely matched battle had not the heretical invaders resorted to cunning through feigned retreats. Indeed, both the king and his army were weary from battle, having defeated a Norwegian invasion in the north of England and straightway come to Hastings to drive out yet more invaders.
But victory was not to be had a second time. The blessed King Harold was shot in the eye with an arrow. He plucked it out and continued to fight bravely. In the end, however, he was cut down by Norman knights and hacked to pieces. His body was desecrated, and many Norman Crusaders abused the remains of the fallen king, a thing to which not even pagans and Turks had been wont to do with the remains of their foes.
The fallen English, those thousands of unsung heroes of Orthodoxy and England, were laid to rest, most likely on the battlefield itself, this being the custom in those days. The remains of King Harold were taken quietly and without fanfare to his family church in Bosham village by the sea. There they remain to this day, awaiting the recognition and honor of the True Church on earth, even as the souls of these martyrs must surely receive from God and His angels in Heaven.
Let us, therefore, who love Orthodoxy, beseech the Lord to grant rest to His faithful servants who were slain by the enemies of piety. And let us ask of them, "O blessed martyrs, if ye have received grace from God, intercede for us sinners, that our souls may be saved and that we may be delivered from the assaults of our visible and invisible enemies. Amen."
For more information about Blessed King Harold II and the Battle of Hastings, visit the following Web sites:
The Fall of Orthodox England
Entry from Orthodox Wiki
Entry from Wikipedia
King Harold's Battle Force
About Bosham and the Battle
BBC article about grave of King Harold II
Royal Mystery on Brink of Solution