Sermon: Edward, King and Martyr

Early sources state that St. Edward “was a young man of great devotion and excellent conduct. He was completely Orthodox, good and of holy life. Moreover, he loved above all things God and the Church. He was generous to the poor, a haven to the good, a champion of the Faith of Christ, a vessel full of every virtuous grace.” He was martyred for good old fashioned greed. Greed of power and greed of wealth.

Around 963 Edgar the Peaceable was King of England. Prior to the birth of his first son, he had a dream which was interpreted for him: “After your death the Church of God will be attacked. You will have two sons. The supporters of the second will kill the first, and while the second will rule on earth the first will rule in heaven.” The first son was Edward, but the queen died shortly after giving birth. Edgar married again and gave birth to the second son, Ethelred, and Ethelred’s mother had great ambitions for her son. Citing some technicalities in the birth of Edward, she claimed that her son should be heir to the thrown, which set off divisions throughout the kingdom.

In addition, a dispute rose between landowners and the monasteries that had grown rich over the years leading up to Edward’s ascension to the thrown, which raised the tension even more, and finally, throw in a good famine to keep things interesting, and you have chaos. One author summed it up: “The whole kingdom was thrown into confusion, the bishops were agitated, the noblemen stirred up, the monks shaken with fear, the people terrified.”

Ethelred’s mother used all this as a smokescreen to carry out her plans, and in 979, when the opportunity presented itself, she found a way to have the young King Edward murdered. His body was hidden, buried in a swamp, but a pillar of fire appeared over the site, and the faithful came and removed the body to a more sacred site where many miracles were reported. Ethelred was not a part of his mother’s plans, he in fact loved his older brother, so when he learned of Edward’s death, he wept bitterly. When he could not stop crying, his mother beat him with candles. Following that beating, he never allowed a candle to be lit in his site.

Even though distraught over his brothers death, Ethelred was crowned king. At his coronation, St. Dunstan made a prophecy, that because of these events, much trouble would come upon England. That prophecy was fulfilled when, in 988, the Danes invaded and conquered England in 1016, following almost twenty years of a bloody war.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contained the following description of these deeds and of Edward: “No worse deed for the English was ever done than this, since first they came to the land of Britain. Men murdered him, but God exalted him; in life he was an earthly king, but after death he is now a heavenly saint. His earthly kinsmen would not avenge him, yet his Heavenly Father has amply avenged him. Those earthly slayers would have destroyed his memory upon earth; but the Heavenly Avenger has spread his fame abroad, in the heavens and upon the earth. Those who before would not bow in reverence to his living body, now humbly bend the knee to his dead bones. Now can we perceive that the wisdom of men, their deliberations and their plots, are as nothing against God’s purpose.”

Because of his faith, support of the church and the monasteries, and the miracles attributed to him following his death, Edward was named a Saint in 1008.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Edward’s life demonstrates to us that in adversity, deceit, and even death, God’s purposes will be accomplished. The grain of wheat that falls from the Lord’s hand will produce much fruit.

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