When asked to celebrate the conventual Mass today, St George’s day, I was a little conflicted. For our patron, St Edmund King and Martyr (†869/70), was the original patron of England, St George only being established in that role in 1348. In recent years there have been petitions to the government to restore St Edmund as English patron, to no avail. For not a few among the English, St Edmund is still the rightful patron.
That said, there are many intersections between the two saints. Both were martyrs, both beheaded by the godless in defence of their faith. Edmund was martyred by the Great Heathen Army of the Danes; George was martyred by the far more respectable state apparatus of pagan imperial Rome under Diocletian. Both were thoroughly admirable men in their living. And while St George’s legend has him fighting a dragon, the banner of St Edmund used by the English armies bore a white dragon.
In our godless world the pairing of these two saints has much to offer. In the east, the Great Heathen Army of Daesh (IS if you must) and other Islamist militants behead faithful Christians to this very day. In the west, secularised godless societies seek to decapitate the Church of Christ by a thousand small cuts.
But perhaps St George has one real resonance today for England. Just as England balks at receiving refugees from Syria—even (especially?) Christian ones—fleeing the bloodthirsty godless, yet its patron saint is not an Englishman, but a Syrian Christian beheaded by a regime as pagan and worldly as ours is today, despite its nominal Christianity. While the issue of security makes the refugee issue difficult (that is, with regard to Muslim refugees), still there is an irony here that should make us stop and think. It is an irony that will be lost on the vast majority of the English today, I suspect.
Some may take me to task for calling Islamists godless, since Muslims, we are told, are “people of the Book”—an empty designation if ever there was one— and that their allah is identical with our God the Father.
So during Mass, in the gospel reading—John 15:18-21—I noticed something that I had not noticed before. Christ is talking about persecution, the fact that his disciples will be persecuted just as he was persecuted, and on his account, “because they do not know the One who sent me”.
The persecutors of Christians, and so of Christ—who is Son of God and God indeed— “do not know the One who sent me”. They do not know the Father. This is from Christ himself. Allah is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who worship allah “do not know” the Father. Whomever they are worshipping, it is not God.
Naturally, this is no warrant to hate Muslim people, nor to do them any harm whatsoever, just as the Danes murdering St Edmund does not give us warrant to hate the Danes! It is to remind us that the Muslim people are in dire need of the gospel of Christ, and it is our duty to preach it to them in word and deed, and bring them into communion with the true God. The martyrs whom Islamists make among Christians are, now as it has ever been, seed for the Church’s growth. This is true as we speak, in for example, Austria, of all places.
Our greatest gift to Muslims is the gospel, and not the hollow pretence that they are fellow worshippers of the one true God. They are not. But we want them to be. May St George prosper the Church’s mission to Muslims, as well as to Jews and to secularised atheists, for God desires that all “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).
[UPDATE: There is a follow-up post developing an idea from the comments below.]