As “reformed catholics,” Anglicans have a curious relationship with the celebration of the Saints. While most of the core cast of characters from the New Testament are given “major feast days” to be remembered in the annual liturgy of the Church, the vast host of “minor feasts” were removed from the early Prayer Books. A few big-name saints were listed on calendars, but no formal liturgies or worship services were prescribed. But in the late 1600’s, an exception appeared.
In the 1640’s, England was gripped in civil war. There was the usual mix of politics and religion: Anglicans & monarchists on one side, and Presbyterians & parliamentarians on the other. After years of bloodshed, King Charles I was captured and put on trial by his own Parliament. He refused to recognize their authority to try him, so the proceedings were pretty short. (And of course, the court was rigged with the level of corruption one might expect in a war-torn country.) On this day, January 30th, 1649, Charles was executed for “treason” against the realm of England. Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of England, and thus the “Interregnum” began. The Prayerbook, its liturgy, holidays, bishops, were all abolished; England was now a Puritan (roughly Presbyterian today) state. Massachusetts, the puritan colony, rejoiced.
Upon Cromwell’s death, his incompetent son came to power, and proved so unpopular that he was deposed within a year, and the late King Charles’ son, Charles II, was brought back from exile and put back on the throne. This was in 1660. No time was wasted: bishops were reinstated, traditional English life went back to normal, and a new Book of Common Prayer was put back together. That prayerbook, the 1662 edition, has remained the Anglican standard to this day!
But now a new “saint’s day” was included in the back of the book: “A FORM of PRAYER with FASTING, to be used yearly upon the Thirtieth Day of January, being the Day of the Martyrdom of the Blessed King CHARLES the First; to implore the Mercy of God, that neither the Guilt of that sacred and innocent Blood, nor those other sins, by which God was provoked to deliver up both us and our King into the hands of cruel and unreasonable men, may at any time hereafter be visited upon us, or our posterity.” What can I say, they liked long titles back then.
I’d just like to share one prayer from the Order for this day in the 1662 prayerbook:
BLESSED Lord, in whose sight the death of thy saints is precious; We magnify thy name for the abundant grace bestowed upon our martyred Sovereign; by which he was enabled so cheerfully to follow the Steps of his blessed Master and Saviour, in a constant meek suffering of all barbarous indignities, and at last resisting unto blood; and even then, according to the same pattern, praying for his murderers. Let his memory, O Lord, be ever blessed among us; that we may follow the example of his courage and constancy, his meekness and patience, and great charity. And grant, that this our land may be freed from the vengeance of his righteous blood, and thy mercy glorified in the forgiveness of our sins: and all for Jesus Christ’s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.
Because we live in the USA, the martyrdom of King Charles I isn’t a national fast day for us. However, we can appreciate the memory of the religious extremism that plagued those times, and be reminded to pray for the many places in the world that experience this very problem: Syria, northern Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, China, Egypt, and many other nations. One international organization that specializes in organizing prayer & relief for the persecuted Church abroad is The Voice of the Martyrs. If you feel so led, their website has a great many resources for praying for and assisting Christians throughout the world being persecuted for the Faith: www.persecution.com
God bless us all, and protect all His people in the true worship of Him!