“This day is call’d the Feast of Crispian.” So spoke Henry V in Act IV, scene iii of Shakespeare’s immortal play and so it is today. Saints Crispin and Crispinian, his brother, were shoemakers of Roman decent, who fled persecution for their faith and ended up in the city of Soissons. There they worked as shoemakers, cobblers and leatherworkers while preaching the Gospel to the Gallic Franks. On October 25th, 286, the two brothers were tortured and beheaded for their faith. In 1415, on October 25th, King Henry V faced absolutely insurmountable odds when staring down the French army. Of course, we know that through God all things are possible (especially when aided by Welsh longbows and French pride). Before going into battle, King Henry gave a rousing speech that Shakespeare rendered as one of the most famous speeches in all literature.
This feast has come into the CEC Calendar, I think, primarily due to its association with the St. Crispin’s Day Speech prior to the Battle of Agincourt. For years we thought of ourselves as “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” We had a mentality that we were viciously outnumbered but, by God’s grace, we could bring down the strongholds of the Devil. Perhaps it would be a good thing today to recall that mentality. We are certainly fewer than we were a handful of years ago. Whether or not we are happier is highly subjective. The enemy still remains and we still have a call on our lives and on our denomination. I do believe that, in days to come, our spiritual descendants will look back on days like these and look with admiration on men and women who served and planted churches with men like Adler and Bates; Holloway, Jones, Epps, and Simpson; Hines, Davidson and Kessler. People will one day ask us what they were like. Our children will say, “I heard him preach once. It was amazing!” And we, old men by then, “will strip our sleeves and show our scars” and say I was there. We need to not look at the work we do with the eyes of today. We must look to the work we do with the eyes of our sons and daughters, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We do not sow into the kingdom for our sakes. We labor in the fields for theirs. Psalm 128 says, “He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing in his sheaves with him.”
We may look with envy on the other parishes in other denomination and covet their building, or lust after their endowment, or just wish we had one-tenth of their parishioners. We should, in those moments, remember the words of Westmoreland, whose statement prompts good King Henry’s speech.
WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
- The Martyrdom of Ss. Crispin and Crispinian
Note: I originally drafted this in October of 2009 and yesterday, thanks to Fr. Reid Wightman, remembered what day it was, revised it ever so slightly, and decided to publish it once more.