Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'C. S. Lewis Overflow'
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything C.S. Lewis and Narnia Book, due in stores in March 2008, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

C. S. Lewis, anonymous Orthodox, 2

This is the second half of my recent article, C. S. Lewis: Anonymous Orthodox, which appears in the current edition of Again, a magazine of contemporary issues for Orthodox Christians. Our next entry will return to our discussion of Lewis and science fiction.

Though Lewis avoided commenting on doctrinal issues that divided Christians (preferring, once he had articulated it, the "mere Christian" approach), he did speak out against extending the offices of priest and bishop to women (as Anglicans now have done) and he is on record on several occasions as saying the papacy was a major hindrance to his considering becoming Roman Catholic. Asked by his Catholic friend and personal physician Humphrey Havard why he didn't join his friends in the Catholic church, Lewis replied that

the important thing was to make one's submission to a Christian church. Which branch of the Christian church one chose was far less important. And he said he was not tempted to share what he called "your heresies."

"Heresies! What heresies, Jack?"

"Well, here are two—the position you give to the Virgin Mary and the doctrine of papal infallibility." But he refused to discuss them…

(Jack, page 421).

CSLewisBesides the formal hierarchical similarity between the two communions, both Orthodoxy and Anglicanism are organized as national churches in their respective national settings, but have full communion that expresses their understanding of "catholicity" with all of their sister national churches. For Anglicanism, this includes the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, the Episcopal Churches of the USA and of Scotland, and Anglican churches in Africa and Asia. In Orthodoxy, the largest such churches are the Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Romanian Orthodox churches. On this basis, Bishop Kallistos writes in The Orthodox Church, that the Anglican and Orthodox communions were engaged in talks aimed toward union for a century, but the Orthodox withdrew from the goal of union after the Anglicans accepted women priests and bishops.

"The Orthodox Church, however deep its longing for reunion, cannot enter into closer relations with the Anglican communion until Anglicans themselves are clearer about their own beliefs," he concludes (page 351).

Members of the English royal family marry Orthodox, but not Roman Catholics. Queen Elizabeth's husband Phillip, baptized Orthodox, is a former Prince of Greece and Denmark, and the last Czarina of Russia, Alexandra, was a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria who had been baptized Lutheran and became devoutly Orthodox.

James Houston, the founding Principal and later the Chancellor of Regent College in Vancouver, reveals in a talk published in We Remember C. S. Lewis that Lewis was influenced in his Christian worldview by a Russian Orthodox acquaintance at Oxford. He writes,

I was part of the frequent Saturday evening meetings in 27 Norham Road, where Nicholas Zernov shared an apartment with me from 1947 to 1953. His wife, Melitza, was a dental surgeon practicing in London….

As Melitza has recorded, C. S. Lewis once called Nicholas Zernov "an institution in Oxford life." In his post as Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox culture (1943-1966) he was attached to both history and theology faculties, with the university as academic pioneer in Orthodox studies. He was a lay starets, who had always wanted to be a monk. Instead, he was given the vision to share religious convictions within a scholarly milieu, something that inspired Lewis and other of Nicholas's friends in new ways. After a buffet supper in our apartment, other regular visitorsalong with Lewiswould be Eric Mascal, Hugo Dyson, Austin Farrer, Gervase Mathew, Professor D'Antreves, Basil Mitchell, as well as three remarkable ladies: Mrs. Sutherland, Margerie Reeves, and Nadejda Gorodetsky. Occasionally Anthony Bloom, then rector of the Russian church in London, might be there, and there were even visits from the monks of Athos. It was a fascinating but strange world for me as the sole Evangelical in this admixture of Roman Catholics, Greek and Russian Orthodox believers, and Anglicans. Lewis was clearly recognized to be a leader in our conversations over papers read to the group, but he was only one of several, equally influential speakers.

It's not clear how much overlap there was between this "Saturday evening meeting" and the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, a long-running Oxford fellowship bringing together Anglicans and Orthodox, established in 1928 and still operating, but it is known that Lewis had contact with the Fellowship and gave at least one talk at it that was published in its magazine, Sobornost, and subsequently in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Collier Books, 1980).

Referring to the love of many Orthodox toward Lewis, an anonymous writer in the online Orthodox Wiki says, "Lewis's atonement theology and soteriology [doctrine of salvation], as well as his understandings of heaven and hell, are very similar" to Orthodox teachings. The writer also cites Lewis's "Platonism" (seeing this world as the Shadowlands and the world to come, described in his Narnian Chronicle The Last Battle, as Real Narnia) that "drives much of Orthodox theology."

Perhaps the most profound contact Lewis had with Orthodoxy occurred during his short marriage with Joy Davidman Gresham when they vacationed in Greece with their friends June and Roger Lancelyn Green, a few months before Joy's death of cancer. Writes George Sayer in his biography, Jack (page 378):

At Rhodes, which he told me was "simply the Earthly Paradise," they went to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral for part of the Easter service. Jack was moved by it and by a village wedding ceremony they went to. Thereafter, whenever the subject came up between us, he said that he preferred the Orthodox liturgy to either the Catholic or Protestant liturgies. He was also impressed by Greek Orthodox priests, whose faces, he thought, looked more spiritual than those of most Catholic or Protestant clergy.

After allowing that Lewis's writings include few references to the fathers of the church whose teachings are the source of most Orthodox theology, Bishop Kallistos concludes, "the fact that the similarities [between Patristic teachings and Lewis's approach reflected especially in "his imaginative writings"] are not due to any direct influence makes them all the more impressive." And in Lewis's last book, "which constitutes in a sense his 'last will and testament': Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer," Lewis makes his most distinctly Orthodox theological statements in describing God as "Unimaginably and Insupportably Other," requiring that He be approached apophatically rather than cataphatically*, by the main Orthodox rather than Roman Catholic route. This is the meaning of the recurring theme running through the Chronicles of Narnia, the bishop concludes: "As Lucy is told, first by Mr. Beaver … Aslan is not a 'safe' or 'tame' lion. He is never under the control of our human will or of our human logic; he remains always 'the Unimaginably and Insupportably Other,' who is yet uniquely close to us." .

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

*The apophatic approach to theology looks at what God is not, as opposed to the cataphatic approach which tries to deduce and formulate propositions about what and how He is and is like.

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Today's chuckle

A visiting minister waxed eloquent during the offertory prayer. "Dear Lord," he began with arms extended and a rapturous look on his upturned face, "without you we are but dust..."

He would have continued but at that moment my very obedient daughter (who was listening carefully for a change!) leaned over to me and asked quite audibly in her shrill little girl voice, "Mom, what is butt dust?"

—Sent by Carl Essex

Thought for today

Safety and happiness can only come from individuals, classes, and nations being honest and fair and kind to each other.

The Case for Christianity, C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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