THE ORTHODOX C.S.LEWIS
the Rev. Robert C. Stroud
He was a devout Anglican, but proclaimed a
message which resonates in deep harmony with
Orthodox believers. He was buried following
a funeral mass in his home parish, yet laid
to rest with an Orthodox cross of flowers
adorning his casket. He was friend and
advisor to Roman Catholic and Protestant
clergy, yet admired Orthodox priests "whose
faces, he thought, looked more spiritual
than those of most Catholic or Protestant
was Clive Staples Lewis.
The year just ended marked the centennial of
the birth of Lewis.
This professor at both Oxford and Cambridge
Universities was the grandson of a priest of
the Church of Ireland. However, due to the
untimely death of his mother, and the
unbridled atheistic influences at one of his
early boarding schools, Lewis entered his
teen years an agnostic. His early university
studies did not open his eyes to the truth
proclaimed by the Christian Church. Nor did
the grim trenches of France during the First
World War lead him to an encounter with the
Eventually the faithful witness of his
believing friends persuaded Lewis to
seriously consider the Gospel. J.R.R.
Tolkien, author of "Lord of the Rings"
and member along with Lewis in the "Inklings,"
played a major role in his conversion. The
Inklings were a fellowship of scholars and
writers who gathered weekly at an Oxford pub
to read works in progress and enjoy one
Lewis as Apologist
Following his conversion, Lewis became one
of Europe's boldest apologists for
Christianity. He went to great lengths to
avoid casting himself as a theologian,
emphasizing that he was simply a lay
advocate of foundational Christian doctrine.
Thus, to a large degree, he avoided the
distractions posed by denominational
advocacy and presented a timeless message
which is treasured by Christians of
virtually all backgrounds.
In his preface to Mere Christianity, he
wrote: "ever since I became a Christian I
thought that the best, perhaps the only,
service I could do for my
neighbours was to explain and defend the
belief that has been common to nearly all
Christians at all times."
Lewis elaborated on the subject,
acknowledging that "I should have been out
of my depth" discussing "high Theology or
even . . . ecclesiastical history which
ought never to be treated except by real
experts." However, Lewis possessed a strong
reason for avoiding the subject of
differences among Christians. He recognized
that "we must admit that the discussion of
these disputed points has no tendency at all
to bring an outsider into the Christian
fold. . . . Our divisions should never be
discussed except in the presence of those
who have already come to believe that there
is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only
Few individuals in history have exhibited
the versatility and energy which
characterized Lewis. He was a poet, and a
professor who wrote scholarly works. He
composed concise essays, and delivered
speeches and sermons too numerous to count.
Lewis wrote children's fantasy tales, and
treatises about the difficult questions in
life such as why God allows suffering. He
authored modern parables such as Pilgrim's
Regress, and a science fiction trilogy with
profound implications. His innovative "Screwtape
Letters", which reveal how a senior
tempter might advise a less experienced
demon seeking to lead astray a human being,
is brilliant and has been emulated by many.
Sometimes overlooked, but one of the
treasures of his legacy, is the enormous
amount of correspondence which Lewis penned.
He was devoted to responding to the hundreds
of readers who sought personal contact with
who had ushered them into Narnia, or been
instrumental in their own conversion. Simply
put, Lewis was gifted, graced by God with an
extraordinary imagination and an
unparalleled ability to communicate Truth
gently and persuasively.
An Anonymous Orthodox?
The writings of Lewis greatly appeal to
Orthodox believers, particularly in the
United States. Growing up in Ireland and
England, Lewis experienced little
contact with Orthodox believers. However,
the encounters he did have, impressed him.
In addition to feeling that Orthodox priests
he encountered on his visit to Greece in
1960 appeared "more spiritual" than their
Western counterparts, his good friend and
biographer George Sayer notes his
appreciation of the Orthodox liturgy. "At
Rhodes . . . 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 attended. Thereafter,
whenever the subject came up between us, he
said that he preferred the Orthodox Liturgy
to either Catholic or Protestant liturgies."
One thing which impressed him, described in
a passage in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on
Prayer, was the freedom of the Orthodox
worship experience. "Some stood, some knelt,
some sat, some walked. . . . And the beauty
of it was that nobody took the slightest
notice of what anyone else was doing." That
is because their attention was properly
focused, toward God.
There also appears an echo of the Desert
Fathers in Lewis' most vulnerable work. “A
Grief Observed” was written after
the death of his beloved wife, Joy. It was
published under a pseudonym, partly because
it was too intimate, revealing some of the
deepest and most vulnerable anguish ever
penned. This brief volume is reminiscent of
many of the Psalms, a pilgrimage of faith
through the valley of the shadow of death
and loss, toward the Promise which sustains.
In a canon of uplifting and profound
writings, A Grief Observed just may be the
most moving and healing. Sounding like a
voice from the desert, his wife "used to
quote 'Alone into the Alone.'"
She and Lewis knew that each person
encounters the Alpha and Omega independently
(though we are escorted to that jubilant
rendezvous by the Community of Faith).
Likewise, each ultimately approaches the
throne of the Judge who is also our
Advocate, alone. The monastic life provides
a preparation for this. On personal retreat
of us can savour a taste of it.
This "aloneness" is both intimidating and
The most thoughtful study of Lewis'
relationship to Orthodoxy was written by
Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, who also
teaches at Oxford.
In "C.S. Lewis: an
he explores this fascinating question.
He humbly relates that Lewis has a tendency
to "idealize us Orthodox," and affirms that
"even though C.S. Lewis' personal contacts
with the Orthodox Church were not extensive
. . . at the same time his thinking is often
profoundly in harmony with the Orthodox
Bishop Kallistos describes at length "four
significant points of convergence between
Lewis and Orthodoxy." Key among them is the
fact that this disciple of Christ, who was
richly nourished by the sacraments, was
"acutely conscious of the hiddenness of God,
of the inexhaustible mystery of the Divine."
He concludes with the statement that Lewis
surely has a "strong claim to be considered
an 'anonymous Orthodox.'" Yet, just as Lewis
is truly Orthodox, in the most profound
sense of the word, he "belongs" to all who
name the name of Christ.
A Touchstone for Dialog
One Roman Catholic editor noted that perhaps
we can embrace a broad-based Christian unity
in the spirit of C.S. Lewis. Several years
ago, Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., responded
to a paper presented at a conference on
Since members of all three traditions
present (Orthodox, Roman Catholic,
Evangelical Protestant) had made numerous
references to Lewis during the event, he
casually mentioned that the writings of
Lewis might provide a basis for Christian
Although it was an informal comment, it was
well received by participants. Father Fessio
astutely noted that "I am not alone in
thinking he is one of the great Christian
apologists of the twentieth century and I
think one of the reasons that he can be a
source of unity is that he was so deeply
grounded in the central mysteries of the
This sentiment is echoed by Bishop
Kallistos, who affirmed "C.S. Lewis
articulated a vision of Christian truth
which a member of the Orthodox Church can
wholeheartedly endorse. His starting-point
may be that of a Western Christian, but
repeatedly his conclusions are Orthodox,
with a large as well as small 'o'."
Such is the witness of this great defender
of the Truth. Lewis was an eminent apologist
of the Christian Faith whose works God
continues to use to convert and encourage
the saints. As for the Orthodox cross which
was laid upon his casket as it was lowered
into the ground-it was woven from flowers by
close Orthodox friends who attended his
funeral. It was laid upon his earthly
a fitting reminder that the sole focus of
Lewis' life's work knew no boundaries. He
lifted up the cross of Christ alone, so that
all people might
through the Son to the Father, inspired and
anointed by the Spirit.
C. Stroud is a Lutheran pastor and
from March Air Reserve Base in California.
He has a deep love for the common, orthodox
roots of the One, Holy, Catholic, and
originally appeared in AGAIN Volume 21, No.
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