Westminster Abbey

Persecution of Christians is 'old news'? Prince Charles begs to differ

Persecution of Christians is 'old news'? Prince Charles begs to differ

Once again, Coptic Christians faced bloody bodies in the sands of Egypt, as terrorists killed seven pilgrims who had just prayed at the Monastery of St. Samuel.

No one was surprised when the Islamic State took credit for that November attack south of Cairo. After all, 28 pilgrims were massacred near the same spot in 2017.

In Syria, Orthodox believers marked the fifth anniversary of the kidnapping of Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of the Antiochian Orthodox Church and Metropolitan Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church -- who were trying to negotiate the release of priests seized weeks earlier. Today, their followers know less about the identity of the attackers than they did in 2013.

In the Nineveh plains of Iraq, Christians slowly returned to communities in which their ancestors had worshipped since the first century after Christ. Zero Christians remained in Mosul after ISIS demanded that they convert to Islam or pay the jizya head tax, while living with brutal persecution.

But nothing remained of the 1400-year-old Dair Mar-Elia (Saint Elijah's Monastery), after invaders blew it up twice and then bulldozed the rubble.

Try to imagine the faith it requires for believers to carry on after all this has taken place, said the Prince of Wales, speaking at a Westminster Abbey service last month celebrating the lives of Christians who endure persecution in the Middle East.

"Time and again I have been deeply humbled and profoundly moved by the extraordinary grace and capacity for forgiveness that I have seen in those who have suffered so much," said Prince Charles, who has worked to build contacts in the ancient Christian East.

"Forgiveness, as many of you know far better than I, is not a passive act, or submission. Rather, it is an act of supreme courage, of a refusal to be defined by the sin against you. … It is one thing to believe in God who forgives. It is quite another to take that example to heart and actually to forgive, with the whole heart, 'those who trespass against you' so grievously."

The persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East was not one of 2018's big news stories. Instead, this parade of horrors became a kind of "old news" that rarely reached the prime headlines offered by elite newsrooms.

C.S. Lewis: Still too popular after 50 years

Even though it has been 50 years since his death, the faithful at Headington Parish Church in Oxford, England, are constantly reminded of the loyal, but rather quiet, parishioner who always occupied the same short pew hidden by a sanctuary pillar. Going to church was never easy for C.S. Lewis, even before he became one of the world's most famous Christian writers, noted the Rev. Angela Tilby, in a recent service in memory of the Oxford don's death on Nov. 22, 1963 -- the same day as the death of British author, Aldous Huxley, and, of course, President John F. Kennedy.

Lewis considered church organ music far too grand and thought the words of most popular hymns were "a literary disgrace," said Tilby. Illogical sermons irritated him no end and he was highly critical of liberal trends in theology and biblical scholarship. As a former atheist, Lewis believed that far too many people in the modern world were slipping into an "easy," "fashionable" agnosticism.

In particular, Lewis was "aware of the way belief in an afterlife had come to be ridiculed by critics of Christianity as 'pie in the sky when you die' -- an imaginary compensation for those who had a raw deal in this life," she said, in a service broadcast on BBC Radio. "Lewis' response was to argue that hope for a better world could never deliver unless it was grounded in something more than the here and now."

Lewis lived to see his popular fiction -- especially "The Screwtape Letters" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" -- become bestsellers in England, America and around the world. Meanwhile, most of his Oxford University colleagues rolled their eyes at what they considered the merely popular Christian apologetics of his BBC commentaries and books such as "Miracles," "The Problem of Pain" and "Mere Christianity."

The bottom line: Lewis was considered a dinosaur from an earlier age and far too popular to be taken seriously. Half a century later, that verdict remains popular among many academics and liberal religious leaders.

Yet half a century after his death, to the day, a small stone marker in honor of Lewis was added in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, in the south transept near a variety of memorials for Geoffrey Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, John Milton, John Keats and many others.

Meanwhile, the entire Lewis canon is as popular as ever, with so many books in print, with so many publishers, that researchers struggle to total the numbers. More than 100 million copies of the seven Narnia books have sold worldwide, in 40 languages. HarperOne's C.S. Lewis Signature Classics series -- the non-Narnia Lewis works -- was created in 2001 and sales are nearing 10 million volumes. An estimated 18 million copies of "Mere Christianity" have sold in the United States alone since its publication in 1952.

Memorial stones are fitting, but it's significant that Lewis is best known for his books, said the Rev. Alister Edgar McGrath of King's College in London, who will soon return to Oxford to teach science and religion. He is the author of the recent "C. S. Lewis -- A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet."

"In the 1930s, Lewis declared that a writer is not a spectacle, who says, 'Look at me!' Rather, a writer is more like a set of spectacles, who says, 'Look through me.' ... The Christian faith, Lewis discovered, gave him a lens that brought things into focus," said McGrath, in the text for his sermon during the Headington Parish service.

This focus -- in his writing, in the classroom and in life -- included an unashamed belief in the reality of heaven and eternal life. Yet Lewis argued that focusing on heaven was the best way for believers to be truly serious about the actions and decisions that make up everyday life.

The ultimate goal for Lewis, said McGrath, was to "raise our horizon and elevate our expectations, and then to behave on earth in the light of this greater reality. ... The true believer is not someone who disengages with this world in order to focus on heaven, but the one who tries to make this world more like heaven.

"Lewis is surely right when he declared that the 'Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.'"