CS Lewis’ Onion

“ “I see,” she said at last, thoughtfully. “I see now. This garden is like the stable. It is far bigger inside than it was outside.”
“Of course, Daughter of Eve,” said the Faun. “The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”
Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.

“I see,” she said. “This is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below, just as it was more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the stable door! I see … world within world, Narnia within Narnia….”
“Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.” “

CS Lewis: The Last Battle 1956

I remember vividly my first encounter with Orthodoxy-I had read books on the subject, on a Retreat on the Holy Island of Ynysenlli (Bardsey Island in English), off the coast of the remote Lleyn Peninsular in North Wales, I had come across a couple of books in the Retreat House about the Greek Cathedral in London. At that time I knew I was on Spiritual Pilgrimage-after a very difficult time in my life, I had lost contact with God. I had not stopped believing in God; I had just lost contact with God and was determined to find Him again.

This was the mid 1990s and the Internet was just getting going, and I had begun to utilise this new invention. I met many wonderful people, I met many strange people; I met many people who I thought were wonderful, but with hindsight turned out to be strange. But I discovered things I knew nothing about. It was a massive learning curve. One of the spiritual things I discovered was a revival in what is now termed “Celtic Christianity”. Whether or not there was historically such a thing as “Celtic Christianity” is still a matter for debate, but using the hymns and poetry of the Anglo Saxons, a group of Christians had developed a way of worshipping God that seemed to touch the hearts of many people in a profound way.

My involvement had started innocuously, as so many of God’s purposes do. I had gone to a Christian cafe in the city of Nottingham for a coffee. On the notice board was a flyer advertising a “Celtic Christian Service”. I decided to go. (Ironically, we worked out afterwards that the only person who had actually turned up in response to the flyer was me!!).

The service was at an Anglican Church in the City. It was lead by the vicar’s wife and was fundamentally a quiet, contemplative service with no pressure to do anything except enjoy God. The vicar and his wife had a remarkable ministry. They had a knack of attracting Christians who had some how lost direction, they had the ability to brush these Christians down and enable them to get back on the path that God had opened for them.

Whenever I met someone at the Church for the first time, I always wanted to ask: “And what is your story?” I never did but it was never long before, over a cup of coffee, those stories would come tumbling out.

One evening, Maggie, the vicar’s wife, announced that they were organising a Retreat, to be held in a Retreat House in a village not far away.

Being unsure what a Retreat was, but having benefited enormously from the ministry of these two lovely Christians, I decided to go.

To say it was a shock is to make an understatement! I had spent most of the past twenty five years within the Christianity that is sometimes called “happy-clappy”. The term is often used somewhat derogatively, but reflects a kind of Christianity that emphasises the Immanence of God, although sometimes sadly at the expense of His Transcendence. At this Retreat House, I was left in a room for eight hours-eight hours of just me, my Bible and God!! I came out a a very changed person! I had begun to discover something of God and something of myself that I had never known about!

Now that may sound incredibly patronising, but I had been going to Church all my life-I can still, remember my first visit to Sunday School, I had asked for a Bible for my seventh birthday-and been given one, I had been a Sunday School Teacher at sixteen years of age. I had been active in the Church all my life. The reality was that I had got complacent. God in His Mercy decided to shake me up!!

I was hooked on Retreats, going to as many as possible, including going off to Retreat Houses on my own for personal retreats. Eventually I came into contact with Bardsey Island,

Bardsey Island is off the end of the Lleyn Peninsular in North Wales. I had first heard of it whilst reading Ellis Peter’s Cadfael novels-detective stories set in Medieval Shrewsbury with a monk Brother Cadfael as the hero. One of her books referred to a pilgrim going to Ynysenlli to die as a penance. Later on, and I am unclear to this day how it came about, during this time of Spiritual Darkness, my interest in Bardsey Island (Ynysenlli is the Welsh name) was rekindled. I went there for a seven day retreat, because at that time there was a Retreat House on the island. One of the things I learnt on the island was about the Greek Cathedral in London.

I had already decided that God had put me on a journey and I decided that it was clear that a visit to an Orthodox Church was the next stop. It took me some while to be able to arrange one, but in the meanwhile, I visited the Library to see if there were any books on the subject. I discovered, and read, “The Orthodox Church” by Timothy Ware. I also read “Becoming Orthodox” by Peter Gilquist-which I found especially fascinating because it scratched me exactly where I itched.

A time came when I was able to visit the only Orthodox Church that I knew of, the Greek Church in Nottingham, the biggest city in my area. I visited it. And it was wonderful! As an ex-happy clappy, I loved worship, but had felt more and more uncomfortable in those kind of services. When I listend to the worship at the Greek Church, I was transported, a reaction I later on found out, not uncommon amongst other people who found the Orthodox Church.

There was only one issue-95% of the service was in Greek! And my Greek was very poor!!

During that period I had found the phone number of an Orthodox Information Service. The phone number was in an old edition of Pear’s Cyclopaedia. I rang the number, The number was discontinued, but the recorded message gave a replacement number, I rang that, again an answer phone. I left a message-I was looking for a list of Orthodox Parishes in Britain, did these people have one?

The Wednesday after my visit tot he Greek Church, a letter landed on my doormat. It was from the St George Orthodox Information Service and contained a booklet listing all the Orthodox Parishes in the UK. Much to my delight, there was an English speaking Russian Parish in my city, with a service the following Sunday.

I went, the worship was just as wonderful, and it was in English!! I could understand it!!

What has all this got to do with CS Lewis and his book, The Last Battle?

After finding myself at the Russian Parish, I read the books I was recommended to read, I went to as many of the services as I could, and with a certainty, it grew on me that it was in the Orthodox Church that God wanted me to be.

I can recall the exact place that it happened.

I had been to Cambridge for the Liturgy (in those days, the Parish only served the Liturgy once a fortnight). As I was driving home along the Great North Road, I knew as I had never known before that God wanted me to be received into the Orthodox Church and receive the Mysteries.

At Pentecost 1998, I was chrismated into the Holy Orthodox Church. I felt like a child in a sweet shop. Despite my many years of being a Christian, I found that there was so much more of God to find. Nearly twenty years on, nothing has changed, spiritually I am still the child in the sweet shop, the only difference is that whenever I think I have eaten all the sweets, I find another door to open and even more spiritual delights

[I]“Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.” [/I]

Oh, by the way, so far I have not visited the Greek Cathedral in London!