by Chris Banescu –
This past weekend we lost an influential and great champion for Christ and truth. Charles W. “Chuck” Colson’s bright light is no longer in the world, but still shines on in eternity as a beacon of hope and faith for current and future generations. His legacy and example will live on in the hearts and souls of many Christians – Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant – who were inspired by his strong faith, admired his clarity of thought and vision, and were reassured by his courage and conviction.
It is fitting that he went to meet the Lord at the end of what is Bright Week for all Orthodox Christians. For during this time the Resurrection Hymn is sung at all memorial services to remind us that Christ’s Resurrection destroyed death granting us eternal life: “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”
Unfortunately, I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Colson in person. However, I have followed his active Christian ministry and prolific commentaries with a lot of interest and admiration, often sharing his wisdom with many of our Orthodox Christian readers on the OrthodoxyToday.org and OrthodoxNet.com websites.
His clear thinking, Christian worldview, and practical application of Christian moral principles, resonated with many of us who recognized that only Christ can truly heal our suffering, redeem our souls, and bring hope and light into the darkness of this world. In the words of my dear friend Fr. Hans Jacobse, Colson “saw that decline in culture was moral in nature” and he clearly understood that “a return to the values and precepts of the Christian faith were the only hope” for both personal and cultural renewal.
While reading about Colson’s life I realized why I felt such a close kinship with him and why his writings felt so familiar. Our individual journeys towards a genuine and committed relationship with Christ do, in fact, share a common thread, the writings of C.S. Lewis; more specifically the powerful impact the book Mere Christianity has had in our lives, as well as countless others whom Lewis touched and influenced over the decades.
Prior to his conviction and incarceration for his role in the Watergate scandal Colson met Tom Phillips, then president of Raytheon. Phillips was a devout Christian who had accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and had committed his whole life to Christ during a Billy Graham Crusade at Madison Square Garden. While at first Colson was not impressed by Phillips, as described by Jonathan Aitken in his biographical book Charles Colson: A Life Redeemed, he was intrigued and surprised by the changes he had seen in him. The stressed and overworked executive from prior encounters acquired a peaceful serenity and was transformed into a “warmer, more radiant, and more serene human being.” Colson noticed “a new compassion in his eyes and a gentleness in his voice.” This observation prompted him to reach out to Phillips during the Watergate crisis and ultimately lead to a personal encounter between the two men that changed Chuck Colson’s life forever.
During that fateful midsummer meeting, Phillips reached for his copy of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and read the chapter titled “The Great Sin” in order to awaken Colson’s conscience: “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. … The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit … the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
The words of C.S. Lewis had a powerful impact on Colson. “I could feel a flush coming into my face and a curious sensation that made the night seem even warmer. Lewis’s words seemed to pound straight at me,” he later recounted in his autobiographical book, Born Again.
As Phillips continued to read more from Lewis, Colson’s resistance crumbled. “… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.”
“In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you,” wrote C.S Lewis.
At this point Colson recalled that he “felt naked and unclean” his “bravado defenses gone.” He was “exposed, unprotected, for Lewis’s words were describing” him. Lewis’s revelations had ripped through his “protective armor” in which he had “unknowingly encased himself” his entire life. Colson compared it with a torpedo hitting him “amidships.” The light of Christ had broken through and God’s truth touched his soul. His transformation had begun.
Noticing the change, Phillips also prayed reading from the Psalms and the Gospel of St. John. “As Tom prayed, something began to flow into me – a kind of energy. Then came a wave of emotion which nearly brought tears” which Colson fought back. However, once he left Phillips’ home, he was overcome by the experience and the tears flowed uncontrollably. “I was crying so hard it was like trying to swim underwater,” he wrote in Born Again.
As the tears of sadness and repentance continued to flow he experienced genuine relief and cleansing. Colson fervently prayed his first real prayer: “God, I don’t know how to find You, but I’m going to try! I’m not much the way I am now, but somehow I want to give myself to You.” Not knowing how to say more, he repeated over and over the words “Take me.”
If this story had ended there, then not much would be remembered of Chuck Colson’s non-political life. Luckily for us and the many lives that he has touched, helped, comforted, and illuminated, the reality of that conversion experience was borne out by the great fruits of Colson’s ministry and his works on behalf of Christ since then. The rest of his life was devoted to courageously and faithfully serving the Lord, bringing the word of Christ to many others, standing up to the enemies of freedom, and fighting in defense of life, truth, morality, and righteousness.
“Chuck’s life’s work in Prison fellowship, the Colson Institute and so many other endeavors, most recently the Manhattan Declaration, were all fruit borne from the same strong tree which grounded him, the Tree of the Cross of the Savior whom he loves. He was a classical, dynamically orthodox Christian leader, an historic figure who was been chosen by God to help lead the recovery of Western Culture,” writes Deacon Keith Fournier. These are indeed the actions of a real disciple of Jesus Christ, one redeemed by the Lord and transformed into a beautiful light that shined through the remainder of his life and was reflected in the works that bore witness to his faith in the Lord.
Colson’s life stands as a testament to the reality of God and the redeeming power of His Word, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Light of Light, true God of true God. This is the uncreated Word who humbled Himself and became a man in order to save us. This is the eternal Son of God who voluntarily sacrificed His life in order to redeem ours. This is the infinite Word whose resurrection defeated death and granted us eternal life. This is the Christ who came into the world so that we could have life, and have it “more abundantly.”
If there is a lesson to be learned from Chuck Colson and C.S. Lewis is that God accepts no half-measures. “Christ says `Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. … Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours,'” wrote Lewis.
As Deacon Keith Fournier so eloquently points out, Colson showed us “that the path to authentic freedom leads to the foot of Golgotha’s Hill and through the empty tomb – to all who would listen.” May all of us have the wisdom and discernment to listen and remember this important truth as we face our own trials and tribulations in this world.
May we be blessed with the courage and conviction to speak the truth and proclaim God’s Word in the face of evil and persecution. May we also find strength and power to pick up our own crosses and follow Christ, the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life” for all mankind. That is the only way that we will ever find real meaning, real comfort, real joy, real freedom, and ultimately eternal life.
Christ is Risen!
Originally published on: Catholic Online