Joy in persecution

Ed Tomlinson on why we can draw strength from the example of those who have gone before us and from the certainty that God will never abandon those who remain faithful

Eating cold ice cream with hot chocolate sauce is a bewildering experience, as your brain is forced to hold conflicting sensations in tension. I felt something rather similar, though in an emotional not culinary capacity, when asked to temporarily edit the Church Observer.

The pleasure of accepting was tinged with trepidation, stemming from words accompanying the said invitation, 'We hope you can provide positivity for Anglo-Catholics today'. They don't ask much, do they?!

Here we are, clinging to the CofE by our fingertips, living at the mercy of that hard-hearted Synod, and they want positivity? It would be easier, surely, convincing Ian Paisley to bend the knee at Benediction!

Having reflected in greater detail - a worthwhile (some would say novel) experience for me - I not only recovered my positivity, but unearthed deep and lasting joy. Orthodox Christians do Christ a disservice when we lose hope, for we are the most fortunate of all people in history.

Nothing is wasted

We may not always be wanted or loved but we are most certainly blessed. So why feel trepidation? As the old Sunday School chorus put it, 'With Jesus in our boat we can smile at the storm!'

My change of perspective began as I reflected on the gardens at Walsingham (I was meant to be praying in earnest -mea culpal) Here, among pretty flowers, charming buildings and newly installed spaceship altar, the Stations of the Cross can be found. They do not, of course, exist for decoration but to lead us to, stage by stage, the foot of the cross.

So let us gaze on Christ crucified, recalling how his death gave way to life. Let us remember that we glory in that cross and must accept a degree of suffering as we proclaim the faith in our day.

Our purpose, our hope, everything we do and everything we are, is bound up in the mystery of Christ's Passion. We follow one who suffered and we will surely suffer too. But as long as we 'remain in him and he in us', Christ will never abandon us. This 'impossibility of abandonment' is our certain hope.

And what hope it is! It remains true no

matter what may come to pass, yes, even should the Church of England wither and die. Therefore we must rejoice (in the steadfastness of God, not in the death of Anglicanism).

So as we lament the crisis in our national church, hope springs eternal. The wickedness of those destroying faith does nothing to affect God's promise of salvation. God may lead us, by work and dedication, to revival. God may provide us with a structural solution against all odds. He may even call us to jump into a new ecclesial body. At present we cannot know... But whatever comes to pass (and it may not be the same for everyone), he will never abandon us. As Bishop Lindsay has reminded us, nothing we do for God is ever wasted.

So if we remain faithful (a sincere challenge in itself), we can hold our heads high. God is with us and he will remain so. We must not grow fearful or withdrawn - a people of Holy Saturday, huddled in a shrinking upper room (even if it can feel like that at times). No, we must be an Easter people with 'Alleluia as our song. We must put on the armour of Christ and fight for the Church of our baptism. We must witness to the faith of the Apostles, standing firm even in the face of rising persecution. This is our calling and we draw courage from those who went before us.

What glorious company we find! I wonder how Mary felt as she gazed on Jesus' limp body? Or how St Peter felt on Good Friday? How did St John feel when Salome danced for his head? Or St Paul when tortured in prison? Did Maximilian Kolbe feel wanted as they led him to die? Did St Agnes? St Barnabas? St Felicity or Perpetua? No, they felt as we do: forgotten, marginalized and afraid. And compared to them, our sufferings are as nothing.

Furthermore, in all instances of per-

secution, small and great, God is working his purpose out, continually bringing light out of darkness. The Church was built in the blood of martyrs, and it often prevails through the temporary suffering of the faithful.

Making a choice

And who would you rather represent; Katharine Jefferts Schori, Gene Robinson, Christina Rees and those amending Scripture and doctrine in this godless generation? Or St Peter, Bonho-effer, Mother Theresa, St Augustine and all who stand for Jesus? When you proclaim scriptural faith, you join the saints throughout the ages. Let our opponents enjoy the day, for we shall enjoy eternity!

We orthodox are strong, not because we are brighter or more sincere than those who oppose us, but because we subscribe to the faith of the ages. This is our strength. We profess the faith of the Church, the faith of the ages. And we have never betrayed Christ by accepting non-scriptural innovation.

In contrast, those who betray Christ, by innovative word and action, are weak. Let us be clear; the desire to ordain women, embrace homosexual marriage, and all else these (so-called) 'progressives' hold dear, does not come from God but from the world's philosophy. It was feminism, not faithfulness, that put 'women priests' on Synod's agenda.

Faithfulness to Christ

As our nation moves in an ever more secular direction, a question is hurled at the Church: 'faithfulness to State or faithfulness to Christ?' Hitherto it has been prudent to claim them compatible, but now the illusion is over. So with whom are you going to stand? With Jesus and the faith of the ages? Or with the 'progressive new gospel' being written by and for this world?

In these days of struggle it is the simple truths that need repeating. This world does not want Jesus. It never has. The more faithfully we follow, the more they will persecute. So resist the desire for comfort, and embrace your rejection with joy.

What is folly to the world is wisdom to God. And he will not abandon us! Of that I am certain. \ND\

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