ON ADOPTION AND THE UNITY OF BELIEVERS IN THE BODY OF CHRIST by Matthew the Poor ~ Translated by Andrew Abdelmalek

Orthodoxy in Dialogue is deeply honoured to begin 2018 by offering the following extract* from Father Matthew the Poor for the first time in English. He is revered around the world as perhaps the greatest luminary of modern Coptic Orthodoxy. The full title of this article given by the translator is “On Adoption and the Doctrine of the Unity of Believers in the Body of Christ within the Meaning of Soteriology.” The bullet point format is reflective of Father Matthew’s original Arabic version. 

  • matthewpoorAdoption is a divine gift that we acquire through our union with the Person of Christ, the Son of God. It is not a mere relationship governed by will or emotions.
  • The most important aspect of our relationship to Christ is this union, the immediate result of Christ’s divinity and His consubstantiality with the Father. This is the foundation upon which the reality of salvation is built, together with all that pertains to our salvation from adoption, accepting eternal life with God, and acquiring the qualities of Christ for communion in His glory, which is the inheritance of the Father.
  • The sonship of mankind to God has become an inevitable reality because of the Son of God, given that adoption is the fruit of the Incarnation.
  • Adoption is also an aspect of “deification”, which is to say “union with God.” When we are united to the Incarnate Word, we become in Him true children through adoption, which is to say inheritors.
  • The fact which St. Athanasius affirms is that it was impossible for man to acquire adoption, not because of sin, but rather because of the created nature’s inability to receive adoption.
  • Therefore, this which the Son of God instituted in His body was for our sake and therefore was given to us.
  • The divinity of Christ ensures our attainment of salvation and, by default, our adoption. For us to be saved and live forever, it is necessary for the Saviour, to whom we are united, to be the eternal God. Furthermore, for us to be children of God, it is necessary for the Son to be God.
  • It is essential to realize that Athanasius’ theological work is an undivided and coherent unity. Believing in [1] the divinity of Christ, [2] the hypostatic union between the Logos and human nature, [3] the fulness of Christ’s humanity, [4] the salvation of man, and [5] the deification of man through grace, five inseparable truths tied together. One ought to either believe them all or leave them all.
  • These living truths are repeated and insisted upon by Athanasius. Every time Athanasius mentions these truths, he sheds new light on them from a new angle.
  • Athanasius summarizes the whole of the faith in the following manner:
  • Christ is true God and true man simultaneously.
  • He is One in truth, for no duality can occur after Him, for He unites man with God, as He is One in Himself.
  • At the end, man gains adoption and eternal life.   
  • Adoption is the being, living, and eternal union with the Holy Spirit and the Word. The Holy Spirit is the One who speaks within us and informs us about Christ and glorifies Christ in us and with us.
  • [The Son of God who is in us is the Son of God by nature. The Father, when He beholds those in whom He sees His Son, says, “I have begotten you” and calls them His children.]

Adoption through the Mystical Body of Christ:

  • The Word assuming all the weakness of the sons of man is juxtaposed with the Word giving all His divine glories to human nature.
  • This unity, freedom from weaknesses, and granting of glory and life of the Word are the extension of the general understanding of Christ’s mystical body which unites all Christians as the members of this One Body.
  • Christians are united “through the Word” in the person of Jesus Christ, given that the Word has taken for Himself human nature to which He was united in the Incarnation.
  • Christ, when He accepted the weaknesses of human nature through the Incarnation, has not lost any of the glory of His divinity, but rather He won and reclaimed the creation which was in the womb of Satan and now has become a cause for the eternal glory of His holy name.
  • [As the Lord has taken flesh and become man, likewise, we humans have been counted as part of the Body of the Word. We have become united with Him, deified and inheritors of eternal life (in Him).]
  • Through our becoming members of the One Body of Christ, we can become a perfect man [Eph 4:13] and remain in immortality and incorruptibility.
  • Athanasius holds the truth of the coming together of Christ’s humanity with our humanity very closely. Athanasius regards us as holy and as united to Christ to the extent in which the reverence befitting of God alone is extended to the Word who is present within us and is united to us. This reverence encompasses our redeemed and saved humanity which is united to the Lord in the holy believers.
  • Athanasius believes that all who see us, when we are in the condition of spiritual sublimity by the Holy Spirit, shout with the same words of the apostle, “falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1 Cor 14:25).
  • Athanasius clarifies the meaning of our being one in Christ as a result of Christ’s gathering us all in Himself as One Body. Given that the Body of Christ has become glorified and honoured in the eyes of the Father due to Christ’s divinity, and because of the Son’s humility, obedience, and love for the Father and creation, we have become all (those who believe and have been sanctified in Christ) possessors of this very divine honouring, for it is written, “The glory You have given Me, I have given them.”
  • The perfection that man can reach is the result of the unity of the believers with the Body of Christ:

[Having been united to this Body, they become One in Him, they also become perfect; that they may all be One Body and One Spirit, a perfect man, as they are carried within Christ.]

These Teachings are the Foundation of the Faith of the Church:

  • Athanasius’ clear teachings concerning the true unity of the faithful and God due to their communion in the Holy Spirit and the Word, and unity with the Body of Christ, is the foundation of the Orthodox faith of the Catholic Church.
  • This doctrine has reached the peak of its theological perfection in the teachings of St. Cyril of Alexandria in the 5th century.
  • In Athanasius’ dialogue with the Arians, “the unity of the Saviour with His own”—whether the Word’s union with His own Body or His union with all of us—never escaped his mind. Athanasius combines these two, considering that this is what God has gathered and, thus, cannot be separated.
  • The divinity of Christ is what made the Incarnation a key for us by which all the mysteries of salvation, redemption, and eternal life for the whole Church are opened.
  • These truths concerning the faith were presented by Athanasius as an inheritor, through tradition, of the treasure of dogma and living faith from the apostles, prophets, and fathers. He increased [in his understanding of the faith] through grace and revelation, creating a crown on the head of the Church, giving the light of the Church’s living theology unto all generations, and giving joy to the hearts of believers.      

*Translator’s Note: This extract is taken from Father Matthew’s book entitled Saint Athanasius the Apostolic, the Twentieth Patriarch of Alexandria: His Life, Defense of the Faith against the Arians, and Theology (Wadi Al-Natroun: Monastery of St. Macarius, 1981).

Father Matthew the Poor of Scetis (1919-2006) abandoned his wealthy lifestyle at the age of 29 to become a monk. At the age of 32 he was ordained to the priesthood against his will. Several years later he left the monastery to live as a hermit after the example of the Desert Fathers, where he was eventually joined by twelve other monks. At the age of 50 he was tasked by the Coptic Pope of Alexandria to revive the 4th-century Monastery of St. Macarius the Great, which grew from six aged monks to a community of over a hundred during his tenure. A prolific writer, Father Matthew had over 180 books and hundreds of articles to his credit. His The Communion of Love has been widely known and beloved by English-speaking Orthodox on both sides of Chalcedon for decades.

Andrew Abdelmalek is an MTS student at the Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. He holds a BA in Religious Studies from McMaster University. He attends the Prophet Daniel and Three Saintly Youth Coptic Orthodox Church in Mississauga ON, translates medieval and contemporary Coptic texts into English, and is a member of both the Alithia Initiative for Orthodox Youth in Egypt and the St. Mark Orthodox Fellowship in Canada.