Coptic Theology Bites

             Excerpts from the theological writings of the Coptic Fathers

Walking in the New Life



Again we  would say `If Adam died  because of sin, He Who  removed  sin had to
take away death too.' But   just as Adam  was  told `The  day  you eat of  the
forbidden  tree, you shall  die,' but in  fact he did  not die;  but rather he
received a  pledge of his  death in the form   of being stripped naked  of the
glory and his  expulsion from Paradise, after  which he was daily pondering on
death. It is exactly the same with life  in Christ: we  have eaten His Body in
place of the  fruit of  the  Tree, and His altar   has taken the  place of the
Garden of Eden for us; the curse has  been washed away  by His innocent blood,
and in the hope of resurrection we await the life that is  to come, and indeed
we already walk in the new life, in that we already have a pledge of it.

--St. Ephrem The Syrian

The Joy of Martyrdom
It is said concerning many of the martyrs, that when  they foreknew, either by
revelation or  by information received from one  of their friends,  the day on
which they were to receive the crown of martyrdom, they did not taste anything
the preceding night, but from evening till morning they stood keeping vigil in
prayer, glorifying God in  psalms, hymns, and  spiritual odes, amd they looked
forward to  that hour with  joy and exaltation, waiting to  meet the  sword in
their  fast as ones   prepared for the   nuptials.  Therefore let  us  also be
vigilant, we who are called to an unseen martyrdom so as to receive the crowns
of sanctification, so that we may never give our enemies a sign of denial with
any member or part of our body.

--St Isaac The Syrian (Ascetical Homilies, Hom. 37).

We Are All Begging to Have God
It is natural to look for beauty and  to love it, even though  the idea of what
is beautiful  varies   between one person    and another.  Now,   what  is more
marvelous than the divine beauty?  What can you think of that is more likely to
give pleasure than the magnificence of God?  What  desire could be more ardent,
more irresistible than the thirst which God  inspires in the  soul when once it
has been purified of  every vice and cries out:  "I am sick  with love" (S.  of
S. 2:5).

The  divine  beauty  is beyond  description in   words.   We could  compare its
brilliance to the  light of the morning star  or the moon  or the sun.  But  we
should be as  far  from  a  true description as    midday is from the dead   of
night. This beauty is invisible to the eyes of the body; only  the soul and the
mind can perceive it.  Every time it illumines the saints,  it leaves in them a
sting, a nostalgia so strong as to wring from them the cry: "Woe  is me, that I
am in exile still" (Ps. 120:5).

By  our nature we  human beings aspire  to what is  beautiful and love it.  But
what is beautiful is also  good.  God is  good.  Everyone  looks for the  good,
therefore everyone looks for God.

--St Basil the Great

Our Faith and Love towards Christ
Only let  us be found in Christ  Jesus unto the true life.  Apart from Him, let
nothing attract you, ... None of these things is hid  from you, if ye perfectly
possess that  faith and love  towards Christ Jesus  which are the beginning and
end of life. For  the beginning is  faith, and the  end is love. Now these two,
being inseparably connected together, God will be present in your life, and all
other things  which are requisite  for a holy life   follow after them.  Let us
therefore do all  things as those who  have Him dwelling in us,  that we may be
His  temples, and He may be  in us as  our  God, which indeed   He is, and will
manifest Himself before our faces, if we justly love Him...

--St Ignatius of Antioch (To the Ephesians, 11, 14, 15, 20; ANF I, 54-57)

Suffering Brings us Near to God
Make  me   suffer to   become food   for     the wild beasts,     through whose
instrumentality it will be granted me to attain God...  Then shall I truly be a
disciple of Christ... I know what is for my benefit... Let  fire and the cross;
let the crowds  of wild beasts;  let tearings,  breakings, and dislocations  of
bones; letting cutting off  of members; let  shatterings of the whole body; and
let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon  me: only let me attain to
Jesus Christ.

-- St Ignatius of Antioch (To the Romans, 4-5; ANF I, 75-76)

He Who Is Near The Sword  Is Near God

He who is near the sword  is near God;  he that is among  the wild beasts is in
company  with God; provided only  he  be so  in  the name  of  Jesus Christ.  I
undergo all these  things  that I may  suffer  together with Him,   He inwardly
strengthening me.

-- St Ignatius of Antioch (To the Smyrnaeans, 4; ANF I, 88)

Love Never Faileth
But sight shall displace faith; and hope shall be swallowed  up in that perfect
bliss to which we  shall come: love, on the  other hand, shall wax greater when
these others fail. For if  we love by  faith that which as  yet we see not, how
much more shall we love it  when we begin  to see! And if we  love by hope that
which as yet we have not reached, how much more shall we love  it when we reach
it! For  there  is this  great difference  between  things temporal and  things
eternal, that a temporal object is valued more before we possess it, and begins
to  prove worthless the  moment we attain it,  because it does  not satisfy the
soul, which has  its only true and sure  resting-place in eternity:  an eternal
object, on the other hand, is loved with greater ardor when it is in possession
than while it is  still an object of desire,  for no one  in his longing for it
can  set a higher  value on it than really   belongs to it,   so as to think it
comparatively worthless when he finds it of less value than  he thought; on the
contrary, however high the value any man may set upon it when he  is on his way
to possess it, he will  find it, when it  comes into his possession, of  higher
value still.

-- St Augustin (On Christian Doctrine, I, 38)

The Spirit of God and the Church
The gift of God (the Spirit) has been entrusted to the Church, as breath was to
the first created man, for this purpose, that all  the members receiving it may
be vivified; and  the [ means of ]  communion with Christ  has been distributed
throughout it, that is, the Holy Spirit, the earnest of incorruption, the means
of confirming  our  faith, and the  ladder of  ascent to  God...  For where the
Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is
the Church,   and every  kind of   grace;   but the Spirit   is  thruth. Those,
therefore, who do not partake of Him, are neither nourished  into life from the
mother's breasts, nor do they enjoy that most limpid fountain which issues from
the body of Christ.

-- St Irenaeus (Against Heresies, III, 24, 1)

The Spirit Brings Us to Unity
This Spirit, as Luke says, descended at the day of Pentecost upon the disciples
after the Lord's ascension, having power  to admit all  nations to the entrance
of life, and to  the opening of the new  covenant; from  whence also, with  one
accord in all languages,   they uttered  praise  to  God, the Spirit   bringing
distant tribes to unity,  and offering to the  Father  the first-fruits  of all
nations.  Wherefore also the Lord  promised to send  the  Comforter, who should
join us to God. For as a compacted lump of dough cannot be  formed of dry wheat
without fluid matter, nor can a loaf possess unity, so, in like manner, neither
could we, being many,  be  made one in Christ   Jesus  without the  water  (the
Spirit) from heaven.

-- St Irenaeus (Against Heresies, III, 17, 2)

The Mystery of the Cross
As we lost Him (the Word) by means of a  tree, by means of a  tree again He was
made  manifest to  all, showing in   Himself the  height,   the length and  the
breadth, and, as  a   certain man  among   our predecessors  (Paul),  observed,
"Through the extension of His hands, gathering the two peoples to one God." For
there were two  hands, because there were two  peoples scattered to the ends of
the earth; but there was one head in  the middle, as  there is but one God, who
is above all, and through all, and in us all.

-- St Irenaeus (Against Heresies, V, 17, 4)

God for your sake humbled Himself
God, for your  sake humbled Himself,  and you will not be  humbled for your own
sake?!  The Lord  Himself who is the Way  and is God, after He  came not on His
own  behalf but for  you so that  He might be  an example for you of everything
good, see, He came in such humility, taking "the form  of a slave" [Philippians
2:7], He Who  is God, the  Son of God,  King, the Son of King   ... But do  not
despise His divine dignity,  as you look at Him,  externally humiliated  as one
like us. For our sakes He so appeared, not for Himself... When they spat in His
face  and placed a crown of  thorns on Him  and hit Him,  what more humiliation
could  He  have yet undergone?...  If  God   condescends  to such  insults  and
sufferings  and  humiliation, you, who by  nature  are clay and are  mortal, no
matter how much you are humiliated, will never do anything similar to what your
Master did.   God, for your  sake, humbled Himself and you  will not be humbled
for your own sake?!

-- St Macarius the Great (Homily 26, 25-26)

Communion with God
Therefore, as I have already said,  He (Christ) caused man to  cleave to and to
become one with God. For unless man had been joined to God, he could never have
become a partaker of incorruptibility.  For it was  incumbent upon the Mediator
between God and  men, by His relationship to  both, to bring both to friendship
and  concord,  and cause God  to  welcome man,  and  man to present  himself to
God. For, in what way could we be partakers of the adoption  of sons, unless we
had received from Him through the Son that fellowship  which refers to Himself,
unless His Word,  having been made  flesh, had entered  into communion with us?
Wherefore   also He passed   through every  stage    of life, restoring  to all
communion with God.

--St Irenaeus (Against Heresies III, 18, 7)

The Aim of the Incarnation
I would wish to speak about a more subtle and profound  topic to the best of my
ability. Wherefore, listen  attentively  to me. The infinite,  inaccessible and
uncreated God has assumed a body, and  on account of  His immense and ineffable
kindness,  if I may say it,  He diminished Himself,  lessening His inaccessible
glory so as  to be able  to be united with His  creatures, so they  can be made
participators of divine life [2 Peter 1:4]. God  who transcends all limitations
and far exceeds the grasp of our  human understanding, through His goodness has
diminished   Himself and has   taken the members   of our human   body which He
surrounded with  inaccessible glory. And  through His  compassion and love  for
mankind, taking upon  Himself a  body,   He mingles  Himself and becomes   "one
spirit" [1  Corinthians 6:17]  with  them, according  to Paul's  statement.  He
becomes a soul, if I may so say  it, in a  soul, substance in substance so that
the soul may live in God, and sense the immortal life and become a participator
in eternal glory.

--St Macarius the Great (Homily 4, 9-10)

The Good Shepherd lays down His Life for the Sheep
After describing the really good shepherd as one who is ready  to die on behalf
of the sheep,  and willing to  lay down his  life for them,  and since He knows
that He Himself is going to lay  down His life  for the sheep, with good reason
He again cries aloud: I am the Good Shepherd...  The  really Good Shepherd died
for our sakes, that He might take us out of  the dark pit  of death and prepare
to enfold us among the  companies of heaven, and give  unto us mansions  above,
even with the Father, instead  of dens situated  in the depths of the  abyss...
Nevertheless we must remark that Christ did not unwillingly endure death on our
behalf and for our  sakes, but is  seen to go  towards it voluntarily, although
very easily able to escape the suffering, if He willed not to suffer. Therefore
we shall see, in  His willingness even to suffer  for us, the excellency of His
love towards us and the immensity of His kindness.

--Saint Cyril the Great (On John X, 12-15)

He was tempted that we might conquer
Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let  us become like God
for His sake, since He for ours became Man. He  assumed the worse that He might
give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich [2
Corinthians 8:9]; He took upon Him the form of a servant  that we might receive
back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we
might conquer; He was dishonoured  that He might  glorify us;  He died that  He
might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low
in  the Fall of  sin. Let us  give all, offer  all, to  Him  Who gave Himself a
Ransom and a  Reconciliation for us.  But one can   give nothing like  oneself,
understanding the  Mystery, and becoming for  His  sake all  that He became for

--Saint Gregory Nazianzen (The 1st Oration; 2nd Sermon)

The Life-giving Power of God
In what manner can man upon  earth, clothed as  he is with mortality, return to
incorruption?  I answer,  that this dying  flesh must  be  made partaker of the
life-giving power  which cometh from God. But  the life-giving power of God the
Father is the  Only-begotten  Word: and Him He  sent  to  us  as  a  Savior and
Deliverer. And He became flesh in order that, having implanted Himself in us by
an inseparable  union, He might   raise us above   the power both of death  and
corruption. For He clothed  Himself in our  flesh, that by  raising it from the
dead, He  might prepare a way henceforth,   by which the   flesh which had been
humbled unto  death might return  anew unto incorruption... And  Paul testifies
"For  as  man  is  death, by man  is  also  the ressurection  of  the dead"  [1
Corinthian 15:21]. Therefore by having united unto Himself that flesh which was
subject to death,  the Word being God and  Life drove away from it  corruption,
and made  it also to be the  source of life...  When therefore  we eat the holy
flesh of Christ, the Saviour of  us all, and  drink His precious blood, we have
life in  us,  being made  as  it were, one with  Him,  and abiding in  Him, and
possessing Him also in us.

--St Cyril the Great (On Luke 22:19).

Let us gladly mount upon the cross
It's the Lord's  Passover! At this season, let   different persons bring  forth
different  fruits and offer different offerings.   But  let us sacrifice to God
the sacrifice  of praise upon  the heavenly Altar,  with the heavenly dances...
Shall I  mention what is even a greater thing?  Let  us sacrifice  ourselves to
God;  or rather let   us go on  sacrificing throughout  every  day and at every
moment.  Let  us accept  anything  for the  Word's  sake. By sufferings  let us
imitate His Passion:  by our blood  let us  reverence His Blood:  let us gladly
mount upon the Cross. Sweet are the nails, though  they be very painful. For to
suffer with Christ and for Christ is better than a life of ease with others.

--Saint Gregory Nazianzen (The 2nd Oration on Easter 45, 2 & 23)

One For All
For one lamb died for all, bringing the whole flock on earth back safely to God
the Father; one for all, that  He might bring all under  subjection to God, one
for all, that He  may gain them all; "that   for the future  they might  all no
longer live for themselves, but for him who died and rose for them. For when we
were  guilty of  many  sins, and  for  that reason were   liable  to death  and
destruction, the Father gave a ransom for us, one for all, since all things are
in Him, and He is greater than all. One  died for all,  Death devoured the Lamb
on behalf of all, and then vomited all in him,and with  him. For we were all in
Christ, who died and rose again on our account, and on our behalf. And when sin
has been annihilated,  then death, of which sin  is the source and cause,  must
needs be annihilated too.

--Saint Cyril of Alexandria

The Cross: Proof of the Greatest Love
Does not Saint Paul on every occasion  show us that the death  of Christ is the
greatest proof of His love for us?  He thus says: "God shows His love for us in
that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" [Romans 5:8]. Also, for this
reason, does not he take pride and yearn all  the more, nay,  even leap for joy
and flutter his wings, as it were, when he writes  to the Galatians: "far be it
from me to  glory  except in the  cross  of our  Lord Jesus Christ"  [Galatians
6:14]. Even Christ  Himself, who endured these sufferings  calls them His Glory
[John 17:1]!  And when He wished to show us His love, what  did He mention? His
signs  or miracles or   wonders?  Never! He  but laid  His  cross in the middle
saying:  "For God so loved the  world that He  gave His only  Son" [John 3:16].
And so did Saint Paul say:  "He who did not spare  His own Son  but gave Him up
for us all, will he  not also give us all  things with Him?" [Romans 8:32]. And
when  he exorts to  love, he raises this same  type in the middle saying: "Love
one another, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering
and sacrifice to God" [Ephesians 5:2].

--Saint John Chrysostom (Homily on Divine Providence 17:1-7)

He was accursed for us that He might deliver us from the old curse
In His own Person, He bore the sentence  righteously pronounced against sinners
by the Law.  For He became  a "curse for  us", according to the Scripture: "For
cursed is  everyone", it is said, "that  hangeth on a tree."  [Galatians 3:13].
And accursed are we all, for we are not able to fulfill the Law of God: "For in
many things we all stumble" [James 3:2]; and very prone to sin is the nature of
man. And since, too,  the Law of  God says: "Cursed  is he who continues not in
all things that are written  in the book  of this Law,  to do them"  [Galatians
3:10], the curse, then belongs unto us, and not to  others... Therefore, He Who
knew no sin was accursed for our sakes, that  He might deliver  us from the old
curse. For all-sufficient was the God Who is  above all, so  dying for all; and
by the death of His own Body, purchasing the redemption of all mankind.

--St Cyril the Great (On John 19:17-18).

He came to reside among us to put away sin
In  ancient times the  Word came to  the individual saints and sanctified those
who  sincerely received Him.   When they were  born no  one  said that the Word
became man; and when they suffered, no one said that the Word had suffered. But
when, out of Mary, He came to reside among  us "once at the end  of ages to put
away sin" [Hebrew 9:26] --- for it was the  Father's good pleasure to "send His
own  Son, made of woman, made  under the law"  [Galatians 4:4] ---  then it was
indeed said that He had taken flesh  and become man,  and that in that flesh He
had suffered for us --- in the  words of Peter,  "Christ therefore suffered for
us in  the flesh" [1  Peter 4:1]. This was to  demonstrate  and to make  us all
believe that He who is eternally God, who sanctifies those to whom He has come,
and who rules all things in accordance with the Father's will, had subsequently
also become man  for our sake.  As the apostle says, "the  Deity  dwelt" in the
flesh "bodily" [Colossians 2:9]. This is equivalent to saying that, while being
God, He possessed a body of His  own and that, using this  as an instrument, He
became man for our sake.

--St Athanasius the Great (Against the Arians III, 31).

He carried all our sufferings to deliver us from them
Just as death  was brought to naught in  no other way than by  the Death of the
Saviour, so also with regard to each of the sufferings of the flesh: for unless
He had felt dread, human nature could  not have become  free from dread; unless
He had  experienced grief, there  could never  have  been any  deliverance from
grief; unless  He had been troubled and  alarmed, no escape from these feelings
could have been found. And with regard to every one of  the affections to which
human  nature is  liable, you will    find exactly the  corresponding thing  in
Christ. The affections of His Flesh were aroused,  not that they might have the
upper hand as they do  indeed in us, but in  order that when aroused they might
be thoroughly   subdued by the   power of the Word dwelling   in the flesh, the
nature  of man thus undergoing a  change for the  better... For the Word of God
made one with Himself  human nature in its entirety,  that so He might save the
entire  man. For that which has  not been taken into His  nature,  has not been

--St Cyril the Great (On John XII, 27)

Union with Christ
Just as  the root of  the vine  ministers and distributes   to the branches the
enjoyment of its own natural and inherent qualities,  so the Only-begotten Word
of  God imparts to  the Saints  as  it were an  affinity  to His own nature ...
insomuch as they have been united with Him... And the Savious Himself says: "He
who eats My Flesh and drinks My  Blood abides in Me and  I in him." For here it
is especially to be observed that Christ said that He shall  be in us, not by a
certain relation only, as entertained  through  the affections,  but also by  a
natural participation. For as,  if one entwines wax  with  other wax  and melts
them by the fire that results of both, so through the participation of the Body
of Christ and His precious Blood, He in us, and  we again in Him, are counited.