The Elder and the Trees

“Whoever does not love trees, does not love God.”

Elder Amphilochios of Patmos (1888-1970).

geronamfilohiosmakris

Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia,  relates:

“When I was a deacon at the Monastery of St John the Theologian on Patmos in the 1960’s, our geronta or elder, Father Amphilochios (who died in 1970), used to say to us, “Do you know that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment, ‘Love the trees.’” Whoever does not love the trees, so he believed, does not love Christ. “When you plant a tree,” he told us, “you plant hope, you plant peace, you plant love, and you will receive God’s blessing.”

An ecologist long before ecology had become fashionable, when hearing the confessions of the local farmers, Father Amphilochios used to assign to them as a penance the task of planting a tree. Nor was this all. He would himself go around the island to see how they were carrying out their penance, whether they were keeping their tree-penance properly watered, whether they were making sure that it was not eaten by goats. Under his influence, the centre of the island has been transformed: where, a century ago, there were bare and barren slopes, today there are flourishing groves of pine and eucalyptus. “Love the trees,” Father Amphilochios insisted. Do we not find there, in his emphasis upon love, the answer to the ecological problem? We cannot save what we do not love.” (source:broken link)

Elder Amphilochios adored greenery and trees. Pine trees were almost unheard of in Patmos. When the simple women of the island first saw the pine trees that he had planted they named the trees “Amphilochians”. He developed beds of pine trees, and from these nursery beds he planted new roots himself, but also gave then to others to plant. As mentioned, quite often, in confession, he would oblige the faithful to plant two or three pine trees so that their sins could be forgiven. Slowly this dry, barren, rocky island started to become green.

His efforts were noted in the national Greek newspaper, the Vima, in October 1975, Agnes Rousoupoulou wrote, “This tree planting enterprise can also be helped by enlightened clergy. A start was made by the late Fr. Amphilochios of Patmos, who asked those who came to confession to plant a tree as evidence of repentance.”

Not only did he arrange the planting of trees, he got involved in watering them too. He helped out with the arduous task of watering the newly planted shoots in the arid summer months. He believed that whoever planted or watered a tree, became a co-creator in nature with God, the Maker of all.

Fr. Antipas, the former abbot of Patmos, relates how once a nun destroyed a tree, and he had never seen the Elder filled with such righteous indignation except for  when this happened. It was like Christ banishing the money lenders from the temple. He made the poor nun plant five trees and water them for three years, so that God would forgive her! When these trees grew he delighted in sitting in their shade, spending hours in prayer, praising God, alongside the trees, “Praise the Lord …Mountains and all hills;
Fruitful trees and all cedars; Young men and maidens, old men and children Let them praise the name of the Lord” (Psalm 148)

He longed to see Patmos covered in greenery and he celebrated when he heard that the lads at the Patmiada School had planted several thousand pine trees. How many saints of the Church chose to live amongst trees and in forests, discovering that these were places that developed vigilance of the heart, and that the thought of heaven was easily cultivated in these natural temples!

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