Words from an Elder – And a Thought about Trees

IMG_2914I am sharing here a few sayings from the Elder Amphilochios of Patmos, someone whose life and teachings I have heard spoken of before by Metropolitian Kallistos of Diocleia (Kallistos Ware). They are worth savoring. The quotes come from the volume Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit. I am especially fond of his attitude to trees. The leaves have almost reached their autumn peak here in East Tennessee and it would take a very hard heart not to be stuck by their beauty. According to Met. Kallistos, the Elder frequently assigned the penance of planting a tree on the island (Patmos) for those who came to him for confession. His ministry raised up a forest as well as demolished the sins of many.


My children, I don’t want Paradise without you.

Whoever plants a tree, plants hope, peace, and love and has the blessings of God.

Consider all people to be greater than yourself, though they may have many weaknesses. Don’t act with hardness, but always think that each person has the same destination as we do. Through the grace of God I consider all people to be saintly and greater than myself.

I am like the old tree in whose shade the meek sheep of Christ gather during the hot days of summer, and in whose branches the small birds gather. All ask that the old pine tree might live so that they have their joy. However, slowly, slowly its roots rot and the heavy winter will come, when a strong wind will knock him down and he will become wood for the fire. Now, however, the pine tree makes glad the sheep and birds that gather in the desert.

When man partakes of Holy Communion he receives power and is enlightened, his horizons widen, and he feels joy. Each person experiences something different, analogous to his disposition and the flame of his soul. One person feels joy and rest, another peace, another a spirit of devotion and another an inexpressible sympathy towards all things. Personally I have often felt tired, but after Holy Communion I felt myself completely renewed.

Brother, forget your sins: our Christ has blotted them out from the Book of Life.

In the hour in which we are tempted we must be patient and pray. Temptation is a clever craftsman. He is able to make small things loom large. Temptation disquiets, saddens, and creates external battles. He knows many arts. He brings man to doubt. For this reason we have many shipwrecks. When we are beset by temptations, that’s when the grace of God comes. When one undergoes temptation, he recognizes his weakness, is humbled and attracts the grace of God. Don’t let the winds of temptation affect you. They can’t do you any harm.

When someone opens your heart, I’d like him to find nothing there but Christ.

I ask you to put this order into practice: as much as you can, try to cultivate your love toward Christ’s own person. You must reach the point that whenever you mention His name, tears run from your eyes. Your hearts must be truly ablaze. Then He will be your Teacher, your Guide, your Brother, your Father, your Elder….

Pay no attention to things earthly and passing. Be concerned about the union of your soul with God.


  1. I love this. I just took about 30 pictures of colorful trees when I was in Oxford, Mississippi, earlier this week (they’re on one of my Facebook albums) and I was truly struck by God’s glory in their beauty. Thanks for this post… and we’ll see you in Memphis soon!

  2. This is beautiful! The analogy to the trees is wonderful. I love his opening quote, “I don’t want paradise without you.” We all need to cultivate that desire.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  3. This is like poetry. So beautiful.

    “… whenever you mention His name, tears run from your eyes.”

    Thank you, Father.

    x M.

  4. Thank you, Father Stephen.

    The description of Temptation as a “clever craftsman” is perfect.

    Speaking of trees, the foliage in New England this fall has been the finest in years. Most of it’s on the ground now, unfortunately.

  5. We had an extremely wet autumn – thus we were wondering how the foliage would be affected. I am quite pleased. It’s a very good year. Come down to the Smokies. We still have our leaves up for another couple of weeks.

    I love the Ginko (the golden tree) in my front yard. It loses it’s leaves all in about 2 or 3 hours (or less) in a continual shower. It’s amazing. I have sometimes wondered what a forest of such trees (I would imagine something in Japan where they are native) would be like. Imagine walking through a forest that is shedding all of its leaves in a matter of hours. Magnificent!

  6. We’re a little west of you, Fr. Stephen, and enjoying this now beautiful Autumn! Thank you for this post, it is so very encouraging! Glory to God for All Things!

  7. Thank you Father, what I really need to hear.

    …Consider all people to be greater than yourself, though they may have many weaknesses. Don’t act with hardness, but always think that each person has the same destination as we do. Through the grace of God I consider all people to be saintly and greater than myself….

  8. Could you say a little bit more about penance – what it is, what it is for, etc.? In good Protestant fashion I cringe a bit at the word, even when it is associated with something as beautiful and holy as planting a tree 🙂

  9. Jesse, what I have heard about the Orthodox understanding of penance is that it is a prescription for spiritual healing tailored to a person’s need, and is assigned by one’s Confessor with a spiritual purpose analogous to that of a medical prescription given by a medical doctor. This is far different than penance as a sort of punishment or negative reinforcement (i.e., attempt at moral behavior modification) or, worse, a work performed to earn or prove one’s “worthiness,” which is what would tend to come to mind first for me as well, as a former Protestant.

  10. Jesse,
    Penance – in the sense I have used it – is composed of specific acts they a Christian might do that aids in the work of repentance – that cooperates with the grace of God in yielding ourselves to Him in the work of healing our souls and conforming us to the image of God.

    The state of the heart is, perhaps, the most important element in the life of salvation. A heart that resists God is the root of sin. By the same token, a heart that is “broken and contrite,” that is yielding and able to be moved by God, is the ground of Christ’s image being re-formed in us.

    There are many things that Tradition has shown are helpful in this cooperative work – prayer, fasting, almsgiving, vigils, prostrations, and other spiritual labors.

    In practice, a confessor may sometimes assign a penance (prayers or actions) to be performed by a penitent (someone who has come to confession) in an effort to help their heart embrace repentance. Occasionally, in accordance with canons, a penance of foregoing communion for a period of time is assigned. This should not be confused with “excommunication.” Rather, in the spiritual practice of the Church, it is a tool for helping bring a heart to a proper state. I might add that such things (penance, foregoing communion, etc.) are not light matters and require a fair amount of insight and maturity on the part of priests, since the practice could easily be abused or be harmful if not applied wisely.

    My own thought as a priest is that greater spiritual maturity is required to accept a penance and use it well – so that I am reluctant to use it except with extreme care. I think that spiritual maturity is difficult to find in our day and culture.

    King David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” after Nathan the prophet rebuked his adulterous affair and complicity in the death of Uriah the Hittite. But, at the same time, he fasted and prayed and humbled himself before God.

    I think of this passage from St. Luke (3:7-14)

    Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

    So the people asked him, saying,” What shall we do then?”

    He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

    Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”

    And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”

    Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?”

    So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

  11. This makes me think of my favorite poem, which combines sorrow for the Fall with autumn. If you don’t mind, I’ll include it. It’s by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

    Spring and Fall
    to a young child

    Margaret, are you grieving
    Over Goldengrove unleaving?
    Leaves, like the things of man, you
    With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
    Ah! as the heart grows older
    It will come to such sights colder
    By and by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you will weep and know why.
    Now no matter, child, the name:
    Sorrow’s springs are the same.
    Nor mouth had, no nor mind expressed
    What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
    It is the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.

  12. Wow! He asked them to plant a tree! I really like that! Most of the quotes here are beautiful and inspiring and deserve more atention, but the one I like most is the one related to trees. Thank you! I was looking for such quotes and life examples, because I love ecology. In my opinion, the Orthodox Churchs messages are, most of the time too limitative antropocentric, although the saints, in theyr earthly lives, respected, loved and helped the animals and the nature. In our times of increased environmental degradation it is vital to bring that upfront and to widen the horizon of the Christian people. Unfortunately, I still find people – very faithful by the way – who would do anything to help a person in need, but nothing to protect an endangered forest. Maybe if in the Holy Bible would be a clear verse saying ,, go, plant trees because trees are good in the eyes of God,, or something simillar, the crowd would be now on the field planting. But, as there is not such verse, they think we, humans, are absolved of that. Well, this ,,sola scriptura,, way to think is a great pain for Orthodoxy. We must get our minds outside the box and get read of the literal reading of the Bible – we are Orthodox, we have the living examples of our saints, we do not rally only on the Scriptures to find our personal way and to gain the salvation. We also have the saints as models. Their lifes and teachings completes and gives nuances to the biblical teachings, because they are the ones who let the word of God work and live in them. If we dont remember that, I am afraid that the Church will be seen as an obsolete regresive institution, impasible to the real and actual global problems. I am also very affraid that the green movement will grow as a secular atheistic movement if we dont take a stand and raise it as a spiritual movement. It is vital to bring up the green treasures of Orthodoxy.

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