The Tree Heals the Tree

Readers of the New Testament are familiar with St. Paul’s description of Christ as the “Second Adam.” It is an example of the frequent Apostolic use of an allegoric reading of the Old Testament (I am using “allegory” in its broadest sense – including typology and other forms). Christ Himself had stated that He was the meaning of the Old Testament (John 5:39). Within the Gospels Christ identifies His own death and resurrection with the Prophet Jonah’s journey in the belly of the fish. He likens His crucifixion to the serpent raised on a staff by which Moses healed the people of Israel. Without the allegorical use of the Old Testament – much of the material in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament would be unintelligible.

Orthodox Christians are very accustomed to this manner of handling Scripture – the hymnography (largely written during the Patristic period) of the Church’s liturgical life is utterly dominated with such a use of allegory. The connections between New Testament and Old – between dogma and the allegory of Scriptural imagery is found in almost every verse offered within a service. Those who are not familiar with the Eastern liturgical life are unaware of this rich Christian heritage and of its deep doctrinal piety and significance.

In the feast of the Holy Cross, the hymnography at one point makes the statment, “The Tree heals the Tree.” It is one of the marvelous commentaries on the life of grace and its relationship to the human predicament. It refers to the relationship between the Cross of Christ and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The latter was the source of the fruit that Adam and Eve consumed that was the source of their fall from grace. The “Tree that heals” is none other than the Cross of Christ.

I am struck particularly by this treatment of Biblical imagery. The meditation does not say that the Cross destroys the tree whose fruit, along with our disobedience, brought the human tragedy. The Tree heals the Tree. In the same manner, the Kingdom of God does not destroy creation – it makes it whole.

There is a tendency within our lives to view failure and disasters (whether self-inflicted or otherwise) as deep tragedies that derail our lives and the world around us. Our heart becomes confused when the thought of “if only” takes up residence. But the Tree heals the Tree. In God, nothing is wasted.

It is the spiritual habit of the Church’s liturgical life to see the story of Christ in everything. Every story involving wood or a tree seems to find its way into the hymnography of the Cross. The same is true for many other images. I believe this way of reading Scripture is also a key to the Christian life. Our hearts are such that they generally do not see the Kingdom of God – we see only the tree and our disobedience. But Christ Himself became sin that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). He took our life upon Himself that He might bestow His own life upon us. Thus Christ has entered all things that He might make all things new. Nothing is wasted.


  1. Indeed, only in the Divine Oneness the sting of dualism can be healed. Knowledge of good and evil sets up the “I”. The cross, crosses it out.

  2. I heard a teaching by Fr Thomas Hopko given on the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. In it he spoke of the Church Fathers reflecting on the fact that Christ’s death had a purpose beyond the fact that it was the execution method of the day, that it was almost “necessary” for Him to die on the Cross. He used some patristic reflections on the symbolism of the death on the cross. This liturgical reflection that you have given, fits perfectly with that allegory.
    I love the fact that although the Church Fathers wrote so many centuries ago, their teaching are relevant for today, given the proper interpretation for our time (and vice versa).
    Thank you for sharing this.

  3. “It is the spiritual habit of the Church’s liturgical life to see the story of Christ in everything.”

    This is something I have been hit with so many times in my journey into Orthodoxy–the value of finding Christ in all things. I really appreciated this post.

    “…Who art everywhere present and fillest all things…”

  4. Jeremiah,
    I understand Fr. Hopko’s observation – though I would state it the other way around. The Cross is not just a historical event but is also cosmic and eschatological (out of time). “The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the earth.” Thus the Cross precedes even creation (in a timeless manner). That being the case, I would not see a “necessity” that Christ died on the Cross – but a “necessity” (or some other more proper term) that the world reflect the mystery of the Cross. C.S. Lewis (as some few of the Fathers) believed that all stories (even the myths of the Greeks, etc.) look ahead to Christ – that He fulfills everything.

    Nothing causes Christ. Nothing causes the Cross.

  5. Pingback: Sea of Sin
  6. Is the healing offered even to the wounded tree the reason why we are told to preach the gospel to every creature? In a world of decay, is there a more poignant expression of hope than the declaration of the Risen Christ?To eat a meal can be an expression of this if we recognize that even in the death of the plant or animal providing the meal is our life, and it is through humanity and our journey towards the kingdom that all creation will be renewed. Thus, the daily bread we eat is, in a sense, a sacrifice for the renewal of creation, a healing through destruction. This same thought applies in many areas, and is probably seen most clearly in the Eucharist.

  7. Makes me wonder if the new Jerusalem, the new world spoken of in Revelation is perhaps a ‘healed world’ and not the present one destroyed and a new one created.

  8. Man ever seeks to dwell in the proximity of the Shekinah (in the wilderness, Moses constructed God’s Tabernacle precisely for this purpose, and again in the First Temple we see the Glory physically entering the Holy of Holies — but not the Second Temple, which was defiled).

  9. Angela, I think Fr. Stephen affirmed in another post or comment not long ago that indeed the Orthodox teaching is the Creation renewed, recreated in this sense, not destroyed and a unique new creation brought forth.

  10. Bill,
    Other than attending lots of Vigils…I would recommend starting with the text of the Festal Menaion, ed. by Met. Kallistos Ware and others. It has the hymns for the Great Feasts of the year. Another source, in English, is to look at the feasts days on the OCA website ( If you click on the tab “liturgical music and translations” you’ll find the proper hymnography for the feast.

    It is much to devour at one sitting.

    There are also collections of hymns by St. Ephrem that are quite ancient and very rich. Amazon will have them.

    There is much that has not been written (as of yet, at least in English). My parish has the 12 volume series of the Menaion (one volume per month) that provides the hymnography, etc., for each day (its saint or feast, etc.). It occupies a very full shelf and is expensive.

    Also there is a British site maintained by Archimandrite Ephrem. It is a good place to start.

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