Saturday, August 01, 2015
The Eleventh Commandment
On the Holy Mountain of Athos, the monks sometimes put up beside the forest paths special signposts offering encouragement or warning to the pilgrim as he passes. One such notice used to give me particular pleasure. Its message was brief and clear: "Love the trees." Fr. Amphilochios (d. 1970), the geronta or "elder" on the island of Patmos when I first stayed there, would have been in full agreement. "Do you know," he said, "that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment 'love the trees.'" Whoever does not love trees, so he believed, does not love God. "When you plant a tree," he insisted, "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 confessions of the local farmers he used to assign to them as penance the task of planting a tree. During the long summer drought, he himself went round the island watering the young trees. His example and influence have transformed Patmos: photographs of the hillside near the Cave of the Apocalypse, taken at the start of the twentieth century, show bare and barren slopes; today there is a thick and flourishing wood.St. Kosmas was born, fittingly, in the village of Mega Dendron.
Fr. Amphilochios was by no means the first spiritual teacher in the modern Greek tradition to recognize the importance of trees. Two centuries earlier, the Athonite monk St. Kosmas the Aetolian, martyred in 1779, used to plant trees as he traveled around Greece on his missionary journeys, and In one of his "prophecies" he stated, "People will remain poor, because they have no love for trees." We can see that prophecy fulfilled today in all too many parts of the world. Another saying attributed to him—not in this instance about trees—is equally applicable to the present age: "The time will come when the devil puts himself inside a box and starts shouting; and his horns will stick out from the roof-tiles." That often comes to my mind as I survey the skyline in London, with its serried ranks of television masts.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who also supplies the Greek originals of the quotations from St. Kosmas:
- Οἱ ἄνθρωποι θὰ μείνουν πτωχοί, γιατὶ δὲν θἄχουν ἀγάπη στὰ δένδρα.
- Θα 'ρθει καιρός που ο διάβολος θα μπει μέσα σ' ένα κουτί και θα φωνάζει. Και τα κέρατά του θα 'ναι στα κεραμίδια.