Métropolite Ignace Triandis, L’Ancien de Patmos: Saint Amphiloque Makris [The Elder of Patmos : Saint Amphilochios Makris].
Translated from the Greek by IsabelleTambrun-Kamaroudis, foreword by Jean-Claude Larchet, collection « Grands spirituels orthodoxes du XXe siècle » [Great Orthodox Spiritual people of the 20th century], Éditions des Syrtes, Geneva, 2019, 286 p. 21€.
This book is the first in French on Father Amphilochios Makris, who was canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on August 29, 2018.
He was born in 1889 and died in 1970. He is a very well-known figure of Orthodox spirituality in the 20th century.
At a difficult time when the Dodecanese islands were under Italian occupation and facing the expansionist aims of Roman Catholic missionaries, Father Amphilochios worked at maintaining the Orthodox faith and life, as well as national identity –they were intimately connected in this historical context–. The people had just emerged from six centuries of Ottoman rule and were once again severely tested. The Elder was helped by disciples (priests, monks, but especially many women, nuns and lay people) trained and encouraged by him.
Father Amphilochios encountered many obstacles in this task. He endured persecutions and was even exiled for a while. But he overcame all his difficulties through his ardent faith and the help of divine grace.
On his home island of Patmos, he founded the female monastery of the Annunciation and its dependencies. He also helped revitalize cenobitic monasticism, already established in the old St. John the Theologian monastery, which also benefited from the rich influence of several holy monks, including Father Theoctist and Father Makarios (Antoniadis).
He then revitalized monasticism on several other islands, especially Rhodes and Kalymnos.
His reputation as a spiritual father attracted many people from all over Greece, and also from Europe, especially France. Among them was the author Léon Zander (1893-1964) and his wife Valentine. She wrote a well-known book on Saint Seraphim of Sarov and ended her days on Patmos, where she built a chapel containing icons painted by Leonid Ouspensky). There was also the young Jacques Touraille. At that time, he made the first Orthodox translations of liturgical texts in French, then translated the whole Philokalia. Another visitor was Mother Eudocie, the hegumen of the Notre Dame de Toute Protection Monastery in Bussy-en Othe.
Elder Amphilochios was the spiritual father of the young Dimitrios Archontonis (the future Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew) and of several young students or monks who later became hegumens, bishops, or metropolitans, like the author of this book, currently a bishop in Albania.
The most characteristic feature of Father Amphilochios’s personality and activity is his missionary spirit.
Today Orthodoxy in the diaspora offers a very negative image in this respect: each community, in Europe or in the United States, is insular and only cares for its own nationals. It tries to preserve its language and ethnic traditions, without bothering with spreading the Orthodox faith and ethos (way of life) in their host country, even though it became a new homeland two or even three generations ago for many of these people.
For this reason, and also because all missionary activity was prohibited for Eastern European Churches during the Communist period, the Orthodox Church often appears devoid of missionary spirit, unlike Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. But this view was denied in the past, in particular with the Russian Church which undertook an intense missionary activity among various peoples located on the periphery of the empire. At present, it performs a vast missionary activity in Africa and in Madagascar, through the Patriarchate of Alexandria. The missionary activity is in fact part of the word “gospel” (the etymology of the word means “the good news” brought to others). And Christ’s penultimate words were: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). And at Pentecost, the Apostles received the charisms, especially the gift of speaking in foreign languages, allowing them to accomplish this task. The missionary spirit and the apostolic spirit are indissolubly connected.
Father Amphilochios considered the mission to be a common duty for all Christians. He said, “My dear children, whether you like it or not, we are in the boat of salvation, ready to welcome those who fell into the sea of the non-Christian world. Nobody thinks at this moment to retrieve the castaways to hoist them back in the boat of Jesus. Nobody believes that to bring the waves down can be the work of their life and can help the salvation of the world. Nobody sees the subversion of today’s society, the misery and abandonment of the masses, the pain and tears of people of our time. But we have been called by the Beloved of the Beloved. We do not have the right to refuse. We were called to give a crib to the infant, a nursery school to the young child, a school to the child without education, protection to the orphan, a hospital to the sick child, and education in a Christian environment to the young. We are called with a surge of love and mercy, worthy of the soul of Christianity.”
Father Amphilochios strongly urged his spiritual children to this missionary activity, whether they were monks, nuns, or laity. With their help, he established institutions for this purpose, such as orphanages and schools. It is very typical that in this service of the Church, he gave a preponderant place to women, and not in subordinate functions, but in functions of organization and direction.
According to him, mission could only be accomplished properly on the basis of solid instruction and serious spiritual life.
He therefore encouraged his spiritual children to study theology in depth, as we see in his abundant correspondence with students he encouraged. He also ensured they lived a regular liturgical life and guided their personal spiritual life in the way of the hesychast tradition, encouraging them to practice the Jesus Prayer and to read the Philokalia of the Neptic Fathers.
Considering monasticism had an important role to play in missionary activity, the Elder promoted an open and welcoming monasticism, based however on a strict cenobitic organization, fully respectful of the order of liturgical services. He even set in place systems of continual prayer, in the tradition of the Acemetes.
Father Amphilochios himself gave the example of rigorous asceticism, although radiating virtues acquired in his life through openness to grace. Showing detachment from material goods, he was simple and modest with all. But he gave the greatest importance to love, as the first Christian quality. To love of God and love of all people. He was compassionate and indulgent with all, carrying them in his prayer. To love of all God’s creatures, animals (especially birds), trees, flowers.
Deeply immersed since his youth in the hesychast tradition of the Prayer of the heart, he prayed without ceasing, according to the Apostle’s recommendation, and was vigilant in every circumstance, according to the example of the Neptic Fathers.
He shared the rich experience of his inner life with his spiritual children. And as a confessor, he was called to spread his spiritual advice well beyond the islands of the Dodecanese: in Crete, also in continental Greece and even in Constantinople, at the patriarchal see.
He knew how to be close to all, to comfort the afflicted and restore their peace, as well as redirect them in ways pleasing to God through wise spiritual pedagogy. His sweetness was soothing, his zeal stimulating, his love radiant, and his joy communicative.
He had himself received a high quality spiritual formation, in contact with several holy monks: Father Theoctist who lived as a hesychast on the island of Patmos; Father Makarios (Antoniadis), an heir to the Kollyvade, who tonsured him and was his first spiritual father; Elder Daniel of Katounakia, one of the great spiritual figures of Mount Athos; the great Saint Nektarios of Aegina; and Father Philotheos (Zervakos) of Paros, a great spiritual man who was a brother and a close friend all his life.
Heir to a great and rich spiritual tradition, Father Amphilochios knew how to share it with his contemporaries through his example and his zeal. He not only strengthened many faithful in their Orthodox faith and way of life, but he also brought back to Orthodoxy those who had abandoned it because of external pressure. Many people who had become Muslim under the Ottoman occupation returned to the Orthodox faith thanks to his courageous and zealous missionary activity, and thanks to the activity of a number of Fathers who kept hope in Divine Providence.
In one of his letters Father Amphilochios writes, “What is to be said today, that after four hundred years we no longer hear the mosque singer neither on the Big Island nor on the small island of Patmos, but that here we glorify the Lord Jesus, and in Crete the Arabic prayer is silent, and everywhere we hear “Glory to God in the highest! And that in front of the Great Mosque of the Esplanade, there are only Christian houses, which celebrate, pray, converse between Christians, and that instead of the voice of the muezzin, we hear the bell of Saint Nicolas…”
This book was written by one of Father Amphilochios’s disciples, who became Metropolitan of the Church of Albania. It was one of the first books on the Elder. It has been very popular and is now in its fifth edition. It also won an award from the Academy of Athens.
Not being able to present the whole original Greek text (nearly 600 pages), the French version left aside a few chapters of secondary interest.
The first part presents the main stages of his life and his most important achievements. It also presents his personality and virtues. The second part brings together many spiritual teachings, in the form of letters, speeches, or brief advice. These texts are sometimes of great literary beauty, as evidenced by this passage: “The wind blows hard and laments that we left it alone outside. The sea complains that the wind of winter strikes it and precipitates it against the rocks. And this rain is sent to us by black clouds, which themselves cannot find peace on the island as they are pushed back by the wind! The rain tries to tame and conquer the wind, so that everything here may find peace, not only the sea but also the land, the trees, the animals and everyone, those who sing and dance in the illuminated halls, and those who morn near the coffins of their dead, shedding tears of sadness and pain. And a tiny remnant of the inhabitants of the island kneel beneath the cupolas of the churches, and glorify the God of our fathers, without paying too much attention to the violence of nature, as they try to stay focused on Christ the King, who makes us indifferent to internal and external storms”.
Or this other passage: “I would never exchange the harsh and obscure rocks of Patmos for the flower gardens of Athens. Here, in Athens, people walk by without thinking of the flowers and the beautiful parks. They do not give thanks to God for all His bountiful beauties. Whereas in the desert, the ugliest place and the bird with the least voice make us see God near us. Blessed is he who is close to God, even though he is on a rock”.
These texts complement Saint spiritual portrait and his rich spiritual teachings, outlined in the first chapters.
Many testimonies and accounts of miracles presented in this book are additional proof of Father Amphilochios’s holiness, as recognized today by the universal Church.
A book on his life and teachings is available in English.
There is also a chapter on him in Middleton, Herman A., 2004,”Elder Amphilochios of Patmos: Life”, in Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives & Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece, 2nd edn., Protecting Veil Press, Thessalonica, Greece.
This review was originally written in French by Jean-Claude Larchet