Roses, a towel, and Isidora.

When you have washed the dishes and are letting the dirty water drain out of the sink, remember Saint Isidora, who is commemorated on May 10. Today I thought of her when I had occasion to wear a kitchen towel on my head; I have posted her story below.

isi cistus church 5-17
cistus at church

I had scheduled an oil change for my car this morning, and planned to drop it off at the mechanic early enough that I would have time to walk the mile to church, and join two other women to bake Orthodox communion bread called prosphora.

Because I was plotting about how long the walk would take me, what time to leave home, etc., I forgot to bring along the bandana I always wear to keep my hair out of the dough. When I arrived on the property I took some flower pictures and then hunted around for a substitute. I couldn’t find a spare scarf in the church or in the lost-and-found, but there was the stack of frayed but clean terrycloth kitchen towels in the corner of the kitchen, and a safety pin in a drawer… Ah, I thought: Isidora was known to wear a rag on her head, so I will do this in her honor.

Icon over the church hall porch

The following is from the website of the Orthodox Church in America:

Saint Isidora, Fool-for-Christ, struggled in the Tabenna monastery in Egypt during the sixth century. Taking upon herself the feat of folly, she acted like one insane, and did not eat food with the other sisters of the monastery. Many of them regarded her with contempt, but Isidora bore all this with great patience and meekness, blessing God for everything.

She worked in the kitchen and fulfilled the dirtiest, most difficult tasks at thisidora-of-egypt-frescoe monastery, cleaning the monastery of every impurity. Isidora covered her head with a plain rag, and instead of cooked food she drank the dirty wash water from the pots and dishes. She never became angry, never insulted anyone with a word, never grumbled against God or the sisters, and was given to silence.

Once, a desert monk, Saint Pitirim, had a vision. An angel of God appeared to him and said, “Go to the Tabenna monastery. There you will see a sister wearing a rag on her head. She serves them all with love, and endures their contempt without complaint. Her heart and her thoughts rest always with God. You, on the other hand, sit in solitude, but your thoughts flit about all over the world.”

The Elder set out for the Tabenna monastery, but he did not see the one indicated to him in the vision among the sisters. Then they led Isidora to him, considering her a demoniac. Isidora fell down at the knees of the Elder, asking his blessing. Saint Pitirim bowed down to the ground to her and said, “Bless me first, venerable Mother!”

To the astonished questions of the sisters the Elder replied, “Before God, Isidora is higher than all of us!” Then the sisters began to repent, confessing their mistreatment of Isidora, and they asked her forgiveness. The saint, however, distressed over her fame, secretly hid herself away from the monastery, and her ultimate fate remained unknown. It is believed that she died around the year 365.

I have seen this icon for years in the church, but only recently did I get a good enough photo to think about putting up here, and then I read about Isidora just a few weeks ago, close enough to her feast day that I waited to share it now. But who knew that I would so conveniently find another connection to the saint? My fellow bakers smiled at my enthusiasm and immediately asked, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

11 thoughts on “Roses, a towel, and Isidora.

  1. I love the beautiful testimonies of the Orthodox Church. So inspirational! I love your story also of the rag towel and your feelings of kinship with Saint Isidora. Take care, my dear!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Firstly, congratulations on your grandson’s wedding! All the very best to the happy couple.

    I, too, had never heard of St. Isidora, and your wonderful introduction to her was most interesting. I was intrigued by her immense humbleness and devotion to hard work.

    I enjoyed reading your post about the prosphora, and especially about the two layers of the communion bread, representing Christ’s human and divine natures. I’m certain it baked up nicely!

    You live in a pretty and pastoral place, Gretchen. In many ways, it reminds me of Crete, but I find the light to be softer, and the landscape less wild. In any case, it is serene and beautiful.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Have a lovely Thursday,
    Poppy:)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your bread reminds me of the Oplatki my Polish friends share at Christmas. Not communion bread, they’re still reminders of the presence of Christ among us.

    I still have the recipe for the Communion bread baked at my last Houston congregation. I still make it from time to time, since it happens to be the best whole wheat bread recipe I’ve ever found.

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    1. The Oplatki is a lovely tradition – I had never heard of it!

      The only other Communion bread I have helped to make was a rich unleavened bread traditional with some German Baptist (Anabaptist) “Dunkard” Brethren, and the recipe for which continued to be used by the leaders of a church we were part of. There was quite a bit of kneading involved, even though there was no yeast, and a quantity of butter. The amount of butter was determined by the preference of that month’s baker, and sometimes she was generous with it to a quite tasty degree!

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