Tag Archives: monasteries

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?”

Every branch He prunes.

I traveled over the hill to the nearby monastery one morning last week and pruned roses for three hours. The sisters who came to this place inherited a big garden next to the river, with many plantings they are learning to manage. Sister Xenia is the chief gardener, and she spends a lot of time on the job, but it’s not the only task she’s assigned, and she appreciates any help outsiders can give.

Frost had to be scraped off my car before I left home. It was still below freezing at that time, and I wore my denim skirt, leggings, work boots and a thick flannel shirt over one of my old turtlenecks. But after I’d arrived and started in with my clippers, it wasn’t long before a springtime breeze began to blow.

So many roses! And most of them are not in a location that is good for roses; they are in the shade too much. Each bush was a big challenge to my skill and art, presenting one or more problems including:

1) Too tall and leggy, with no buds down low that my pruning might channel the lifeblood to.

2) Too many large canes and branches crowding each other, so that I had to thin drastically, after deciding based on uncertain parameters which ones to remove.

3) Bushes growing too close to another type of shrub or tree, as in the case of the one pictured, where a Pittosporum has surrounded one tall rosebush.

4) Growing close to the path or over the sidewalk, catching on the sisters’ habits or poking passersby.

5) Dead wood

It really was a joy to have quiet time to focus completely on a project like this, and I needed every bit of my mental resources and powers of concentration to do the work. Also my imagination, as I tried to envision what effect my cuts would have on each bush in the next months and even years.

Afterward when I was driving home, I began to ask myself why I hadn’t prayed while working, and quickly realized that it had taken every bit of my attention and creativity to do the task set before me. Is it perhaps a little like restoring a painting that has been severely damaged… a little like designing a building that must be raised on top of living ruins?  I wonder that, having no real knowledge of those types of art.

One thing for certain, the glory of this art won’t show until after many weeks the plants produce the actual rose flowers. I have just decided that a visit to the monastery is necessary when that brilliance begins, because I’ve never even seen these bushes in bloom. In the meantime I’m posting some old rose photos from my own parish church grounds, to keep me happily anticipating warmer weather.

At about noon the nuns gather for the 6th Hour prayers, and when the bell rang the announcement I laid down my tools and joined them. There was my chance to pray and soak up the Spirit, and the spirit of the place, and to stand up straight for a while and breathe the incense.

I hadn’t pruned all the roses, but I ate lunch with the sisters and went home anyway, meditating on what made the experience so fatiguing. Does it cause God this much trouble to prune us, as the Bible says he does: “Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2” Does He say to Himself, “I did the best I could, under the circumstances.”? Maybe we grow all out of shape in odd ways, not getting enough of the Sun of Righteousness.

Speaking of sun, it had brought the temperature up to 79 degrees that afternoon. We are all aching for rain here in the West, as we suffer a terrible drought that makes it hard to enjoy those lovely warm rays. The drought is like a dark un-cloud looming behind the sun. Now that I am invested in a few dozen rosebushes, I am a little concerned that some of them might not make it through a water-rationed cycle of seasons to next January when I will try to get back and minister to them.

As we anticipate a possibly very long dry season, my motherly/sisterly feelings are reaching out to the plants and animals, and I’m praying more intently in Divine Liturgy along with the deacon, “For favorable weather, an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and temperate seasons, let us pray to the Lord.”

Honey is what it is, thank God!

from Fr. Ted’s blog

My parish is lucky enough to have our own vineyard right behind the church. This is very handy on the Feast of Transfiguration; at the end of the liturgy we can process out the doors and around the vineyard, to bless the grapes. It’s traditional to bless grapes or apples or any fruit, really, on this day.

Earlier on the feast day morning people brought into the church baskets of fruit and herbs and flowers. I carried a wooden bowl of blueberries and peaches. While we sang and communed and focused on the main event being commemorated, the fruit waited. The incense was particularly sweet that day, and I didn’t notice the smell of the beeswax candles as much as I usually do. Though I could see basil in a couple of the baskets, I didn’t catch its aroma either.

At the end of the service, with the prescribed prayers for the event, Father L. (and all of us) thanked God for all His bounty, and then he sprinkled holy water over the representative sampling.

 

He explained to us that this is not a superstitious rite we perform, using holy water to do magic on the fruit. When we bless anything in this way we do not make it into something other than what it is, but ask God to reveal it to be what it has always been.

Whatever created things we are talking about, they have always been meant by God to bring us into communion with Him. The service of blessing of fruit brings our thoughts back to Paradise, and the right and good use of the fruits of the earth that God has given us. We are reminded of how in the beginning God made Adam and Eve to be stewards over the Garden of Eden; human beings were called to exercise a loving and thankful dominion over the earth.

Russia

But we by our sin have instead caused destruction on the earth. Mankind more often than not has overused, abused and consumed in perverse ways the gifts of the Creator. Personally, I often gobble my food and eat without attentiveness to Him.

Russia

We have prayers for the blessing of bees and beehives and honey, too, usually in a separate service. Around here it’s August 1st, but I found pictures of honey blessings in Bulgaria where they do it dramatically on February 10 (see the bright cross picture down the page).

People like to take pictures of little girls and honey, I was happy to discover, and I am posting some of them here. The Russian ones are from Optina Monastery, and the Oregon photos from the Facebook page of New Martyrs of Russia Orthodox Church. These honey and bee pictures are so enjoyable that I ended up with way more of them than of fruit.

Fr. L blessing beehives

I hope you will hop over to the blog of Father Ted Bobosh where he posted a large and glorious photo collection of bees and other pollinators, such as the one I put at the very top, along with quotes about bees and Orthodox prayers for them. Just looking at the pictures will likely make you burst into prayer, too. Here is one of the prayers he posted:

O God, who knows how to work benefits through human labor and irrational living things, You instructed us in your loving-kindness to employ the fruits and works of the bees for our needs. Now humbly we beseech Your majesty: Be pleased to bless the bees and increase them for the profit of the human race, preserving them and making them abundant. Let everyone hoping in Your majesty and Your boundless compassions, and laboring in the care of these living things, be counted worthy to receive abundant fruits of their labors and to be filled with heavenly blessings in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom is due glory, honor and worship unto ages of ages. Amen.

The photo at right is from my church on Transfiguration, baskets of all kinds of fruits of the earth waiting for the prayers of blessing. Some of them were inspiring in the variety and arrangement of items, but one of my favorite baskets is the big one in front, full of apples picked just that morning.

Blessing honey in Bulgaria
Honey blessing in Oregon

I don’t eat much honey these days, but I get a whiff of it in the candles every Sunday in church, and I can imagine the heady scent emanating from these tables laden with jars and bowls and plates of honey.

Doesn’t it just tell you something about our God, how sweet He is, and how extravagantly generous, that He would give us something as intense and rich as honey?

The bees, of course, are mostly in the business of pollinating the fruit. The whole Creation and its interconnectedness is reflected in the Church and in our salvation history, all of a piece and orchestrated in love by our dear Father God.

Oregon honeycomb

Ascensiontide Showers of Blessing

This short season between Ascension and Pentecost — it just seems natural to call it Ascensiontide, even though, until we get to Pentecost, we are still in Eastertide. These ten days are a subset, maybe. All this is The World According to GJ, and probably not kosher — oops, I’m getting more faith traditions mixed up in there.

That I am confused is not surprising, considering how wild and unusual my last two weeks have been, with a heavy amount of visiting with several friends and great busyness leading to brain fatigue. Thank God He gave me the strength to enjoy all the extra love and liveliness in the house. So much has been going on, I wanted to give a brief report of highlights.

plants still waiting to go into the ground….

Rain. It kept us from going on the walks I had anticipated, and also relieved everyone of irrigation duties.

blue lake pole beans

Very odd to get so much rain here in California the first week of June. Most plants don’t mind it, but the basil looks nigh unto death, waiting for summer. Here are the happy beans instead.

flannel bush

Hard as it is to believe, it appears that the rain has finally ceased. No one dared complain about last week’s lack of blue skies, here where an excess of water can can only be counted a blessing, and where tornadoes are rare.

My friend May and I drove over the mountain several times to see our elderly friend Jerry.

close-up of bush

Hail battered my car on one of our trips to his house, but on the way home later on we saw a bush we didn’t recognize by the side of the road and stopped to get its picture. Can anyone identify it right off? [I since have learned it is flannel bush.]

Jerry’s walnut tree and vineyard

Jerry and his late wife lived all over the world before settling in wine country to try their hand at being vintners, and they brought seeds and plants from many countries to plant here. It’s sad, though, to see the garden in disarray, lacking the care of Mrs. Jerry.

Some flowers and trees keep going in spite of neglect, like these orchids, which grow outdoors through the winter.

toasted sesame seeds

I had fun cooking for extra people. We ate Lemon Pudding Cake with Raspberry Sauce, and some Sticky Rice with Mango. Also fresh oatmeal bread, and Duk Guk, a soup whose name does not make you think nice things, but Guk is the word for the odd Korean rice cake ingredient that I like a lot — so much that I probably should not keep it in the house.

I toasted sesame seeds to make Lemon Sesame Dressing for the piles of green salad everyone consumed. Maybe after Pentecost I can post some recipes.

through the monastery gate
koi pond at monastery

In the evening of the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost, I went to the Holy Assumption Monastery for a Family and Friends event.

First there was a lecture on “The Power of Bones,” referring to all the Bible references to the health that can be in our bones, and to the proper and reverential treatment of human bones. It was a prompting for us to consider in light of Holy Tradition our often irreverent modern funeral practices; I’m sure that in the future I’ll have more to say on this general topic that pertains to all of us.

Not long ago Gumbo Lily posted a blog about where her blog name comes from — it’s actually the name of a flower that grows on the prairie. For her I am putting up this picture of the cousin to her gumbo lily, our Mexican Evening Primrose that grows happily in a rocky spot between our driveway and the neighbor’s. It gets by in the dry summer with only a couple of waterings, but it didn’t mind the good Spring soaking.

Mexican Evening Primrose

I can’t tell about Ascensiontide without mention of the rejoicing to my spirit from having the festal hymns playing in my mind ever since last Thursday. In our daily prayers we have left off beginning with, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death…,” and we aren’t yet returning to, “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth…,” because we are still looking forward, liturgically, to the descent of the Holy Spirit.

So we are singing, during these ten days, about the event described in this way: “And it came to pass, while He blessed them, he was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Matthew 17) The troparion hymn goes like this (now imagine me waking to it and falling asleep in the same joy!):

Thou hast ascended in glory, O Christ our God,
Having gladdened Thy disciples 
with the promise of the Holy Spirit;
And they were assured by the blessing
That Thou art the Son of God,
the Redeemer of the world!