Tag Archives: prosphora

Cinders, saints, and a pillow.

Before I returned home from my travels,
a little rain had washed the ashes off much of my garden.

lemon balm with echeveria (hens & chicks)

I had turned off the fountain before my departure, and the rainwater that was left in the bowl had cinders at the bottom. It occurred to me that they might be bits of my goddaughter’s house that burned to the ground and released some of itself into the wind during the incineration.

Thank God, almost all of the northern California fires are contained. We no longer have smoke burning our eyes and lungs, and roads and neighborhoods have opened up daily, but thousands of people lost their homes and/or jobs and businesses and many are still looking for a place to live.

When we talk to our friends or even strangers, we start by finding out how they were affected. Everyone has stories of that morning of October 9th, and every day still I think of someone new that I need to check on with an email or text message.

 

dwarf pomegranate fruit

 

 

In the whole of California, a thousand firefighters are still on task, and at the peak of the season 11,000 were fighting. They came from as far away as New York, Florida and Australia, bless their souls. We’ve had 6400 fires in the state this season, which burned 556,000 acres, much more than last year.

But my neighborhood did not burn, and I haven’t seen the destruction close-up yet. I’m walking my creek paths as before.

I’ve also jumped back into parish life:

Last weekend I cooked our Sunday Agape Meal for 100 people. You might remember that I did this twice before as a memorial for my husband; this time it was not for any special occasion. It consisted of 10 gallons of meaty chili with lots of vegetables, served over squares of creamy polenta, with tossed green salad on the side; sour cream and fresh cilantro for garnish.

I had a few helpers to do prep work for me on Saturday, and a few others to help me serve Sunday after the service. This combination was a hit, so maybe I will do it again. Each time I’ve cooked like this has been a little easier, so maybe I can start doing it more often.

Sunday evening we held a Celebration of the Saints party for which children could dress up and tell the stories of the saint they were representing. We had crafts and a soup dinner and it was so low-key and relaxing, with none of the hype and over-stimulation that always makes me wince on behalf of the little ones. I was privileged to help a little boy named Marcus work out his idea for a needle-felted pumpkin with fried-egg eyes that morphed into even thicker stars.

When we communion bread bakers showed up for duty on Tuesday morning we soon realized it was the feast day of our patron saints! Saints Spryidon and Nikodim are communion bread bakers from way back who watch over our baking from their icon each week, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the honor of baking prosphora, the bread of offering, on their day. It was very special, and we arranged an informal photo-shoot for the occasion.

Icons and saints graced my day today, also, thanks to my housemate Kit. I think I told you she is moving back to Oregon from where she came two years ago to live with me and be a blessing. Before she takes her final load of stuff north in a few days she wanted to visit San Francisco once more, and invited me.

St. John

We visited Holy Virgin Cathedral and the relics of St. John Maximovitch, and also walked to the chapel and house where he lived, where one can sit in a little room with the icons and desk and chair that were his own, where he prayed. That my young friend and I could share this last holy experience together is just one more cord that binds us in the Holy Spirit.

We enjoyed just being in the city and not trying to accomplish too much. Visited the Wells Fargo History Museum which is wonderfully free and fascinating. Craned our necks to see the sky when walking downtown; and ate dim sum for the first time, with exquisite fried mochi sesame buns.

Driving in traffic to and in San Francisco is normally a trial, but today’s outing was relaxing and soul-nourishing. I drove and Kit navigated, and we were compatible sight-seers in every way. The next week will be just as busy as the last one has been, so I’ll be glad to sleep soon on the pillow of peace.

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?”

The Bread of Offering

I helped to bake Communion bread this week.

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This time I was off in a corner by myself, near the icon of famous prosphora makers Sts. Spyridon and Nicodemus of the Kiev Caves. We also have a photo of some monk bakers, and the Prayer before baking The Bread of Offering.

GL Spyridon & Nicodemus

Prayer Before Making Prosphora

O Lord Jesus Christ, only begotten Son
of the Eternal Father,
who has said with Thy most pure lips:
Without Me you can do nothing.
O Lord, my Lord,
with faith I accept your words;
help me a sinner
to prepare the Bread of Offering,
that the works of my hands
may be acceptable at Thy Holy Table
and may become
through the operation of Thy Holy Spirit
the communion of Thy Most Pure Body
for me and for all Thy people.
In the Name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Three other bakers were making about 200 smaller loaves in the middle of the kitchen. While we are working the dough and forming the loaves, we pray the Jesus Prayer silently.

After stamping the top part, I sealed together with water the two halves, representing the two natures of Christ, human and divine, and joined them into one loaf.

P1010405

Each of these loaves called “Lambs” will be used for a Sunday Liturgy. We wrap the extras tightly and freeze them. I had to leave early and let other bakers take the bread out of the oven, but this is what I hope it looked like when baked.

prosphora lamb crp

This chock-full week in June…

In church, we will soon be celebrating Pentecost, on the 23rd of June. Last night was the Leavetaking of Pascha service that I love, the last time we would sing “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death!” in the services until next Pascha. Tonight the Feast of Ascension began; until Pentecost we greet once another with “Christ is ascended!” and the response is, “From earth to heaven!”

loaves proofing

Between now and October 1st our parish has many feast days, so our team of communion bread bakers has a busy season ahead. Yesterday three of us worked at making the large loaves used in the altar, and the photos show some of my efforts.

just after sprinkling on some curry spices

At home I’m reveling in glorious vegetables. In the last few days I’ve juiced lots of vegetables raw, and also made big batches of kale and Turkish Green Beans and stir-fried Asian vegetables.

My recent favorite way to cook sweet potatoes or yams is to roast them at 450° or 500° with coconut oil and curry powder. I don’t measure anything, and have used varying amounts of all the ingredients — also different blends of curry spices, plus a little salt. It doesn’t seem to matter if I stir the spices in at the beginning or partway through the baking. I bake them till they are tender. And then I eat them like candy.

Pippin sent me a link to this photo journal of grandmas around the world and the food they cook. I am considering what dish I might pose with were I asked to participate, and what clothes I could wear that would make me look half as cute as the Bolivian grandma in the collection….you’re right, it would take more than clothes. I love the way the women arrange the ingredients so artfully in the “before” photos. An example is below.

The Egyptian grandma looks pleased.

From our son Soldier we got a link for a short film you can watch online (less than 15 minutes), about a man in the mountains of Ecuador who is The Last Ice Merchant. It’s always a joy to see footage of a human soul taking satisfaction from hard work well done.

But progress means that people can get factory ice cheaply and the old-style ice he sells has become a specialty item. It’s not likely anyone will want to take up the cause of nostalgia once he is gone. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the ice he hauls down the mountain is sweeter than the cheap and more convenient blocks.

The last ice merchant

Another man whose character inspired me this week by way of the movie “Searching for Sugarman” is Sixto Rodriguez, a singer whose music never took off in the U.S. His two records failed to sell, and he lived simply and humbly for decades after, not knowing that his music was hugely popular and motivating and successful in South Africa. When his fans there discovered that he wasn’t dead as rumored, they brought him to that country to do several concerts.

Rodriguez

Suddenly he is famous — but he didn’t lose his endearing simplicity and generosity. I was impressed at how he seemed to have passed his gentle spirit on to his daughters who are also introduced in the film. I liked all but one person in this documentary, and I liked Rodriguez’s voice very much, and a couple of his songs.

There you have my happy hodgepodge. Oh, and here is what my Mother’s Day lily looked like when we got back from Oregon.