Tag Archives: prosphora

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.

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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.

I like the oatmeal bread better.


A week ago I put some sourdough sponges to ferment, and on Monday and Tuesday I finished the bread from them. First was the batch made with Manuel’s Rye Sour starter. I made it with whole grain flours and lots of seeds: sesame, black sesame, poppy, sunflower, and pumpkin. Did I leave anything out? I had a vision of a nourishing lenten bread.

Seeded Sourdough

The next day I was on the Communion bread team at church, and that morning we produced the most gorgeous “lambs,” but I didn’t have my camera, so I will show you a photo of one from the past. Ours this week were much browner and more evenly browned, having baked in the new convection oven.

It was at church I took these photos of wisteria later in the week. It surrounds the courtyard where the fountain was actually working that day.

As soon as I got home Tuesday I began to finish up the other dough, made with the pineapple starter. (Of course it has no pineapple flavor remaining.) I had decided to make that batch heavy on oatmeal and had added several cups of rolled oats to the sponge the day before.

Both the breads came out pretty well — but I have decided to end my Sourdough Experiments. I think the natural yeasts in the air of our town just don’t make a sour flavor that I like. The odd thing is, they are very active and powerful yeasts, compared to the ones where we used to live, which had a more agreeable flavor.  They work nearly as fast as commercial yeast.

The pineapple starter is a bit nicer, so I didn’t throw it out yet, but I keep thinking that I prefer the smell of regular bread in the oven, and out of the toaster. (Perhaps I should try biscuits or pancakes with that starter.) And I like oatmeal bread a lot better with butter in it as well as on it, so considering the small amount of bread we two eat, I may as well just not bother during Lent. I have learned a lot from my experiments. And I think all the bread I’ve been squirreling away in the freezer will do nicely to make grilled cheese sandwiches a few weeks from now.

Sourdough Oatmeal Bread

Addendum: In the old days either Pippin or I would bake 5-loaf batches of un-sour oatmeal bread once or twice a week as our household’s basic bread. It was a more traditional shape of loaf; these loaves are flattish because I haven’t yet worked out how much dough fills my new extra-large loaf pan and it came out a bit short.