Spoons and Simplicity

Orthodoxy, Chronic Illness and a quest for authentic life

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

The Elevation of the Holy Cross (14th September)

Yesterday was the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, which is often just shortened to “Holy Cross” in common use. The feast celebrates the Life Giving Cross of our Lord, and is one of the paradoxical feasts – a Great Feast (one of twelve in the year, not including the Feast of Feasts, Pascha/Easter) which is celebrated with solemnity and fasting out of reverence for the Passion of our Lord. Normally feasts call for a relaxing of any fasting restrictions which may exist – we can eat fish, even during fasts or on a Wednesday of Friday (when we normally eat a vegan diet), if a Great Feast falls then, but in this case the Feast does the opposite, and calls us to a strict fast, without even oil if we are able to do so. At the same time, it is a happy feast, celebrating Christ’s victory over sin and death.

Crosses areΒ everywhere in Orthodoxy in our homes, around our necks, in our books, on all liturgical things, in feasts, and in the way we bless ourselves and priests bless us by making the sign of the Cross. We will often make the sign of the cross over our beds, over garden beds, over food, anything we want to dedicate to God or ask His blessing for. I know people who will cut a cross with a knife into each new jar they open. Making crosses this way and having them around is a constant reminder to turn our thoughts back to God and to remember Him in everything we do, and that all gifts come from above, “coming down from the Father of Lights” (James 1:17, echoed in the blessing prayer at the end of the Divine Liturgy).

The feast day itself commemorates a number of things. At its heart it commemorates Christ’s victory, as I’ve mentioned, and it also commemorates the finding of the three Crosses (and Christ’s in particular) 300 years after His Crucifixion, by the Empress Helen (mother of Constantine the Great) when she went on a quest to find it, and also its recapture after it was stolen a few hundred years later.

Usually we attend Church if possible, but I was unable to due to my health, so I decorated my house and our family icon corner instead. Here’s a few pictures for you πŸ™‚

Our family icon corner

The table of my icon corner with flowers, the vigil candle and a votive candle lit by my dad. The icon in the back is my patron Saint, St Kyriaki

I hope you had a blessed feast.

“Save, O Lord, Your people, and bless Your inheritance, granting victory to the faithful over the enemy, and by Your Cross preserving Your commonwealth.”

I’m back

Hi everyone (that actually reads this) I’ve not been well for a long time, so I’ve fallen behind in updating here. But I’m trying to fix that! September brings us Spring here in the Southern Hemisphere, as well as an Ecclesiastical (Church) New Year (1st of September, which is also a Church mandated day to pray for and look after the environment), and I figure that’s as good as any a reason to begin blogging here again.

I missed posting about the ENY on the 1st of September, and the Nativity of the Theotokos on the 8th, but at least I am posting, and I will get there in a year’s time πŸ™‚ I’m hoping to blog for (at least) a year my celebrations of the feasts, the seasons and my life as a blogger with Chronic Illness who is Orthodox and into the old skills side of Simple Living – making and growing my own food, making clothes, stitching and gardening. Simplicity as a lifestyle I am starting to try and embrace, but I find it’s a struggle due to years of consumerism to make myself feel better while fighting my illnesses and living life from ‘four walls’ most of the time as well as our culture emphasising this everywhere we look.

I attend Church when I can, and this is the ideal, but I often cannot attend so my religious observances are more solitary than normal. This isn’t the norm and I hope to get to services more often to be physically present amongst the Church, but I am assured of the presence of the Church with me – the Saints and Angels throughout the millennia.

So my parish life and my ‘hermit’ life are both states of being that I find myself in depending on my health, and I’m still, having been sick longer than my Orthodox life, figuring out how that works. But as God helps me, I’ll get there.

St Euphrosynos (11th September)

St Euphrosynos the cook has been one of my favourite Saints for a very long time. When I was first getting into Orthodoxy I combined my love of religious history stories (I discovered Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and the more modern similar books very early in life) with the internet and my lack of anything else to do due to illness and devoured the lives of Saints. Some of them just make your heart sing, and this was one of them for me. His life can be found in varying places on the internet, this is one of my favourite resources for it.

In a nutshell, he was a monk at a monastery who had the lowly task of being the monastery’s cook. He baked bread, made the simple food of the monastery, and lived a life without praise, prestige or even much thanks. But he kept the ultimate Christian virtues – constant prayer and vigilance, obedience, and service to his neighbour, and lived in the monastery quietly until one night a holy priest prayed that he might be granted to see the reward of the righteous. In his dreams he found himself in a beautiful garden, and wondered to himself if this could be paradise. Suddenly he noticed another monk there in the garden, the cook from his monastery, Euphrosynos. He asked the monk if it could possibly be Paradise where they were, and the cook assured him that it was, and the priest asked if he could have a gift from the garden, of the apples he could see growing there, which St Ephrosynos said that he might and took them, giving them to him. At that moment the priest awoke hearing the call to prayer for Matins, and found to his astonishment that the apples were in his kerchief, on his bed! He left them there and went to Church for the service, and when the service ended he found the Saint and asked him where he had last seen him, receiving the answer that it was ‘in that place where we both were’, confirming the dream of the priest. The priest shared this with the other brethren, who ran to give due reverence to their brother the cook, but he had fled the monastery, not wanting human glory or fame.

I love his humility, his simple but steadfast faith, and there’s something about the image of the two monks in Paradise, one who had only just come to see it and one who had dwelled there before and had the authority to share its gifts with others, and the apple tree in paradise with fruit that was physically present in this world. It reminds me of the story of St Irene Chrysovalantou, who was also given three apples from Heaven. There’s something about these images that are described in the lives of the Saints that strikes a chord in me, and I remember them as keys to the stories.

When I can’t get to Church I try to keep the feasts in some way at home, in decoration, candles, reading their lives, singing hymns and making special food. For St Euphrosynos I decorated his icon with rosemary (what better flower for a cook?), replacing last year’s dried stems, and put flowers by his icon – all culinary ones, because why not? πŸ™‚

St Euphrosynos on a sunlit window in my kitchen, with his heavenly apples.

Culinary bouquet for a cook Saint! Nasturtiums, rosemary and plum blossom.

I also came across a wonderful post about St Euprosynos as the “humble Saint in our midst” which I found inspiring, read it here.

I also love the idea of eating apples (especially golden apples like golden delicious) on his feast day, which I found here. What a wonderful way to remember the Saint and the symbols of heavenly blessings.

Thou didst live righteously in great humility, in labors of asceticism and in guilelessness of soul / O righteous Euphrosynos. / Hence, by a mystical vision, thou didst demonstrate most wondrously the heavenly joy which thou hadst found. / Do thou make us worthy to be partakers thereof by thine intercessions. ~ Troparion, tone 4

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