Spoons and Simplicity

Orthodoxy, Chronic Illness and a quest for authentic life

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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 are 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 🙂

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 🙂 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? 🙂

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

Easter/Pascha, Ascension and Pentecost

I’d love to have updated earlier, I started this blog before Easter and it’s now two months later and I’m finally updating. To be honest, I simply haven’t been well enough to post – and I kept biting off more than I could chew. So I’ll keep it simple this time and try to learn to blog in bite sized pieces that don’t take more spoons than I have 🙂

Pascha was wonderful, although my health was steadily declining. More than a month later we found out that much of this was because I had a very low iron count, so no wonder I felt so terrible. Simple living stuff has been difficult as it always is while I’m unwell, but I’ve done what I can. And I’ve lived my Orthodox life as I can, too, not at Church much but in my own home with prayers and candles and light.

So today is mostly photos. Here is my icon corner in the living room, which has a table and I decorate for feasts when I can, just after Easter/Pascha:

The icon here is the Anastasis icon – Christ’s descent into Hades and raising Himself and the dead from death. The white candle is my ‘kandili’, or vigil lamp – I light it when I can, but I can’t keep it lit for safety reasons. Traditionally, oil lamps stand or hang in these places, but my Dad is worried about the fire risk (actually less than that of candles, but I don’t argue) so I have a candle and it stays there all year. The long golden one is a beeswax one from the Easter vigil, it smells wonderfully like honey and stamped into the side is “Χριστος Ανεστη” in golden letters, meaning “Christ is risen”. This is my candle for holding the Light from this year. The  palm cross is from Palm Sunday – I couldn’t attend, but was given one, and the cotton has holy oil from the Holy Unction service.

And here it is tonight, the day before Pentecost which is one of the ‘Soul Saturdays’ of our year where we commemorate and pray for those departed this life. The candles are all for people I love and miss, especially for those I’ve lost in the last year. May their memory be eternal, and God grant them rest.

The lamp is lit, as you can see, the Resurrection icon is still there, but there’s a new icon now – Pentecost, and the glass full of coloured sand is my incense stick holder or taper holder, since sand puts out flame and it holds the candles nicely.

I won’t be at Church tomorrow since my illnesses have kept me resting today and likely most of tomorrow, but God knows my heart at least. Have a blessed day, everyone.

Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who made fishermen all-wise, sending upon them the Holy Spirit and, through them, netting the world. O Loving One, glory to You.

Who I am

Hi all, I’m Kyri, I’m a few days shy of 24 and an Aussie who has been brought up by country people (my parents both grew up there, and I spent much of my childhood with them and my extended family whenever I wasn’t in school) and was interested in “Simple Living” before she knew that is was a ‘thing’. I learned to read at the age of three and learned to cross stitch not long after – however I had to attend remedial classes because I was so uncoordinated… and grew up with food growing around me at my grandparents’ houses, beautifully homemade clothes (as well as some from the shop) and a lot of homemade food. I’m also a ‘spoonie’ which means that I identify with the Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino (to read it, go here) and have chronic illnesses that limit my energy, physical ability and immune function. Basically I feel like I’ve got the flu or I’m hungover 90% of the time, and I have to get on and live my life like this because I’m not going to get any better, especially since the doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes it!

My personal illnesses that make me a spoonie are Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME – otherwise known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, CFS, a name that most people with the illness hate with a passion for a number of reasons) and Fibromyalgia. I’ve also got Ichthyosis (a rare genetic disease that affects my skin (and gives me scales) and means that I can’t sweat or tolerate heat or bright lights), Chronic Anxious Depression and a few other things. I’ve been sick with the spoonie illnesses since just after my 19th birthday, so almost five years. I’ve learned to cope with it (although I’ve recently learned that some of the ways I cope with it are unhealthy and I need to unlearn them) but I’m forever learning new things about it and it’s fantastic for teaching me humility.

I’m also very firmly an Orthodox Christian, and the Church year and its cycles are as much part of my life as the seasons and cultural celebrations around me are, so you’ll find things about feast days and how I practice my religion here. I don’t preach, but I do share what the different feast days mean and commemorations of Saints. Our Church year has thirteen major days – the Twelve Great Feasts (such as Christmas, the Annunciation and the Dormition of the Theotokos (what those in the West call the Assumption) ) and Pascha/Easter which is the greatest of all feasts. These are spread throughout the year, with their own specific lessons, cultural significances, ways of celebrating and hymns. As well as this, every day and every thing we do is religious – we don’t divide sacred and secular, so we’ll see each day, each moment, and even each illness as a gift from God. So you’ll find me with crosses hanging from my windows, icons on my walls, saying prayers morning and evening (when spoons allow), lighting lamps and candles in prayer and blessing just about everything with Holy Water, especially my garden 🙂

I’m hoping to share what I get up to in my garden and my house – I am trying to find a balance between strict asceticism and the crazy consumer world, and peace in my own little part of the world where I live at home with my family (by choice and due to my illnesses), on 3/4 of an acre inherited from my great grandparents, gardening, cooking, sewing and embroidering with my parents, my sister and three cats. Welcome and I hope you enjoy reading 🙂

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