On this seventh anniversary of 9/11, I’m reprinting a post I did on 9/11/2005, when the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was in the news. A little bit about a saint that most people only know by the icon that hangs in their kitchen. And — for those industrious souls who make it all the way to the end — also the reason that he’s one of my favorites, the saint that I recommended to my husband as his patron saint, and a saint that is appropriately commemorated on this day.
In the Orthodox Church calendar, this Sunday is the Post-feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos and the Pre-feast of the Elevation of the Cross. So I can’t really be surprised that the feast day of my husband’s patron saint doesn’t attract much attention. And I can’t find it in me to take the oversight amiss, especially since it seems very possible to me that this humblest of saints would want it no other way. But my thoughts have been on him, and I find things about him to shed light on the other major news headlines today.
Saint Euphrosynus is often called St. Euphrosynos the Cook and may be one of those saints — like St. George — that is better known for his icon than for his hagiography. The little kitchen at our last church had an icon of him displayed, a fairly typical representation of a bearded man with the very unusual decoration of an apple branch in one hand. The ladies who made the coffee and handed out the goodies didn’t have any idea who he was. I gather many people don’t, but when I read his hagiography, I was touched by it and mentioned him to my husband when he was about to be ordained as a reader and shopping for a patron saint. Greg took me up on the suggestion and has had the pleasure of having a patron saint that priests and bishops often mispronounce at the Eucharist cup, and one that has inspired several church wags to greet Greg on a cold day by saying, “How ya doin’, Your Frozen-ness?” (ha ha) I don’t think St. Euphrosynos would mind that either. He didn’t seem to mind much.
Here’s the brief hagiography given in my Saint of the Day book:
As a monk and the cook in the monastery kitchen, Euphrosynos served the brethren with humility and patience. Even so, he suffered much abuse from the brothers. One night, a priest there had a vision of paradise. Standing in a beautiful garden, he saw Euphrosynos walking by. When the priest asked what he was doing there, Euphrosynos said that he lived there as well and that he gave to others the gifts of the garden. Euphrosynos then placed three apples in a kerchief and gave them to the priest. Just then, the semantron awoke the priest for the night services. However, he found that he still had the fragrant apples from paradise on his bed. At the church, he asked Euphrosynos where he had been. Euphrosynos said, “Forgive me, Father. I have been in that place where we saw one another.” The priest replied, “What did you give me, Father, in paradise when I spoke with you?” Euphrosynos answered, “The three fragrant apples which you have placed on your bed in your cell; but forgive me, Father, for I am a worm and not a man.” Following the church service, the humble Euphrosynos could not be found again. Fleeing human glory, he had left the monastery. His brother monks reverently kept and distributed pieces of the apples from Paradise for blessing and for healing.
So why did I suggest him to my husband? Because St. Euphrosynus to me is the saint in your midst, the one who surprises you, the brother or sister whose depth of spirit and great-heartedness you never know. Greg is a surprising person like that, and I know there are many others. There are people that have passed through my life that I almost didn’t notice and who I now recall with an admiration that I’ll never be able to express.
I didn’t know that today was St. Euphrosynos’ name day, but of course, I’ll never forget it again because none of us will forget the date 9/11. And maybe I’m stretching things — probably I am — but it seems fitting that date is attached to the saint who almost died an unknown kitchen drudge and left when his real spiritual state was known. This is the day of the saints that surprise you, the ones you never thought you’d see, the ones who may not have known they were saints themselves. And like him, those saints are gone — they’ll never attend banquets and parades in their honor.
Let’s continue to be surprised by them, continue to think on the many others in the current crisis along the Gulf states who may right now be picking the apples of paradise to distribute to those who need them most, and who will disappear before anyone can give them thanks.
We aren’t hearing about Hurricane Katrina anymore, and we don’t have news photos like the one above showing the bunches of people who just came from everywhere to help. But we’re in another hurricane season, we’re still a struggling world, and these hidden heroes are, I think, still in our midst.
Pray for us, blessed Saint Euphrosynus.