Friday, January 22, 2010

All Ye Holy Saints

A while back, we experienced an awful thing.  Both sets of the keys went missing.  I suspect the Toddler Patrol, but it is unimportant who is responsible.  Maybe you have experienced a moderately tumultuous period of time in your life.  Rushing from one dramatic episode to another, one mild trauma after mild trauma, a hassle here, an obstacle there- it is exhausting, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  As it would happen, we were feeling quite tapped out when we arrived at the crossroads of our Monastery Weekend and No Keys. 

The search began tepidly after a long Friday in anticipation of the evening Vigil and Confession.  When they did not immediately present themselves, I dismissed the event as providential and plopped down into our evening routine, chat a bit, find a show, try to drown out the day.  Let a few short hours flee in the face of the television, and then suddenly here it is 11:45.  A few prayers hastily said and then off to bed.  The next morning, however, was a different story.  No keys.  At first this meant, no doughnuts.  But as the search began to gain steam and an earnestness that can only be compared to gold fever, No Keys began to take on greater definition, such as:   Trapped with Many Children in the House; Hello, Earthly Cares; Sayonara, Break From the Week;  and You Can Forget About the Monastery Visit. 
We turned the house upside-down.  In between distressed and increasingly frenetic, Lordhavemercy-Lordhavemercy-Lordhavemercy, our home became a disaster area.  Maybe you have already guessed, but I am way less organized than I want to be and guilt for being the Loser had now settled in.  After 9 hours of solid searching, I emailed Father, Matushka, and Sister:

We have missed the monastery event today, vespers and confession this evening, and likely Divine Liturgy tomorrow because we cannot locate either set of our keys to the van.  I'm really sorry about this.  Please pray for us.



Father replied:
Boy! How strange! I'm sorry to hear it, but perhaps there is some providence in it.  Ask St Phanurios to help you find them, and then, when you do, pray for the salvation of his mother.


As a recent convert, I knew nothing of St. Phanurios or his mother.  I searched my prayer books and Lives of the Saints, I googled feverishly, searching out the precise recipe of words that would cause the keys to appear.  There are none.  Not really.  There is a Troparion and a Kontakion, but nothing that says:  Oh-glorious-and-radiant-saint-reveal-my-keys-and-I-will-pray-for-your-mother-because-that-is-the-contract.  This is a great blessing.  Because of this, I was forced to sit down and really read and contemplate St. Phanurios, his life, and the traditions surrounding him.  The icon of St. Phanurios (or Fanurios) was discovered by a band of nomadic Arabs on the isle of Rhodes.  Fortunately, that they attached no great importance to it and cast it aside amidst their pillaging.  Though all the other icons surrounding it were decayed and ruined, the icon of this saint was as unblemished as the day it was painted.  Our knowledge of St. Phanurios comes from his icon.  He was generous to the poor and apparently endured many tortures, likely because of his piety, which are depicted around the frame of the icon.  I could not discern where the tradition came from to pray for Phanurios's mother (who is said to be a troubled woman), but I am happy to embrace this holy tradition.  Many sources mentioned a custom in Crete and Greece to bake a special cake, called Phanuriopita, in thanksgiving for the return of the lost item.  For some people this runs afoul of the true faith.  It seems superstitious and scandalous.  As I contemplated these things I was reminded of some very wise words said to me in the midst of another ramshackle, crazy time in our lives.  Pray as though your prayers have been answered.  A bit of the blessed-are-those-who-have-believed-but-not-seen, if you will.  So as midnight marched hard upon us and still we had no keys in hand, we lit our vigil candle, prayed for St. Phanurios to hear our prayers, asked the Lord to grant rest to  his mother, and assembled the ingredients for the Phanuriopita, gave thanks, and went to bed.

I would like to say that when we awoke the keys were hovering in a mystical light 6 inches over our icon corner, but as anyone who has ever endeavored in task that they have put before the Lord knows, that miracles such as that are extremely rare.  Sunday morning arrived and of course still no keys.  After morning prayer and breakfast, we jumped back in.  We prayed as we worked, sorting and de-cluttering as we went, drawer by drawer, room by room.  There were several miracles wrought that day. Fear and Anxiety no longer accompanied the search party.  The children worked cheerfully throughout the day with their father to clean and organize their rooms and their dressers.  We became confident that the task would be accomplished, but how we could not say.  Morning yielded to afternoon and that to evening, until the day had waned away and still there were no keys.  So far our task had generated no fewer than 12 bags of cast-offs, and 7 bags of garbage.  At some point, the children were fed and tucked into bed in their newly cleaned rooms.  Aching from our task, once again we plopped down into our evening routine, chat a bit, find a show, try to drown out the day.  A few short hours flee in the face of the television, and then suddenly, it is 11:45 on a Sunday night, the eve of the weekly trash pick-up, which comes reliably by 7:30  every Monday morning.  

Phanuriopita was on my mind, I'll make it in the morning with or without those keys.  

Josephus popped up from his repose on the sofa saying, “C'mon, let's go check the trash again.”

By the light of a street lamp, he hauled out bag after bag, shaking and mushing the bags of refuse as he went.  One by one, each laid down behind him.  Good spirits returned to us and we were joking as he worked; another minor miracle courtesy of St. Phanurios, good humor and perseverance.  Seven bags in, far deeper than our previous explorations, a chink of metal, a clink that was very like the sound of keys!  Lordhavemercy,Lordhavemercy,Lordhavemercy, let these be they!  Josephus mashed and squeezed the bag.  “Here's one set!  Oh!  And the Other!  They're both here!”  I will spare you the details regarding the contents of the bag that had hid those keys, but there was much rejoicing.  Despite the hour, I commenced with the making of the Phanuriopita (which takes about 1 ½ hours to bake).  Text messages and emails were dispatched promptly to all those praying for the return of our keys.  

With an heaping helping of thanks, I brought my cake to church for Father to bless.  It is the custom to share the Phanuriopita.  At one time, it was blessed by the Church and distributed to the poor.  Now is it is customary to share it with your church.  On a weekday morning, the Church consists of the Frederick family and any workmen or visitors that happen to be there.  We split the bread, and upon returning home the Thanksgiving continued sharing the cake with any visitors to our home.  Thanks be to God!  Lord, You are wondrous in Your Saints!    

A Recipe for Phanouriopita adapted from St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in McKinney, Texas

Easy St. Phanourios Bread: Fasting (with oil)
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil
2 cups orange juice
¾ cup raisins or other dried fruit
¾ cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp. baking soda
4 cups flour
a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix oil and sugar, and beat until it’s a creamy yellow. This may take a long time.  Whisk the dry ingredients together.  Add to liquid ingredients in 3 or 4 additions.  Don’t overmix! Fold in the fruit and nuts.  Pour the batter into an ungreased 9”x13” pan and bake at 350°F. For 45 minutes (or until a clean toothpick dipped in the cake emerges clean.)I use a bundt pan instead of one 9” x 13”, and my kids prefer this with chocolate chips in the place of the raisins and nuts. It doesn’t really need a frosting, but if you wanted to drizzle a stiff glaze made out of, say, powdered sugar and lemon juice and a little water over it, that would be okay, too.
If you wanted to put spices in the batter, I’d go with a tiny amount (¼ tsp. Or less) of ground cloves and some cinnamon, but vanilla or almond extract are lovely as well.

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