Today (6 April) we commemorate St. Elfstan of Abingdon, abbot and bishop (981). From Stanton’s Menology:
Elstan, or Elfstan, was a monk of Abingdon, trained under the discipline of the Abbot St Ethelwold. While the building of the monastery was in progress, Elstan was charged by his Superior with the duty of seeing that the food of the workmen was duly provided. The holy man undertook this lowly office with great alacrity, and himself cooked the meat, washed the dishes, swept the kitchen floor and managed all with the greatest neatness and good order.
One day St Ethelwold chanced to find him engaged in this employment, and was surprised and edified to see him doing himself and alone duties which he supposed he would have committed to some servant of the house. In his admiration, he resolved to give him the occasion of still more meritorious and heroic obedience, and said to him: ‘Brother Elstan, this obedience you have stolen from me unawares; but if you are such a soldier as you seem to be, plunge your hand into the boiling cauldron, and draw me out a piece of meat.’ The good disciple at once obeyed, the strength of his faith cooled the boiling water, and he drew back his hand unharmed.
St Elstan was afterwards Abbot of the house in which he had so faithfully learned to practise obedience, and eventually became the fifth Bishop of the diocese of Wilton, and in the exercise of that sacred office piously resigned his soul to God.
Elfstan and Aethelwold, two more to add to my list of Oxford’s local saints. I am immediately drawn to Elfstan’s story because of my own frequent forays into cooking for large numbers, not least at the Russian Orthodox children’s summer camp and youth weekends away, as well as for college summer reading parties in a non-electrified chalet in France, and happy memories of cooking for 60-90 (ahem, with assistants!) at IVCF retreats during ye olden undergraduate days. May every meal be prepared with grace and humility, and every partaker made welcome at the table! Now how can I prompt the creation of an icon? St Euphrosinos could have some company in the Orthodox kitchens of Britain!
Holy St Elfstan, pray to God for us.