Whatever You Do, Work Heartily, as for the Lord: Saints among Cooks

In the Orthodox tradition, almost every profession has a patron saint, someone who served God, glorified Him, and perhaps suffered for His sake in the line of duty. Frequently, by the intercession of these saints, they witnessed miracles of God and received His help in their lives and works. Choir singers invoke the name of the Venerable Romanus the Melodist, lawyers St. John Chrysostom, and doctors St. Luke of Simferopol. Which saints could members of the culinary profession consider as their patrons in Heaven?

Saint Euphrosynos the Cook

He was perhaps the best-known saint famed for his service as a cook. He lived in the ninth century and ascetised in an Egyptian monastery. Euphrosynos cooked for 400 monks. The kitchen work was hard and dirty. His brethren derided him for being covered in soot and smelling of the kitchen and held him in disdain. But the monk took no offence and did his work with patience, humility and diligence, finding solace in incessant prayer.

Eventually, the abbot noticed that Euphrosynos was performing the feats of humility and silence and prayed that the Lord might reveal to him if he had any talents from Him. One night, the abbot had a vision.

He saw himself in the Garden of Eden in front of a beautiful apple tree with some ripe apples. He reached out to pick some, but the tree raised its branches to prevent him. After several unsuccessful attempts, the monk noticed Euphrosynos. He came up to him and asked: “Reverend Abbot, what are you doing here?”

“I want an apple, but the apple tree will not let me have it.” Euphrosynos went to the tree and took three apples for the abbot.

An icon of St. Euphrosynos
An icon of St. Euphrosynos

When the abbot woke up, he was holding some fragrant fruit in his hands. Soon afterwards, he gathered the brethren at the church and asked Euphrosynos to come in. “Where were you last night?” – he asked the cook. Euphrosynos replied with humility, “Reverend Abbot, we were together.” The Abbot showed him the apples of paradise, and asked: “Do you recognise these apples?” And Euphrosynos said: “I do. I picked them for you. You asked the Lord to show you in visual form the reward of his servants, and He did what you asked through me, His unworthy servant. You saw me in paradise.”

Immediately, the Abbot bowed before the cook in remorse and reverence. The brethren followed his example. Everyone asked him for forgiveness. To escape human glory, Euphrosynos left the monastery forever that same evening, and nobody knows the place of his death. In memory of the great ascetic, the brethren cut up the apples and distributed their pieces. These pieces brought numerous blessings and healings to the people who consumed them with faith.

Martyr Basil the Baker

Basil the Baker is one of the newly glorified saints glorified of the Serbian Orthodox Church. He lived in the 17th century in the town of Pec in the Balkans when his homeland was under Turkish occupation. The Turks abducted local women and girls and executed anyone who spoke out against Islam. Saint Basil died a martyr’s death at the hands of the Turkish invaders.

He was a model family man and earned his living as a baker. He loved God with all his heart and aspired to a life in Heaven. When his daughter grew up and became a beautiful young woman, the Turks abducted her. Basil chased the abductors and fought with them. The Turks beat him severely and told him to convert to Islam or face death. Basil refused and was executed. Basil’s sacrifice was pleasing to God. Numerous healings took place connected with his relics, and many faithful have been flocking to venerate them and found help and relief according to their faith.

Icon of St Basil the Baker and the Holy Martyr Gregory of Pec
Icon of St Basil the Baker and the Holy Martyr Gregory of Pec

Cook of the Russian royal family

Ivan Kharitonov is almost unknown at present, but the example of his life is noteworthy. He was the cook of the Russian royal family and a faithful Christian. His father was a full orphan, but with his hard work and conscientious service and he earned the position of an officer in the Ministry of the Imperial Court.  Since childhood, Ivan had the privilege of playing with the Tsar’s children, including the future Tsar Nicholas II.

When Ivan grew up, his father helped him find employment in a clerical job at the Tsar’s Court. However, this career did not appeal to Ivan. As a child, he took an interest in cooking; at the age of 12, he became an assistant cook, and at 22, he was promoted to a chef of the 2nd class. Then he served in the Navy for 4 years. On his return, he continued to work in the kitchen of the Royal Court as a senior cook. He trained in Paris, where he married a German woman of Russian descent. The couple kept as their most valued treasure the gospel given them by Empress Alexandra. Sadly, it was lost during the Second World War.

During the February Revolution, the Russian Tsar was deserted by his courtiers. Ivan Kharitonov was one of the few who remained. When the Tsar’s family was escorted to Tobolsk, Kharitonov and his family went with the Tsar.

His main duty was to prepare meals for the emperor and family three times a day and to procure the food. Procuring food was not easy, and the royal family and their servants ate modestly. But Nicholas II always praised his faithful cook: “Your meals are as great as they were at Tsarskoye Selo”.

When the Bolsheviks moved the Emperor and his family to Ekaterinburg, four of his servants followed: Doctor Eugene Botkin, Chamberlain Aloysius Trupp, Empress’ maid Anna Demidova and the cook, Ivan Kharitonov. Ivan did not even have time to say goodbye to his family, and he never saw them again. Yet his presence was a great comfort to the imperial family. He repaired the oven at their new dwelling in Ipatyev’s house. Nicholas II wrote in his diary about his joy at seeing Ivan teach his daughters how to bake bread.

Ivan stayed with the Emperor in his dying hour and was martyred in the early hours of 17 July 1918, together with the other members of the imperial family and its servants. To date, Ivan has not been glorified by the Church, but his name is already written in the book of Heaven.

As the examples of these wonderful people show, there are opportunities to serve God in every profession, place or position where He might place us. No circumstances in our lives can prevent our ascent to sainthood.

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