In Orthodoxy there will always be a balance of both universal and local customs, usually some kind of variation or addition to the already-established tradition in place. Some parishes only use one variation of kolyva for their memorial services. Some churches will process either with only children or the entire church for the Triumph of Orthodoxy. In these examples churches are keeping in line with the tradition handed down to us, and also personalizing it. This year we held our Vasilopita cutting service on the first Sunday of the January, and I know I cut it differently than the parish has in the past. I want to explain how the service has been taught to me but first,

What is the Vasilopita service anyway?

We cut the special ‘pita’ in honor of St. Basil, bishop of Caesarea, who is an incredible champion of our Faith and was a powerhouse philanthropist while he was alive. He contributed greatly to monasticism, actively tried to rehabilitate thieves and prostitutes, and gave unceasingly to the poor. He created so much activity through his philanthropy and outreach, that the actual city of Caesarea moved and grew around his compound. We’re praying for good health and blessings in this life for the upcoming year.

So, we call our special pita Vasilopita, or Basil Bread, though it sounds funny in English. It can be a sweet bread like our artoklasia, or a spiced cake. There are a couple of stories about how we got to putting a coin in our bread, but a very plausible one is that St. Basil would put money into loaves of bread, and then give that bread to the poor, so as to not embarrass someone by giving the alms. Pretty beautiful, I think.

So, Cutting the Vasilopita

When doing Vasilopita, whether in the Church or the home, the cuts always go in this order:

  1. Christ (The reason why we’re doing any of this.)
  2. The Theotokos (In honor of Christ’s mother, who brought Salvation into the world.)
  3. St. Basil (The reason we have this particular service.)
  4. The poor (To honor St. Basil’s mission, and also our own duty as Christians.)

From here, in the Church setting, it begins to vary a little, though it generally starts at the ruling hierarch and moves down to the clergy positions, and into the ministries of the Church. Some parishes will also cut special slices for the oldest and youngest person in the parish, the longest married couple, the person who cooks so much for the parish he or she seems to have a chain attached to their ankle and the Church kitchen. It can get pretty fun! So for our event, after the first four, we went on to cut a piece for His Eminence Savas, one for the Archons (because we had Archons visiting with us), our chanter, our νεωκόρος, George, then the parish council, Philoptochos, Sunday school, and AHEPA. Then, everyone gets a slice! So, everyone still gets a special blessing through being present at the service and eating the blessed bread.

It’s been about four months since I published anything, and the last thing wasn’t even all that earth shattering. (Note: I did smash my tests, and again in December.) I wrote some sermons that I was going to put up but I haven’t gotten around to it, and now I may not. We’re waaaay past the Lukan account of Jesus healing the demonic, so it seems confusing. But there is so much to write about, so it’ll come up in time.

The unfortunate part of this is I have to write a junky post just to get my mind back into writing something for other people to see. So, I mean, you may not even bother reading.

So what’s been going on? Well, a lot for a new priest, though nothing most people would find edifying. (And for my parishioners, this is all old news!) We’re running a lot of services. I’m learning a lot, hanging out with my parishioners, hearing a lot of stories from local folk. I’m still lifting every week and bopping around the city, letting confused folks at the Wal-Mart “sneak” cell phone pictures of me. We’re going to keep bees this summer. Basically, I’m trying to experience some present tense. I have a solid core of brother priests to mentor me.

Since last I wrote we had an incredible bake sale and dinner at the Church in November which was a lot of fun. I met a ton of city folk and was able to give some Church tours / eat a ton of delicious baked goods. I told the ladies that I learned a great deal about Greek baking preparing for this sale. I don’t fear making baklava!

My first Christmas Liturgy went very well. Beautiful, really, being among my parish family. So did my first Vasilopeta cutting.

Last week I opened the State Senate in prayer, which was really awesome!

One thing I’m particularly blessed by is my daughter Adeline. Our chanter has been out sick and when I put out a call for people to help, she was the only person who said she’d try. Except for a couple parts, she’s really on point, and it takes me into Heaven when I hear her voice coming through the royal gate. It’s a rich, rich, blessing both as her priest and her father. It’s pretty infectious, really, as now Katherine and, to some degree, Beatrice, are chanting around the house.

And, that’s about it, really. I’m going to actually start writing more, because I have a lot of things I want to talk about that go beyond the time I get on Sundays.