Mental Health Monday: Bringing in the New Year with Saint Basil

On New Year’s Day, Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feast of Saint Basil the Great. (January 1 is his Feast Day.) Since he’s my husband’s patron saint, we’ve always tried to participate in this feast every year, both at our parish—Saint John in Memphis—and in our home. One way we do that is by baking “vasilopita”—or Saint Basil bread. (pronounced vah-see-LO-pee-tah)

This age old tradition commenced in the fourth century, when Saint Basil the Great, who was a bishop, wanted to distribute money to the poor in his Diocese. He commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he arranged to place gold coins. Thus the families in cutting the bread to nourish themselves, were pleasantly surprised to find the coins.

In some parishes the priest will bless the St. Basil bread (like in this video) during the Liturgy for the Feast. The families who bring the bread can take it home and enjoy it, or share it during the “coffee hour” after the Liturgy. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of the bread will have good luck for the new year. Here’s another video, this one of Greek children singing Saint Basil’s Carol, and more about the tradition of the vasilopita.

Father Basil will be leading Great Vespers for the Feast of Saint Basil tonight at St. John at 6 p.m., and we’ll have a “finger food potluck” after the liturgy. A couple of us will be making vasilopita and it will be fun to see who gets the piece with the coin inside. (sorry, no gold coin… usually a silver dollar or maybe even a quarter) And hopefully we’ll have enough voices to make a joyful noise caroling in the New Year.

Saint Basil’s Carol

 

At the Beginning of the brand new year,

Into the church to pray we all processed;

Holding high aloft the fragrant stalks of basil,

May our New Year’s Day be blessed.
We sing of Basil, the holy saint,

His liturgy we still perform to this date,

Theologian, write and monastic founder

Truly he is Basil the Great!

 

So come and sit with us and eat and drink.

Come share our love and joy and holiday cheer;

Let our hearts be glad, and let us toast St. Basil,

May he pray for us in the New Year!

 

Let our hearts be glad, and let us toast St. Basil,

May he pray for us in the New Year!

 

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