Friday, January 3, 2014

The Vasilopita as part of Orthodox Tradition

During this festive period we all tend to eat and drink a lot. One tradition, found within Orthodoxy is the Vasilopita, i.e. Saint Basil’s cake (pie). There are numerous recipes out there; however, there is one ingredient, which is to be found in all of them, i.e. a coin.
The history of the Vasilopita began nearly 1500 years ago in Caesarea of Cappadocia, Asia Minor. St Basil the Great, one of the greatest Fathers of the Church was Bishop of Caesarea. One day, however, a general - tyrant of the area, asked to be given all the treasures of the city of Caesarea, otherwise he would besiege and conquer the city, plundering all the treasures. 
St. Basil the Great, during the night, was praying to God to save the city. When the morning came, the general, determined, encircled with his army the city of Caesarea. He entered with his entourage and asked to see the Bishop, who was in the temple praying. With audacity and anger, the ruthless General demanded the gold and every valuable object of the city. St Basil replied, claiming that the people of the city had nothing besides hunger and poverty; therefore, they had nothing noteworthy to give.  The general, upon hearing these words, became very angry and began threatening St Basil with exile or even death. 

The Christians of Caesarea much loved their Bishop and wished to help him. So, they gathered every jewellery and gold that they had and offered it to the general, in order to save the city and its population. The general was getting very impatient and ordered his army to attack the poor of the city. Bishop Basil, trying to protect his people, prayed and then presented to the general all the gold and jewellery he had gathered inside a chest. However, the moment the general went to open the chest the miracle happened!
All the people around the general saw a flash of light and immediately a horseman with his army, rushing towards the general and his army. In no time, the evil general and his men were perished. The brilliant horseman was St Mercurius and the angels were his soldiers.
That is how the city of Caesarea was saved. But then St Basil was in a difficult predicament. He had to give back, fairly, the gold and jewellery to the people of the city, i.e. everyone should receive what he gave. This of course was a difficult endeavour. He, therefore, prayed and God enlightened him in order to achieve his objective. He called his deacons and his assistant, telling them to knead bread and place in each one a bit of gold. Whey they were prepared, he distributed them as a blessing to the people of Caesarea. At first everyone was surprised, but the surprise was even greater when each family cut the bread and found their gold inside it. It was, therefore, a unique bread, or vasilopita. It brought joy and blessing to all. That is why, the Orthodox Christians, on the celebration of his memory, 1st of January, we all cut and eat the vasilopita. Whoever receives the coin is blessed.

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