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Τρίτη, 31 Δεκεμβρίου 2013

Saint Basil's Bread and Happy new Year


Tradition of St. Basil's Bread 

The tradition of Saint Basil’s Bread dates to the fourth century, when St. Basil the Great, the father of philanthropy, wanted to distribute money to the poor in his diocese. He commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he placed gold coins. Thus the poor families in cutting the bread to nourish themselves were pleasantly surprised to find the coins. This custom is kept to this day among Orthodox Christians, who on Saint Basil’s Day, January 1st, place gold coins inside a loaf of sweetened bread in honor of the Saint’s care for the poor. The one who finds the coin in his or her piece is considered commissioned by St. Basil to carry on his work for the poor, and in exchange he will ask the Lord for whatever is needful for the New Year.


 
Life of Saint Basil the Great 


Basil was born during the reign of Emperor Constantine. While still unbaptized, Basil spent fifteen years in Athens where he studied philosophy, rhetoric, astronomy and all other secular sciences of that time. His colleagues at that time were Gregory the Theologian and Julian, later the apostate emperor. In his mature years he was baptized in the river Jordan along with Euvlios his former teacher. He was Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia for almost ten years and completed his earthly life fifty years after his birth. He was a great defender of Orthodoxy, a great light of moral purity, a religious zealot, a great theological mind, a great builder and pillar of the Church of God. Basil fully deserved the title "Great." In liturgical services, he is referred to as the "bee of the Church of Christ which brings honey to the faithful and with its stinger pricks the heretics." 

Numerous works of this Father of the Church are preserved; they include theological, apologetical, ascetical and canonical writings as well as the Holy and Divine Liturgy named after him. This Divine Liturgy is celebrated ten times throughout the year: the First of January, his feast day; on the eve of the Nativity of our Lord; on the eve of the Epiphany of our Lord; all Sundays of the Honorable Fast [Lenten Season], except Palm Sunday; on Great and Holy Thursday and on Great and Holy Saturday. St. Basil died peacefully on January 1, 379 A.D., and was translated into the Kingdom of Christ. 


Vasilopita - Greek Saint Basil's New Year's Cake 


The story of the Vasilopita goes like this: Once, long ago, there was a terrible famine in Greece. The emperor at that time levied a sinfully excessive tax upon the people there. The tax was such a heavy burden upon the already impoverished people, they had to sell or give up family heirlooms, or what few coins they had. 

Basil (now known as St. Basil the Great), the archbishop of Caesarea, saw his flock’s suffering. He took up his bishop’s staff and the book of the holy Gospels and entreated the emperor to repentance. This being a tale of miracles, the emperor repented [of course], canceled the tax, and instructed his henchmen to turn over to St. Basil all of the coins and jewelry which had been paid as taxes by the poor people of Caesarea. 

Not knowing how to return each family’s treasures to them, St. Basil had all the treasures baked into one huge pita. He then called all the townspeople to prayer at the cathedral, and, after giving the Divine Liturgy, the bishop blessed and cut the pita, giving a piece to each person. As you might have already guessed, each owner miraculously received in his piece of Vasilopita his own valuables. 

Today, Greeks celebrate St. Basil’s Day on January 1, New Year’s Day, with this traditional Vasilopita, or coffee cake. A lucky coin is wrapped in foil, dropped into the cake batter and baked. The person who finds the coin in their piece of cake is said to be blessed with good fortune in the coming year. 

INGREDIENTS 


1 cup butter 
2 cups white sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
6 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
2 tablespoons white sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Generously grease a 10 inch round cake pan. 

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light. Stir in the flour and mix until the mixture is mealy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Combine the baking powder and milk, add to the egg mixture, mix well. Then combine the lemon juice and baking soda, stir into the batter. Pour into the prepared cake pan. 

Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove and sprinkle the nuts and sugar over the cake, then return it to the oven for 20 to 30 additional minutes, until cake springs back to the touch. Gently cut a small hole in the cake and place a quarter in the hole. Try to cover the hole with sugar. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes before inverting onto a plate. 

Serve cake warm. Each person in the family gets a slice starting with the youngest. The person who gets the quarter in their piece, gets good luck for the whole year!

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