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December 31, 2020

A Prayer for the Blessing of a Vasilopita (Composed by Elder Gervasios Paraskevopoulos)


The cutting of the Vasilopita is an annual New Year tradition among Greek Orthodox Christians. The circular cake or pie, depending on which region of Greece you are from, represents the circular year which is shared in unity, and inside each Vasilopita is a coin, representing the good fortune of the coming year especially for the one whose piece also contains the coin.

The procedure of the cutting is as follows: the man of the house makes the sign of the Cross three times over the Vasilopita with a knife and then starts cutting the pieces. The first is for Christ, the second for Saint Basil, the third for the house and then a piece for each member of the family, according to age. The last piece is for the poor. One could also add one for the animals and one for the occupation or business. If the coin is found in the portion of Christ or Saint Basil, the money is given to the Church. If it is in the portion of the poor, it is given to a beggar or charity.

As for the origin of the Vasilopita (Basil's Pie) custom, we need to travel back in time, to Caesarea in Asia Minor in the late fourth century. The Bishop of Caesarea was Saint Basil. This was during the reign of Emperor Julian the Apostate. On one of his campaigns against the Persians, Julian went through Caesarea. He was received by Saint Basil, who gave him three barley loaves. It should be noted that most of the inhabitants of Caesarea were poor and Julian himself had asked to be given whatever they had, though he expected gold and valuable gifts. Angry at the three barley loaves, after he left he sent them three bales of hay. Saint Basil then answered him: "As you asked, we gave you what we have to eat. We believe that you did the same. Thank you."

This made Julian even more angry and he vowed that on his return from the campaign, he would destroy Caesarea. Time passed and the news that Julian was returning reached Saint Basil. In an effort to save his flock, he gathered the faithful and urged them to give anything of value that they had to give to Julian and appease him. The people did as their shepherd requested and brought their valuables. Then they held a vigil and prayed for their salvation. In the course of this vigil, Saint Basil had a vision. In this vision, the Virgin Mary sent Saint Mercurius and a host of angels against Julian. The vision merely confirmed what was actually happening not far from the city. The danger was averted and the valuables returned to their owners. In order to stop people taking things that didn’t belong to them, Saint Basil ordered small pies to be made and the valuable were placed inside them. The pies were handed out to the faithful and, by a miracle, each person found in their pie whatever they had offered to escape the wrath of Julian.

Archimandrite Gervasios Pareskevopoulos (1877-1964) was a holy elder and spiritual father from the Greek city of Patras. In January of 2004, Archimandrite Amvrosios Gourvelos was serving at the Church of Saint Tabitha in Patras, where Elder Gervasios often served in his lifetime and did an annual blessing of the Vasilopita. He was given an old Hieratikon (Book of Prayers for Priests), and inside he found a handwritten prayer by Elder Gervasios for the blessing of a Vasilopita. With it he found two other prayers and a Megalynarion to the Prophet Elijah he wrote. The two other prayers were composed on 2/17/1929 and 9/14/1935, so it can be assumed this prayer also was written around the same time, prior to World War 2.

(Ἀρχιμ. Γερβασίου Παρασκευοπούλου + 1964)

Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, ὁ Θεός ἡμῶν, ἡ πηγή τῆς ἀληθινῆς χαρᾶς καί πάσης εὐλογίας, ὁ διά τοῦ Ἁγίου Σου Ἀποστόλου Παύλου ἐντειλάμενος ἡμῖν «πάντα πρός δόξαν Θεοῦ ποιεῖν», ὁ διά τοῦ αὐτοῦ εἰπών «πᾶν κτίσμα Θεοῦ καλόν καί οὐδέν ἀπόβλητον μετ’ εὐχαριστίας λαμβανόμενον», ὁ καί τήν προγονικήν ἡμῶν ταύτην κληρονομίαν «τήν βασιλόπιτταν», ὡς σύμβολον ἑνότητος καί ἀγάπης παρά τῶν Πατέρων ἡμῶν προσδεξάμενος, Σύ Εὐλογητέ Κύριε, εὐλόγησον τά Δῶρα ταῦτα καί τούς μέν προσενεγκόντας, εἰς πᾶν ἔργον ἀγαθόν κατεύθυνον, τούς δέ ἐξ αὐτῶν μεταληψομένους, σώους καί ὑγιαίνοντας, πάντας διατήρησον ἐν τῷ Ὀνόματί Σου, «ἵνα ὦσιν ἕν» πρός δόξαν τοῦ ἁγίου Ὀνόματός Σου. Ὅτι Σύ εἶ ὁ Δοτήρ τῶν ἀγαθῶν καί Σοί τήν δόξαν ἀναπέμπομεν, σύν τῷ ἀνάρχῳ Σου Πατρί καί τῷ παναγίῳ καί ἀγαθῷ καί ζωοποιῷ Πνεύματι, νῦν καί ἀεί καί εἰς τούς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.

(Archim. Gervasios Parasvopoulos + 1964)

Lord Jesus Christ, our God, the source of true joy and all blessings, who through Your Holy Apostle Paul You enjoined us "do all things to the glory of God", and through him said "for every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving", and this ancestral inheritance of the "vasilopita", as a symbol of unity and love we received from our fathers, do Blessed Lord, bless these Gifts and those who offer them, direct them in all good works, and those who receive them, always keep them safe and healthy in Your Name, "that they may be one" to the glory of Your holy Name. For You are the Giver of good things and to You we ascribe glory, together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all-holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.