Vasilopita (Saint Basil's Bread)

One of the most beautiful and inspiring traditions and customs of the Greek Orthodox Church is the observance of Vasilopita. It is this annual family observance, together with many other traditions of our Church, which joins our Orthodox Faith and heritage with the history of the Christian religion itself. The word Vasilopita is a compound Greek word which means the sweet 'bread of Basil'.


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.

The Annual Home Observance

This original event which happened in Cappadocia of Caesarea in the last half of the fourth century, is very much alive in our Orthodox homes each year the 1st January. According to tradition, special sweet bread (in some areas of Greece, it takes the form of a cake) is prepared both in the Orthodox homes and in the Church community which is called Vasilopita. Sweets are added to the bread which symbolize the sweetness and joy of life everlasting. It also symbolizes the hope that the New Year will be filled with the sweetness of life, liberty, health, and happiness for all who participate in the Vasilopita Observance. When the Vasilopita is prepared, a coin is usually added to the ingredients. When the bread is cut and the observance begins, the individual who receives that portion of the Pita which contains the coin is considered blessed.

This tradition adds joy to the celebration at the beginning of the New Year, which everyone hopes will bring joy to all. Many Orthodox Christians enjoy the Vasilopita at home with their loved ones during the New Year celebration. The head of the family cuts the pieces of pita for all members of the family. Since Saint Basil loved the poor people, a special piece is cut for the unfortunate of the world, which symbolizes our concern for the poor people of all nations.

Kalanta-New Year's Carols

Along with the feast of Saint Basil, is the observance of the civil New Year. These two observances are commemorated with the singing of the "Kalanta" (carol-type songs) which speak both of the New Year and the great bishop, Saint Basil. The Kalanta are part of the Vasilopita Cutting in each home on New Year's Saint Basil's Day. The words stress the joy and excitement of the New Year which brings new opportunities, the love of Christ, His miraculous Birth, His Baptism, and the compassion of the pious Saint Basil who brought so much joy and happiness to the world. They ask Saint Basil to stay a while at their home, to partake of their meal and fellowship, and to grant them "good cheer".

St Basil Who was Saint Basil?

During the fourth century, one of the greatest Fathers of the Christian Church appeared on the spiritual horizon of the Orthodox Faith. His name was Basil and he was Bishop of Caesarea, Cappadocia (Asia Minor). He was born four years after the First Ecumenical Council held in the year 325 A.D. Saint Basil was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers of the Church (the others were Gregory of Nazianzus, his best friend, and his brother, Gregory of Nyssa).

Saint Basil was the first person in human history to establish an orphanage for little children. He also founded the first Christian hospital in the world. His fame as a Holy Man spread like wildfire throughout the Byzantine world. He was considered one of the most wise and compassionate clergymen in the entire history of the Church. His Feast Day is observed on January 1st, the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season. The Church, therefore, in respect for his many contributions to the Church and to mankind in general, combined the joy and happiness of the New Year with the glory of the birth of Christ, and the Epiphany into what is known in the Orthodox Church as the Vasilopita Observance.

The Vasilopita is a joyous observance, and it is a custom which should not be neglected by Greek Orthodox Christians in the Western world. It should be retained annually in the home and in the parish. It is a wonderful way to begin each New Year which God has given to the world. If you have been holding the observance in your home, congratulations! Please continue to do so. If you have not, hopefully this information has explained to you how to do it. We urge you to begin this year and make it a "family gathering" every year on Saint Basil's Day/New Year's Day, the 8th day of Christmas.

Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not created, of one essence with the Father through Whom all things were made.

Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried.

And He rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

And He will come again with glory to judge the living and dead. His kingdom shall have no end.

+ And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets.

+ In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

+ I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

+ I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Amen.

Divine Liturgy

The Divine Liturgy of the Holy Orthodox Church is the sacred rite by which the church as the "assembly of God" celebrates the mystery of the Eucharist. This title for the Eucharist is derived from two Greek words "theia" and "leitourgia". The word "theia" means pertaining to God, therefore divine. The word "leitourgia comes from two words — "leitos" which means the people, and "ergon" which means work. That is the work of the people or a public service act or function. Dr Luke Cooper active parishioner of Saint Sophia Cathedral has compiled materials from the writings of the late theologian Alexander Schmemann of ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE GREEK LITURGY with in-depth commentary and explanation. Study this material and you will appreciate the JOY OF THE ASSEMBLY ...THE EUCHARIST.

Divine Liturgy (Downloadable PDF)

A Word About Church History

Scholars estimate there are over 2600 groups today who lay claim to being the Church, or at least the direct descendants of the Church described in the New Testament. Repeat: 2600!

But for the first thousand years of her history the Church was essentially one. Five historic patriarchal centers — Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople — formed a cohesive whole and were in full communion with one another. There were occasional heretical or schismatic groups going their own way, to be certain, but the Church was unified until the 11th century. Then, in events culminating in A.D. 1054, the Roman Patriarch pulled away from the other four; the result was a tragic splintering of the historic Christian Church.

Today, nearly a thousand years later, the other four Patriarchates remain intact, in full communion, maintaining that Orthodox Apostolic Faith of the inspired New Testament record. A brief history of the Orthodox Church follows, from Pentecost to the present day.

  • 33 Pentecost (A.D. 29 is thought to be more accurate).
  • 49 Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) establishes precedent for addressing Church disputes in conciliar manner. St. James presides as bishop.
  • 69 Bishop Ignatius consecrated in Antioch in heart of New Testament era — St. Peter had been the first bishop there. Other early bishops include James, Polycarp, and Clement.
  • 95 Book of Revelation written, probably the last of the New Testament books.
  • 150 St. Justin Martyr describes the liturgical worship of the Church, centered in the Eucharist. Liturgical worship is rooted in both the Old and New Testaments.
  • 313 The Edict of Milan marks the end of the period of Roman persecution of Christianity.
  • 325 The Council of Nicea settles the major heretical challenge to the Christian faith posed when the heretic Arius asserted that Christ was created by the Father. St. Athanasius defends the eternality of the Son of God. Nicea is the first of Seven Ecumenical (Church-wide) Councils.
  • 451 Council of Chalcedon (Second Ecumenical Council) affirms the apostolic doctrine of the two natures of Christ (fully human and fully divine).
  • 589 A synod in Toledo, Spain, adds the filioque to the Nicene Creed (asserting that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son). This theological error is later adopted by Rome.
  • 787 The era of Ecumenical Councils ends at Nicea; the Seventh Ecumenical Council restores the centuries-old use of icons to the Church.
  • 988 Conversion of Rus' (Russia) begins.
  • 1054 The Great Schism occurs. Two major issues include Rome's claim to a universal papal supremacy and her addition of the aforementioned filioque clause to the Nicene Creed. The Photian Schism (880) further complicates the debate.
  • 1066 Norman Conquest of Britain. Orthodox hierarchs are replaced with those loyal to Rome.
  • 1095 The Crusades begin. The sack of Constantinople (1204) adds great stress to the already strained relations between the Christians of the East and West.
  • 1333 St. Gregory Palamas defends the Orthodox practice of hesychast spirituality and the use of the "Jesus Prayer."
  • 1453 Turks overrun Constantinople; Byzantine Empire ceases to exist.
  • 1517 Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the door of the Roman Church in Wittenberg, initiating the Protestant Reformation.
  • 1529 Church of England begins pulling away from Rome.
  • 1794 Missionaries arrive on Kodiak Island in Alaska; Orthodoxy introduced to North America.
  • 1870 Papal Infallibility, under certain circumstances, becomes Roman dogma.
  • 1988 One thousand years of Orthodoxy in Russia recognized; Orthodox Church world-wide maintains fullness of the Apostolic Faith.
Jesus Christ

What is the Jesus Prayer?

In order to enter more deeply into the life of prayer and to come to grips with St. Paul's challenge to pray unceasingly, the Orthodox Tradition offers the Jesus Prayer, which is sometimes called the prayer of the heart. The Jesus Prayer is offered as a means of concentration, as a focal point for our inner life. Though there are both longer and shorter versions, the most frequently used form of the Jesus Prayer is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This simple, humble prayer is brief enough to be quickly memorized and thereafter said so frequently, that it may become a continuous prayer of the heart. The next time you are having "one of those days," or just want to take some time to talk to our Lord, try the Jesus prayer. It works. The Lord will hear and bless you with a sense of peace and comfort in His love.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.


Stewardship Chair, Chrissie Geranios Zeppos This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

It is by offering our blessings back to God that He will be able to continue His forgiving, healing, liberating, empowering, transfiguring, loving ministry through the Church. For God, Infinite though He be, has chosen to work through us, through our gifts, to continue His saving work in the world today.

Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris

One day, a person complained to his priest that the Church and Christianity is one continual “give, give, give.” To which the priest replied, “Thank you very much for the finest definition of Christianity I have ever heard. You’re right, Christianity is all about a constant “give, give, give.” God giving His only Son to the world to show His unconditional love. His Son Jesus giving His life on the cross to forgive our sins and destroy death. Then our Lord’s disciples giving all they had to make sure God’s Good News of love was preached to all people everywhere. They not only gave away their homes and businesses, but even gave up their lives as martyrs in gratitude to God!

Christian Stewardship is about becoming good caretakers of all that God has given us. God has given each of us special and unique gifts. And through Holy Scripture He teaches us all that we have is a loan. He lends everything to us, and reminds us that one day He will ask us to give a detailed accounting of what we have done with the gifts He has given us. Archbishop Anastasios of Albania has noted that “we find ourselves by offering ourselves.” Have we learned the blessedness of generously giving to others of all we have?

Orthodox Christian Stewardship is a way of life, which acknowledges accountability, reverence, and responsibility before God. A primary goal of Stewardship is to promote spiritual growth and strengthen faith. Becoming a Steward begins when we believe in God, to whom we give our love, loyalty and trust and act on those beliefs. As Stewards, we affirm that every aspect of our lives comes as a gift from Him. Stewardship calls on the faithful to cheerfully offer back to God a portion of the gifts with which they have been blessed.

An Orthodox Christian Steward is an active participant in the life of the Church. The parish encourages all who accept the Orthodox Faith to become practicing Stewards. Each year the Steward is expected to carefully review his or her personal circumstances and make a commitment of time, talent, and treasure to support the Parish and her Ministries, which in turn support the National Ministries of our Archdiocese, Metropolises, and institutions.

Christian Stewardship Is... ...learning how to be a responsible and concerned caretaker of Christ’s Church; it is learning how to enjoy Church life and be happy in Church work, for in Her dwells the fullness of the Spirit of God. ...our active commitment to use all our time, talent and treasure for the benefit of humankind in grateful acknowledgment of Christ’s redeeming love. ...caring for the needs of others. ...offering one’s self to God as He offered Himself to us. ...what a person does after saying “I believe...”, as proof of that belief. ...devotion and service to God and His Church as persons, as families, as parish, as diocese/metropolis, as national Church and as Church universal.

Williams & McKibben

Stewardship Form


St Basil Greek Orthodox Church

About our Patron

Saint Basil the Great was born about the end of the year 329 in Caesarea of Cappadocia, to a family renowned for their learning and holiness. His parents' names were Basil and Emily. His mother Emily (commemorated July 19) and his grandmother Macrina (Jan. 14) are Saints of the Church, together with all his brothers and sisters: Macrina, his elder sister (July 19), Gregory of Nyssa (Jan. to), Peter of Sebastia (Jan. 9), and Naucratius. Basil studied in Constantnople under the sophist Libanius, then in Athens, where also he formed a friendship with the young Gregory, a fellow Cappadocian, later called "the Theologian." Through the good influence of his sister Macrina (see July 19), he chose to embrace the ascetical life, abandoning his worldly career. He visited the monks in Egypt, in Palestine, in Syria, and in Mesopotamia, and upon returning to Caesarea, he departed to a hermitage on the Iris River in Pontus, not far from Annesi, where his mother and his sister Macrina were already treading the path of the ascetical life; here he also wrote his ascetical homilies.

About the year 370, when the bishop of his country reposed, he was elected to succeed to his throne and was entrusted with the Church of Christ, which he tended for eight years, living in voluntary poverty and strict asceticism, having no other care than to defend holy Orthodoxy as a worthy successor of the Apostles. The Emperor Valens, and Modestus, the Eparch of the East, who were of one mind with the Arians, tried with threats of exile and of torments to bend the Saint to their own confession, because he was the bastion of Orthodoxy in all Cappadocia, and preserved it from heresy when Arianism was at its strongest. But he set all their malice at nought, and in his willingness to give himself up to every suffering for the sake of the Faith, showed himself to be a martyr by volition. Modestus, amazed at Basil's fearlessness in his presence, said that no one had ever so spoken to him. "Perhaps," answered the Saint, "you have never met a bishop before." The Emperor Valens himself was almost won over by Basil's dignity and wisdom. When Valens' son fell gravely sick, he asked Saint Basil to pray for him. The Saint promised that his son would be restated if Valens agreed to have him baptized by the Orthodox; Valens agreed, Basil prayed, and the son was restored. But afterwards the Emperor had him baptized by Arians, and the child died soon after. Later, Valens, persuaded by his counsellors, decided to send the Saint into exile because he would not accept the Arians into communion; but his pen broke when he was signing the edict of banishment. He tried a second time and a third, but the same thing happened, so that the Emperor was filled with dread, and tore up the document, and Basil was not banished. The truly great Basil, spent with extreme ascetical practices and continual labours, at the helm of the church, departed to the Lord on the 1st of January, in 379. at the age of forty-nine.

His writings are replete with wisdom and erudition, and rich are these gifts he set forth the doctrines concerning the mysteries both of the creation (see his Hexaemeron) and of the Holy Trinity (see On the Holy Spirit). Because of the majesty and keenness of his eloquence, he is honoured as "the revealer of heavenly things" and "the Great."

Saint Basil is also celebrated on January 30th with Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint John Chrysostom.

First Time Visitors - I'm New

10 Things You should Known Before Your First Visit to an Orthodox Church

1. There is movement before and during worship
During the early part of the service the church you may see people walking up to the front of the church, praying in front of the iconostasis (the standing icons in front of the altar), kissing things and lighting candles, even though the service is already going on.

In fact, when you came in the service was already going on, although the sign outside clearly said "Divine Liturgy, 10:00 am." What's going on here?

In an Orthodox church there is only one Eucharistic service (Divine Liturgy) per Sunday, and it is preceded by an hour service of Matins or Orthros (9:00 am). Matins is a preliminary service celebrating the good news of Resurrection of Christ which make the liturgy possible which follows. Memorial services are approximately 15 minutes in length and begin around 11:30 am.

Orthodox worshipers arrive at any point from the beginning of Matins through the early part of the Liturgy.

2. We Stand When We Pray
In the Orthodox tradition, the faithful stand up for nearly the entire service. The reason for this is that we understand worship to be work. Sitting is a form of rest. We believe that when in the presence of God we should all stand. If you find the amount of standing too challenging you're welcome to sit at any time.

The liturgy at Saint Basil Church begins at 10:00 am. By 10:30 am we hear the reading of the Epistle (everyone sits) and then the Gospel lesson for the day is read (everyone stands). The liturgy continues until 11:10 am when Communion is first given to children who depart for Sunday School and the parents remain in Church for the conclusion of the liturgy around noon. Following the announcements the sermon is given and Church is dismissed around 11:30 am.

3. People Make the Sign of the Cross
We sign ourselves whenever the Trinity is invoked, whenever we venerate the cross or an icon, and on many other occasions in the course of the Liturgy. People however, aren't expected to do everything the same way. Some cross themselves three times in a row, and some finish by sweeping their right hand to the floor. On first entering a church people may come up to an icon, crossing themselves and bowing with right hand to the floor, then kiss the icon, then make one more bow.

4. Orthodox People Venerate
When we first come into the church, we kiss the icons. You'll also notice that some kiss the chalice, some kiss or touch the edge of the priest's vestment as he passes by, the acolytes (altar boys) kiss his hand when they give him the censer, and we all line up to kiss the priest's hand at the end of the service as we received the blessed bread. When we talk about "venerating" something we usually mean crossing ourselves and kissing it.

The reason for kissing the hand of the priest has to do with our understanding that during the liturgy the hands of the priest are the hands that give out the body and blood of Christ (communion). It is also the laying on of hands that ordinations are done by the bishops. The laying on of hands goes back to the Apostles in the Orthodox Church.

We greet each other before we take communion ("Greet one another with a kiss of love," 1 Peter 5:14). The usual greeting is "Christ is in our midst" and response, "He is and always shall be." Don't worry if you forget what to say. Some of the faithful greet each other by shaking hands, while others kiss each other on each cheek. This greeting or "kiss of peace" is a liturgical act, a sign of mystical unity.

5. Blessed bread and consecrated bread.
Only Orthodox Christians may receive communion, but everyone may have some of the blessed bread offered at the conclusion of the liturgy. As we file past the priest, we come to an altar boy holding the basket of blessed bread. People will take portions for themselves and for visitors and non-Orthodox friends around them. If someone hands you a piece of blessed bread, do not panic; it is not the eucharistic Body. It is a sign of fellowship.

Visitors should not be offended that they are not allowed to receive communion. It is important to know that communion is not given out as a means of hospitality. Anyone who is not Orthodox may receive holy communion if they wish to attend classes and convert to Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox believe that receiving communion is broader than me-and-Jesus; it acknowledges faith in historic Orthodox doctrine, obedience to a particular Orthodox bishop, and a commitment to a particular Orthodox worshipping community. There's nothing exclusive about this; everyone is invited to make this commitment to the Orthodox Church. But the Eucharist is the Church's treasure, and it is reserved for those who have united themselves with the Church, and have full knowledge of what holy communion is.

We also handle the Eucharist with more gravity than many denominations do, further explaining why we guard it from common access. We believe it has been changed from ordinary bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ. Holy communion is a sacrament of the church, and not a symbolic gesture or right of passage. We ourselves do not receive communion unless we are making regular confession of our sins to a priest and are at peace with other communicants. We fast from all food and drink - yes, even a morning cup of coffee - from midnight the night before communion.

6. How do we greet the clergy?
The role of the priest is that of a spiritual father, preacher of the gospel, and the one who offers the sacraments. Part of his role is to continue the earthly ministry that St. Paul brought to the people. He is referred to in respect as father, because he is both a servant of the Lord, and also called to be the leader of the congregation. Just as St. Paul referred to himself as father of his flock in 1 Corinthians 4:14-15, the faithful refer to him in the same way as a way to honor the position of the priesthood. His wife also holds a special role as parish mother, and she gets a title too "Presbytera" (Greek), which means "priest's wife."

7. Hymnology That Draws Us To Pray
At Saint Basil Church, the choir is meant to lead the people in congregational singing. Traditionally, orthros hymns are chanted a capella. Most liturgies are sung with an organ as well.

8. The Virgin Mary
A constant feature of Orthodox worship is veneration of the Virgin Mary, the "champion leader" of all Christians. We often address her as "Theotokos," which means "Mother of God." In providing the physical means for God to become man, therefore she had a pivotal role in our salvation.

We honor her, as Scripture foretold ("All generations will call me blessed," Luke 1:48). When we sing "Through the intercession of the Theotokos, Savior, save us," we don't mean that she grants us eternal salvation, but that we seek her prayers for our protection and growth in faith. Just as we ask for each other's prayers, we ask for the prayers of Mary and other saints as well. They're not dead, after all, just departed to the other side. Icons surround us to remind us of all the saints who are joining us invisibly in worship. One reference to the saints surrounding us Hebrews 12:1 - "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses..."

9. The three doors.
Every Orthodox church will have an iconostasis before its altar. "Iconostasis" means "icon-stand", and it can be as simple as a large image of Christ on the right and a corresponding image of the Virgin and Child on the left. The basic set-up of two large icons creates, if you use your imagination, three doors. The central one, in front of the altar itself, is called the "Holy Doors" or "Royal Doors," because there the King of Glory comes out to the congregation in the Eucharist. Only the priest and deacons, who distribute the Eucharist, use the Holy Doors.

The openings on the other sides of the icons, if there is a complete iconostasis, have doors with icons of angels; they are termed the "Deacon's Doors." Altar boys and others with business behind the altar use these, although no one is to go through any of the doors without an appropriate reason.

10. How does a "non-Greek" fit in?
There are about 6 million Orthodox in North America and 350 million in the world, making Orthodoxy the second-largest Christian community. Orthodox throughout the world hold unanimously to the fundamental Christian doctrines taught by the Apostles and handed down by their successors, the bishops, throughout the centuries. One could attribute this unity to historical accident. We would attribute it to the Holy Spirit. Being Greek ethnically is not a requirement to be Greek Orthodox, just as someone can be Roman Catholic without being Roman. Because only Greek was spoken for approximately the first 300 years in the Christian church, the original church was sometimes referred to as the Greek church. It is the rule of the Orthodox Church to speak the language of the local people, therefore at Saint Basil Church we speak English and Greek.

Currently the largest American jurisdictions are the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, The Orthodox Church in America (Russian roots), and the Antiochian Archdiocese (Arabic roots). The liturgy is substantially the same in all, though there may be variation in language used and type of music.

Orthodoxy seems startlingly different at first, but as the weeks go by it gets to be less so. It will begin to feel more and more like home, and will gradually draw you into your true home, the Kingdom of God. We hope that your first visit to an Orthodox church will be enjoyable, and that it won't be your last.