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Greek tradition observed at St. Spyridon

| Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

It is a Greek tradition to welcome a new year by perpetuating the example of St. Basil, Bishop of Caesaria, Cappadocia (Asia Minor), born in 329 A.D.

This involves the ritual of finding a coin in a piece of blessed sweet bread (said to bring good luck in the coming year) — and ultimately helping orphans.

At St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Monessen, the annual observance continues.

“St. Basil was the first to extablish an orphanage,” explained church member and deacon candidate Bill Leogas, “and we give the offerings made during the distribution of bread (vasilopita) to an orphanage.”

During the January event at St.Spyridon, the pastor, the Rev. Joseph DiStefano, solemnly blessed three giant loaves of vasilopita, which were then cut and shared following the luncheon.

The bread was donated by George J. Georgagis of Keystone Bakery.

There is a ritual connected to the distribution.

“The first piece is set aside for our lord and savior, Jesus Christ, and the second, for his mother, Mary,” Leogas said.

The third piece is for St. Basil the Great and after other religious designations, representatives of church affiliations share the bread.

The oldest member present, Ted Pitsilos, 93, and youngest, Sydney Callaway, 6, were recognized.

Everyone present claimed pieces of bread, but it was Dimitri Apodiakos, active youth member of the parish, who found the coveted coin in his piece of vasilopita.

Kassandra Bagiatis, Ladies Philoptochos Society president, coordinated the luncheon.

An interesting history reveals St. Basil's success in reversing an emperor's collection of coins and jewelry as payment for taxes from an impoverished people of Caesarea.

“The emperor had the tax canceled and gave the chests of coins and jewelry to St. Basil for distribution,” Leogas said.

“As the saint was faced with the task of returning everything to rightful owners, he prayed before the icons of Jesus and His mother for guidance.

“St. Basil had all the treasures baked into one huge pita and called the townspeople to prayer.

“After Divine Liturgy, he blessed and cut the pita, giving a piece to each person.

“Miraculously, each owner received his own valuables in his piece of vasilopita.”

Parish Council President Michael Galis acknowledged the importance of carrying on the tradition at St. Spyridon.

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