Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, head of the St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine, broke from the tradition of cutting the first piece of Vasilopita for the Ecumenical Patriarch— the norm in institutions and parishes of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America— and dedicated it to… the United States.
After doing so, he added a U.S. flag and placed the piece of cake in front of the icon of St. Basil, while the rest of the ceremony unfolded.
He doesn’t think Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will mind.
“After what we’ve witnessed in the early days of 2021, I think it was most appropriate to pray for our nation, and yes– to give it the honor of this tradition by cutting the first piece for the United States of America,” Bishop Demetrios told The Pappas Post.
“Besides,” he added, it is a regular part of the Orthodox Christian Divine Liturgy to pray for our nation and its leaders. We do this every Sunday and at every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, so why not incorporate it into our annual Vasilopita cutting? Especially after the events of January 6.”
The event took place in the outdoor courtyard of the historic shrine, which is dedicated to the first Greeks who landed on American shores in 1768 as indentured servants.
While there was discussion to cancel the event this year because of the pandemic, Bishop Demetrios insisted that “we needed this blessing now, more than ever.”
Instead of the usual overflowing crowd and 8-10 Vasilopita breads cut for all in attendance, the organizers invited a limited number of people, each representing an institution, organization or ministry affiliated with the Shrine. In attendance this year was also the Vice Mayor of the City of St. Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States.
“We are truly blessed to have an outdoor space and were able to offer this service to our faithful that were present, but also online to thousands who watched via Facebook Live,” Bishop Demetrios said.
The tradition of cutting the Vasilopita cake, or bread, depending upon the region of Greece, is a time-honored custom that takes place in churches, homes, businesses, cultural institutions– even government offices throughout the Greek world.
Pieces are cut one by one and the individual who gets the piece with the coin, which is baked inside the cake, is considered the “lucky” one for the new year.
In homes, the first piece is customarily cut for Jesus, and then in order of age, the individuals of the household.
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