The Basil-Cake of the Greek New Year (Margaret M. Hasluck, 1927)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from Folklore, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Jun. 30, 1927), pp. 143-177. A link to the full 36 page pdf. is contained at the end of this article.

Vasilopita (Agia Skepi, 2016)
Vasilopita from Holy Protection Monastery (Whitehaven, PA)

As unfailingly as turkey and plum pudding are eaten in England at Christmas, a certain cake is eaten at the New Year over practically the whole Greek area. Round, flat, and thin, savoury oftener than sweet, it is a glorified edition of the pasties which form the staple food of many poor Greeks. The reason for its figuring on New Year menus is commonly said to be the commemoration of St. Basil, the fourth-century bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia who is celebrated by the Greek church on the first of January.1 Accordingly its usual name, basilopitta (βασιλόπιτα), is interpreted as meaning cake of Basil


When ready, the cake is cut up in the presence of the whole family. The cutter is always the most important person present, the (male) head of the household, the eldest male present, or, failing them, the house-mistress… Immediately before inserting the knife, the divider invariably makes the sign of the cross with the knife across the cake… The cutting follows a traditional course. A round is first cut out in the centre, and from the edges of this round lines are drawn like the spokes of a wheel to the circumference. When the whole cake has been thus separated into segments, the portions are allotted. The round from the centre, considered the most important, is generally set aside for St. Basil. Since the ceremony is in his honour, this provision is only fitting. But sometimes, by an apparent anomaly, the centre piece is reserved for the house or for the Virgin Mary. In such a case St. Basil has to content himself with the first of the side pieces. But there again he may be ignored in favour of Christ or some saint other than himself who happens to be a favourite with the family.” He may even be ignored altogether. That is to say, at the ceremony said to commemorate him he may play only a secondary part, or even no part at all. The saints having received their dues, pieces are generally set aside in agricultural households for the cattle, sheep, goats, and even the inanimate property of the family. Then the remaining pieces are distributed, as in other households, among the members of the family, whether present or not at the New Year gathering. This distribution may be mechanical, that is, according to age and sex, the old taking precedence over the young and the male over the female. [NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, the sequence of pieces cut is usually Christ first, then Panagia, the Saint of the monastery and Geronda Ephraim. Afterwards, pieces are cut for the monastics. If the superior decides to cut the Vasilopita with the laymen who are there, then they come after the monastics in the following order: children first, then the men and the women, as usual, are always last]…


On New Year’s Day Greek families cut the Vasilopita to bless the home and to bring good fortune for the New Year. The head of the household uses a knife to etch a Cross over the face of the cake.
On New Year’s Day Greek families cut the Vasilopita to bless the home and to bring good fortune for the New Year. The head of the household uses a knife to etch a Cross over the face of the cake.

All the mystification which surrounds the cake is to heighten the excitement of finding a coin which it contains. This coin brings good luck. Thus, if the finder is the head of the house, he will prosper in all his undertakings during the coming year. If unmarried, he or she will be married or at least betrothed before the year is out. If a child, he or she will have a happy year. If one of the saints other than Basil, the family as a whole will enjoy prosperity. If St. Basil himself, the general prosperity will reach the highest possible pitch. [NOTE: In traditional Orthodox households, finding the coin is said to be a blessing. In more secular households, the coin is said to bring good luck. The baking of sacred cakes into which objects associated with luck or abundance were placed (including silver coins) also took place on other holidays, including those that were originally pagan feast days].

The coin is generally any small silver coin that is in ordinary currency… In normal practice the nature of the hidden coin is without intrinsic significance, for it is merely an instrument by which the luck of the coming year may be divined…

Once the coin has been found in the basilopitta, the saints’ pieces of cake, whether they contained the coin or not, and the coin itself have to be disposed of. The children, who are seldom lacking in a Greek household, attend to the former, eating them up after their own portions. The coin meets various fates. It may be worn by the finder as a charm, or it may be hung up beside the house-eikons for the general good. In Trebizond a girl finder puts it under her pillow, and hopes it will show her future husband in a dream. In agricultural villages it is carefully preserved until seedtime. Then it is sewn on the first sack of seed-corn which is carried out to the fields. It protects the growing crops against the evil eye, and it ensures a bountiful harvest. Very rarely a finder is sceptical enough to spend the coin like any other and to throw its luck away…

Vasilopita Coin with Collectors Case & Recipe.
Vasilopita Coin with Collectors Case & Recipe.


Let us ask why St. Basil should be commemorated at all with a cake. No reason can be given off-hand. His life is amply, if not always correctly, documented, but no document mentions the basilopitta. Oral tradition is not much more helpful. The most pertinacious inquiries from Greek peasants elicit only the foolish answer, “it is our custom” (sc. to eat the cake). Such poverty of invention is noteworthy, for popular legend is usually only too ready to explain a saint’s attributes, material and otherwise, by some real or alleged incident in his life, and from popular circulation the explanation normally finds its way into hagiologies. But of St. Basil and his cake we can find no explanatory legend,-until we go to Constantinople.

In the history of Cappadocia, St. Basil’s own country, his cake is unknown; i.e. the Vasilopita tradition is not observed there.

There Mr. Ph. Koukoules collected from schoolboys a folktale1 which appears to contain the information we seek. It may be summarised as follows:

“At the time when St.. Basil was bishop of Caesarea, a particularly avaricious and oppressive governor ruled over that province. On one occasion this governor intimated a desire to visit the town of Caesarea. At the news a great trembling fell on the people, but St. Basil bade them collect all their valuables and go out and present them to the governor when he arrived. They obeyed the saint, and the governor, melted by the apparent warmth and splendour of his welcome, refused to accept any of the presents and went on his way. As soon as he was gone, St. Basil found himself in a difficulty about returning the presents to their rightful owners. He therefore devised the stratagem of having a number of cakes made in which the various articles were concealed. The cakes were distributed the following Sunday, and by a miracle each man received the cake which contained his property. In commemoration of St. Basil’s device Christians insert a coin in the cake which they eat on St. Basil’s day.” At first sight this tale appears to explain the basilopitta most satisfactorily. Why, then, is it not more widely known ? Why is it not in popular currency in Greece as distinct from Constantinople? The answer to such questions may be deduced from a story told in the Life of St. Basil by the pseudo-Amphilochios. In brief summary the relevant passage is as follows : “Once upon a time the Emperor Julian passed through Caesarea on his way to the Persian wars. Meeting St. Basil, he informed him that he meant on his return to raze the town to the ground because of its attacks on paganism. During his absence at the wars, St. Basil, hoping that rich gifts might turn him from his cruel purpose, collected money and other valuables from the citizens to give him on his return. But Julian died before he could come back to carry out his threat. Then St. Basil, who had carefully labelled each article as received with its owner’s name, wished to give the citizens back their property. But in gratitude for their deliverance they refused to take it back and bestowed it on the church.” 2

Chapel Of Saint Basil, Cappadocia Turkey

It is clear at once that a connection exists between the folktale from Constantinople and the story from the Life of St. Basil. The nature of the connection is made clear both by chronology and style. The folktale must be new. Otherwise it would have been found outside Constantinople. The story is of uncertain age. It does not occur in the version which Ursus (858-67 A.D.) 3 made of the pseudo-Amphilochian Life, the omission being excusable enough since the alleged meeting between Julian and St. Basil can hardly have taken place.4 The editions of the Life, however, which give the story, are several centuries old.5 Such chronological considerations bring us to the conclusion that the story, being comparatively old, is the parent of the folktale, which is recent. This putative relationship accords with the way in which the theme is handled in the two versions. In the Life, St. Basil is business-like and Julian’s name is recorded. In the folktale, St. Basil has to call a miracle to his aid and Julian has sunk to a nameless “governor.” Such a difference in crispness is thoroughly characteristic of the literary as opposed to the popular rendering of a subject,6 and confirms our conclusion that the folktale is a literary bastard. Its consequent elimination leaves us without any literary .or genuinely popular explanation of St. Basil’s association with the lucky basilopitta, as our analysis of early written evidence destroyed the usual explanation of his association with 1st January, the date of the basilopitta.

Now the tale collected by Koukoules mentions the basilopitta, whereas the other tale [the Inje Su tale] does not do so. The Greeks from whom Koukoules collected his version were presumably interested in the basilopitta and correspondingly ready in true folklore fashion to believe, or to invent, a plausible aetiological legend which explained its peculiarity. On the other hand, the “avocat” of Inje Su was not interested in the basilopitta. For in Cappadocia, St. Basil’s own country, his cake is unknown.

My authority for making such a statement is the present bishop of Kastoria. A native of Silleh in Cappadocia, he states that at the New Year Cappadocians eat, not the basilopitta, but “forty sweets,”7 commemorating, not St. Basil, but the Circumcision of Christ. The principle involved, he pointed out, reappears in the feasting by which a mortal’s circumcision is accompanied. The mystic importance in the Near East of the number “forty ” is a commonplace.”8 It is not only with regard to the basilopitta, however, that the Cappadocians are unorthodox in their treatment of St. Basil. As is well known, Greeks usually observe Ist January as his festival and sing carols9 in his honour. In Cappadocia priests chant his office on 1st January, but the people postpone his festival till Easter Saturday and Pentecost.10 On those days the whole population of Caesarea, for instance, goes out to Mount St. Basil, the Ali Dagh11 of the Turks. There they honour the saint by indulging in the favourite Greek pastime of roasting and eating lambs in the open air. To this mountain, says Levides,12 quoting the pseudo-Amphilochios, St. Basil retired to entreat God to soften Julian’s heart and avert his threat to Caesarea….

St. Basil the Great gives three loaves to the Emperor Julian the Apostate. Picture bible. France, circa 1200.
St. Basil the Great gives three loaves to the Emperor Julian the Apostate. Picture bible. France, ca 1200.

Our examination of St. Basil’s standing in his native country, Cappadocia, thus shows that, so far as the basilopitta, carols, and festival are concerned, St. Basil is not commemorated there as elsewhere in the Greek world. Since Cappadocian traditions can hardly fail to be nearer to the facts, this result suggests that the methods of commemorating the saint in the outside Greek world have little or no historical basis. In that world, too, it will be remembered, divination of the year’s luck rather than commemoration of the saint seemed the main purpose of the basilopitta. No genuinely popular tradition exists there to connect the saint with the cake. His festival seemed to have been ordained for 1st January, the day consecrated to the basilopitta, for extraneous reasons. We are therefore bound to wonder whether he has any real connection with the cake.


Our wonder increases when we consider the practice of the daughter churches of the Greek rite. They all celebrate St. Basil on 1st January, and eat a New Year cake which contains a lucky coin, but they do not associate the saint with their cakes.


In Little Russia a pirog (pastry) is baked on New Year’s Eve and contains a lucky coin. The pirog is cut into pieces at dawn on New Year’s Day, and divided among members of the family. He who finds the coin is given presents by the others, for it is thought that he is lucky and will bring luck to the others. But St. Basil is not associated with the ceremony.


Similarly, the Romanians  eat a special cake on New Year’s Eve and draw lots to determine the relative degree of prosperity which each person may expect during the year, but they make no reference to St. Basil.


The Serbs bake a cake called chesnitza.13 It contains a lucky coin, but is eaten on Christmas Day and is not associated with St. Basil.

The česnica was used in folk magic for divining or influencing the amount of crops.


Albanians also, whether Christian or Mohammedan, eat a cake with a lucky coin at the New Year, but they call it simply pitta (cake, pastry) and do not refer it to the saint.14


Bulgarian practice varies. Within the kingdom, a cake containing a lucky coin is eaten at either Christmas or the New Year. On the whole, Christmas is the date preferred. The cake is called pogatcha (flat cake) or Novogodichna banitza (New Year’s cake), and no allusion is made to St. Basil. Bulgars from East Macedonia have told me that they eat two cakes, one on Christmas Eve and the other at the New Year. Both contain lucky coins. The Christmas cake is called para bogatcha14  (coin cake), and the other Svity Vasileva bogatcha (St. Basil’s cake, basilopitta). Bearing in mind Mrs. Garrett’s information from the kingdom of Bulgaria, one may perhaps infer that the para bogatcha is the real cake of Macedonian Bulgars, and that their basilopitta has been borrowed from their Greek neighbours. My informants were patriarchists, i.e. adherents of the Greek Patriarch rather than the Bulgarian Exarch, and as such would be particularly sympathetic towards Greek customs.

But, even if we accept the basilopitta .of Macedonian Bulgars as a genuinely Bulgarian, and not a borrowed, institution, we find the evidence overwhelming that by the daughter churches of the Greek rite St. Basil is not associated with the New Year cake. Stated otherwise, over a large area bordering on Greece eating a lucky New Year cake similar to the basilopitta is an established custom which seems entirely independent of saints. Such a conclusion increases the probability that St. Basil has been connected with the basilopitta of Greece for artificial reasons.

Even in Greece saint and cake are not inseparable. In the Ionian Islands the cake is called, not basilopitta, but κουλούρα της γωνίας (corner ring-cake) or χριστόπιτα (Christcake), and it is eaten, not on New Year’s Day, but on Christmas Eve.15 No reference whatsoever is made to St. Basil during the ceremony of partaking. In view, then, of all these difficulties, is not the Basil of the basilopitta different from the saint of Caesarea? And if he is different, who and what is he?

St. Columba's Bannock
St. Columba’s Bannock: On St. Columba’s feast day in Scotland, an oaten cake is baked in his honor, and a coin is placed in the dough. The child that finds the coin receives the honor of being put in charge of the new lambs for the next twelve months, an office very popular with small shepherds.


A hint of the answer to these questions is given by the word basilopitta. On the analogy of such words as basilopaidi, basilopoulo, and basilopoula, which occur frequently in Greek folktales with the respective meanings of ” child of the king ” (or ” kings “), ” son of the king ” (or ” kings “), ” daughter of the king ” (or ” kings “), basilopitta may be translated ” cake of the king ” (or ” kings “) as correctly as ” cake of Basil.” …

Thus the custom of selecting a King of the New Year revels seems to have extended right across Europe from Greece to France and England. The cakes of Albania, Bulgaria, and Serbia are referable perhaps to the same custom, but the evidence available at this stage is not conclusive.

3 kings cake
Three Kings Cake


Who, then, is this “king” of the basilopitta? …

One feature of the Saturnalia was that men drew for a king with a bean, and held high revelry under his leadership for the duration of the festivities…

In Greece the festival was identified “by the unanimous voice of antiquity” with the festival of Kronos,16 the ancient god whose right to the title of ” king ” was pre-eminent.17 To Pindar he was ” ruler.”18 To Julian he was “King Kronos” as distinguished from “Father Zeus.”19 At Athens his consort Rhea was “Queen.”20 His priests at Olympia were called “kings.”21 Each year he resumed his ancient royalty throughout Greece for a period of seven days.22 In the reign of Maximian and Diocletian, less than a hundred years before St. Basil’s time,23 Roman soldiers stationed on the Danube kept the “festival of Kronos” by drawing lots for a king. When he had been selected, they clothed him “in royal attire” to represent Kronos-Saturn, feasted and honoured him as a king for thirty days, and then forced him to commit suicide.24 From such evidence we conclude that the Saturnalia and its “kings” were familiar to the ancestors of the Greeks who eat the basilopitta today.

Summing up, therefore, we note that St. Basil’s connection with the basilopitta does not bear analysis, that the resemblances between the basilopitta and the gâteau des Rois are too numerous to be merely fortuitous, that the the gâteau des Rois is a characteristic feature of the popular celebration of the Twelve Days, that the Twelve Days are identified by modern scholars with the Saturnalia, and that the Saturnalia were anciently equated to the Kronia. Consequently, with some confidence we identify the Basil of the basilopitta with the basileus, the “king” of the Saturnalia. To go even farther and identify him with King Kronos himself is tempting, but our knowledge of that shadow-king is too slight for us to venture so far.

Even against the identification with the “king” of the Saturnalia something may be said. It is unfortunate, for instance, that no early record either of the basileus or of the basilopitta exists, though the widespread observance of the ceremony of eating the basilopitta indicates its ancient origin…

Rosca de reyes
In keeping with the country’s Catholic traditions, Mexican sweet bread (Rosca de Reyes) is baked with a coin or charm hidden in the dough. When the bread is served, whoever gets the slice with the coin or charm is said to be blessed with good luck for the New Year.


1 Published by Koukoules in the periodical Ξενοφάνης, vol. iv., pp. 155 et seq., and republished by Mr. M. D. Volonakis in his  Ιστορία του εορτασμού της πρώτης του έτους, (Athens, 1917), pp. 26-7. I am indebted to Mr. Volonakis for both these references.

2 Migne, Patrologiae Graecae, vol. xxix., pp. cccii-iv. : W. R. Halliday in (Liverpool) Annals of Archaeology, vol. vii., pp. 91-3.

3 Cf. above, p. 150.

4 Migne, loc. cit., p. ccciii. n. 40; Halliday, loc. cit., p. 97.

5 Migne, loc. cit., pp. cccii-iii.

6 See F. W. Hasluck, Letters on Religion and Folklore, p. 215.

7  Σαράντα Γλυκίσματα

8 F. W. Hasluck, Christianity and Islam, pp. 391-402.

They have been collected and exhaustively discussed by Professor Halliday in the Annual of the British School at Athens, vol. xx. (1913-4), pp. 32-58.

10 Carnoy and Nicolaides, op. cit., p. 191; Levides (a native of Caesarea), op. cit., p. 56.

11 Texier, Asie Mineure, vol. ii., p. 61 ; Carnoy and Nicolaides, loc. cit.; Levides, loc. cit.

12 Loc. cit.; cf. Rizos, op. cit., p. 138.

13 Christmas cake, from the root chest (part). The preparation of this bread may be accompanied by various rules and rituals. A coin is often put into the dough during the kneading; other small objects may also be inserted. At the beginning of Christmas dinner, the česnica is rotated three times counter-clockwise, before being broken among the family members. The person who finds the coin in his piece of the bread will supposedly be exceptionally lucky in the coming year. The česnica was used in folk magic for divining or influencing the amount of crops.

The česnica may be used for divination in some regions. In Bosnia, when the dough is shaped and ready for baking, a number of notches are cut in the upper surface of it, and seeds of various crops are placed into the notches. The more a notch has risen when the česnica is baked, the more productive the crop whose seed is in it will be in the following year. In Jadar, western Serbia, the number of embers of the badnjak equal to the sum of grain and livestock sorts grown by the family are taken out of the fire and placed on the česnica. Each of the sorts is associated with its own ember on that loaf. The sort whose ember retains its glow longer than the others should be the most productive in the coming year.  To ensure an abundance of grain, some people place a bowl filled with grain on the česnica.

In 19th-century Herzegovina, two men would rotate the česnica between themselves, one of them asking, “Am I protruding [from behind the česnica]?” and the other responding, “You are, a little.” The first man would then say, “Now a little, and next year not even a little.” The purpose of this conversation was to invoke an abundance of grain in the coming year. A similar practice was recorded in the 12th century among West Slavs on the island of Rugia in the Baltic Sea. Those Slavs were adherents of the cult of Svantovit, and had a big temple dedicated to that god at Cape ArkonaSaxo Grammaticus described, in the Book XIV of his Gesta Danorum, the festival of Svantovit which was held annually after harvest in front of that temple. In one of the rituals, a round loaf of bread covered with honey, with the diameter equal to a man’s height, was held vertically in front of the statue of Svantovit. The priest of the temple went behind the loaf, before asking the gathered people whether they saw him. After they responded that they did, the priest expressed the wish that next year they would not see him. The aim of the ritual was to ensure a rich harvest of grain in the following year.

14 In the languages of the Near East the letters p and b are frequently interchanged.

15 B. Schmidt, op. cit., p. 62 : E. A. Tsitselis, loc. cit., pp. 420-I, followed by M. Hamilton, Greek Saints, p. I86. In Athens and generally in Old Greece, as Mr. D. P. Petrocochino informs me, a Christmas cake called χριστόψωμο is eaten, but it does not contain a coin.

16 Frazer, The Scapegoat, p. 351.

17 The references are collected in Roscher’s Lexikon, s.v. Kronos, column 1458.

18 Τύραννος (Ol. ii. 24)

19 Convivalia, 317 D.

20 Βασίλη (Roscher, Lexikon, column 1518).

21 Βασίλαι (Pausanias, vi., 20, I, and the inscription published by Roehl, Inscrr. Gr. Ant. (Berlin, 1882), No. 112, p. 39). See also Frazer, The Scapegoat, p. 352, and n. i, and The Golden Bough (900oo), vol. iii., p. 148, and L. R. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, vol. i., p. 27. Farnell considers (op. cit., vol. i., p. 30) that the cult of Kronos was much wider than our scanty records indicate.


Guilt, Depression & The Dobby Effect (LaRae LaBouff)

NOTE: This article is taken from the PsychCentral Blog. The 2007 study referenced is included at the end of the article.

In a 2007 study, researchers found that often people who feel guilty will self-punish by depriving themselves of pleasure or inflicting harm on themselves. They call this The Dobby Effect. For those who have never read the Harry Potter series, Dobby is a magical creature, a house-elf, that is bound by magic to obey his master’s every command. If a house-elf does not obey, they are forced to punish themselves. For example, at various points through the books, Dobby is known to do everything from hit himself in the face to ironing his hands or shutting his ears in the oven door [NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, if the house-elves (i.e. monastic disciples) disobey a command, they are forced to punish themselves with various forms of hardshipOnce, a nun would not stop talking and Geronda Ephraim told her to go sew her mouth shut. She went to her cell, took her sewing kit and sewed her mouth shut. It is unknown if she sterilized the needle first. She came back, showed Geronda Ephraim her mouth sewn shut and he marveled at her precision in obedience. Interestingly, sewing one’s mouth shut is popular among the BDSM community, much like Fr. George Passias’ foot and cake crush fetish].

Sewn shut

At first glance, these actions seem comical. It seems ridiculous that someone would go to such extreme measures as self-mutilation simply because they disobeyed a command. Well, about 1 in 6 people purposefully injure themselves every year, and for reasons much less than disobeying an enchantment. For most, the reason is exaggerated, if there is a reason at all. [NOTE: The Orthodox Church has various saints that have performed extreme measures of self-harm in an attempt to hinder themselves from falling into sin. These acts are lauded as heroic feats pleasing to God. In their hagiographies it is usually noted that after performing such acts of self harm or self-mutilation, God’s grace alleviated the warfare they were experiencing, or removed it altogether. Examples of such extreme measures are (1) St. Benedict, who cast himself into a thorn bush while naked to escape the wily temptation of a woman; (2) St. Martinian of Caesaria who placed his hand in fire in order not to fornicate with a woman. It is interesting to note that many of the holy acts of self-harm found in the Synaxarion are also prevalent in BDSM, and body modification communities].

Temptation of Saint Benedict and Thornbush, Saint Benoit-sur-Loire Abbey, 11th century
Temptation of Saint Benedict and Thornbush, Saint Benoit-sur-Loire Abbey, 11th century.

That’s the problem with depression and guilt. It goes too far. When you feel trapped in your guilt, self-punishment may feel like the only way out. If you can deprive yourself of something for longer, or if you can cause yourself enough pain, then maybe the feeling will go away. [NOTE: In the monasteries, sometimes one’s misdemeanors become like a caste mark on their forehead. Though one is absolved of their misdemeanors, they become their defining characteristic. These disobediences often become the topic of conversation among monastics (this especially occurs when monastics visit other monasteries and gossip/idle talk about such incidents). Like an invisible mark of Cain, a monastic’s misdemeanors can follow them for the rest of their monastic life. This happens via gossip, mockery, forced public confession in front of the group, private shaming, public shaming and/or  repeated rebukes incorporating these things. That is of course, if they aren’t driven from the monastery].

The Mark Of Cain cropped

Many people scoff at self-mutilators, saying they are only seeking attention. I’ve even heard this from physicians. The truth is, physical pain can dissuade feelings of guilt. This is not a new idea. The Catholic church has been condoning the practice of self-flagellation for over 1,000 years. Pope John Paul II was even known to practice it in order to absolve his sins. So if the Pope can do it and be praised for his devotion, why can a teenage girl not be pitied for doing the same for guilt that shouldn’t exist? Even if it is a call for attention, that person needs attention, and your attention could end up saving a life. [NOTE: The practice of self-flagellation seems to have been unknown in Europe until it was adopted by the hermits in the monastic communities of Camoaldoli and Fonte Avellana early in the 11th century. Once invented, the new form of penance spread rapidly until it had become not only a normal feature of monastic life throughout Latin Christendom but the commonest of all penitential techniques. In the 20th century, Elder Joseph the Hesychast incorporated it as a necessary part of daily monastic life in his synodia and claimed, “The cane is the remedy for every passion.” Flagellation was incorporated as a disciplinary measure in the earliest monastic communities, but later fell out of use. Both flagellation and self-flagellation are quite popular in the BDSM community–sadists love to hit and masochists love to be hit]

Young boy being taught by monk to venerate Elder Joseph’s icon on Mount Athos.

If you or someone you know is suffering from self-punishment due to extreme or unnecessary guilt, this is a serious sign of depression, and you should get help. Now is the time to make changes and begin to free yourself from the nagging in your head. [NOTE: In Orthodox Monasticism–also called voluntary imprisonment and slavery by the Church Fathers–the only help offered to a disciple, is frequent frank confession (which in many of the busier monasteries does not happen too often. Confession is supplemented with writing sins/thoughts down on paper, then slipping it under the superior’s door, or placing it in a common box. This box is accessible to other monastics, some who have the private pleasure of reading other peoples’–i.e. lay people or monastics‘–confessions). Confession to a priest, battling one’s thoughts, and the frequent, rapid yelling of the Jesus Prayer in an attempt not to allow any thoughts or images to form in one’s mind, are considered the only true psychotherapy. The belief is that “Orthodox Psychotherapy” is the only practice capable of healing one from guilt, depression and any other mental illness in existence. In some severe cases of mental illness, exorcism prayers will be read over the individual]. 


The Dobby effect

The authors suggest that people subconsciously seek out pain to relieve their guilt. Rob Nelissen at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who wasn’t involved in the study, has previously described a guilt-induced tendency to seek punishment as the “Dobby effect” – named after Harry Potter’s self-punishing house-elf.

He says that self-punishment might relieve guilt by functioning as “a signal by which a transgressor shows remorse to his or her victim when there are no other less painful means available, such as giving a bunch of flowers”.

“In line with this view, excessive forms of self-punishment could be perceived as a consequence of unresolved guilt,” Nelissen adds.

Journal reference: Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1177/0956797610397058


Also see:


Christmas Stories in Christian Apocrypha: The birth of Jesus in the apocryphal gospels (Tony Burke, 2015)

NOTE: This Bible History Daily [Biblical Archaeology Society] article was originally published on December 10, 2014. It has been updated.

The presepio (nativity scene) is a centuries-old craft and one of Naples’s best-known traditions. This Neapolitan presepio was displayed in Rome.

One of the most familiar images of the Christmas season is the nativity scene—the well-known depiction of Jesus’ birth—displayed in an array of public and private settings, including churches, parks, store windows and on fireplace mantles. The scene, first assembled by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223, is iconographic, meaning its various elements are intended primarily to depict theological—not historical, nor even literary—truths. It harmonizes two very distinct stories: Luke’s birth of Jesus in a stable, visited by shepherds, and attended by an angelic host and Matthew’s Magi, who are led by a star to the home of Jesus’ family sometime before Jesus’ second birthday.

To most people viewing the nativity scene, it depicts the birth of Jesus as it happened, with farm animals, shepherds, angels and Magi crowding the Bethlehem stable. But the combination is apocryphal, in the wide sense that the complete scene is not an accurate reflection of what the Biblical texts say about Jesus’ birth and in the narrow sense that such harmonization of Matthew and Luke is a common feature of noncanonical Christian infancy gospels. Actually, these gospels not only combine the Biblical stories, they enhance them, with additional traditions about the birth of Jesus that circulated in antiquity. Of course most Christians throughout history were unaware of this distinction; before widespread literacy, Christians told the story of Jesus’ birth without awareness of which elements were based on Scripture and which were not.

The Christian Apocrypha are rich with tales of the birth of Jesus. The earliest and most well-known of these are the stories found in the Protevangelium (or “Proto-Gospel”) of James. Composed in the late second century, this text combines the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke with other traditions, including stories of the Virgin Mary’s own birth and upbringing. The Protevangelium was exceptionally popular—hundreds of manuscripts of the text exist today in a variety of languages, and it has profoundly influenced Christian liturgy and teachings about Mary. The Protevangelium was transmitted in the West as part of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which added to it tales of the Holy Family’s sojourn in Egypt and, in some manuscripts, stories of Jesus’ childhood taken from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Other Pseudo-Matthew manuscripts incorporate a different telling of Jesus’ birth from an otherwise lost gospel that scholars call the Book about the Birth of the Savior. In the East, the Protevangelium was translated into Syriac and expanded with a different set of stories set in Egypt to form the Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was later translated into Arabic as the Arabic Infancy Gospel. Another Syriac reworking of theProtevangelium lies behind the Armenian Infancy Gospel. Christians in the East also expanded on Matthew’s Magi traditions creating the Revelation of the Magi, the Legend of Aphroditianus, and On the Star (erroneously attributed to Eusebius of Caesarea), each of which in their own way narrates how the Magi became aware that the star heralded the birth of a king.

If readers of these apocryphal texts could see the modern nativity scenes, they would be surprised to find the baby Jesus in a stable: In the infancy gospels, the birth takes place in a cave outside of Bethlehem, the same location given also by Justin Martyr (in his Dialogue with Trypho 78), who died around 165 C.E. They might have expected also to see a midwife in the scene; indeed, she does appear regularly in Eastern Orthodox depictions of the nativity, helping Mary bathe the newborn. As theProtevangelium tells it, Joseph left Mary in the cave and went into Bethlehem to find a midwife. But as Joseph and the midwife approached the cave, they saw a bright cloud overshadowing it. The cloud then disappeared into the cave and a great light appeared, which withdrew and revealed the baby Jesus. Each of the later expansions of the Protevangelium narrate this scene in their own unique way, but they all endeavor to show that Jesus was not born in a natural manner, thus allowing Mary to remain physically a virgin after the birth. So superhuman is Jesus that some texts report that he could be perceived in multiple forms. The Armenian Infancy Gospel, for example, reports that the Magi each saw him in a different way: as the Son of God on a throne, as the Son of Man surrounded by armies, and as a man tortured, dead and resurrected.

The apocryphal accounts agree with Luke that the shepherds visited the Holy Family shortly after Jesus’ birth. In the Western texts, the family then moves from the cave to a stable and places the baby in a manger. There an ox and an ass bend their knees and worship him, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 1:3, “The ox knows it owner, and the donkey its master’s crib” (see Pseudo-Matthew 14 and Birth of the Savior 86). Though an apocryphal embellishment, the animals became a common ingredient in subsequent depictions of the nativity and may be observable in nativity scenes today.

Most often, the cave remains the scene of subsequent events, including the circumcision (from Luke 2:21) and the visit of the Magi. The Magi are typically depicted in art and iconography as three richly-adorned Persian kings. However, Matthew calls them only “magi from the East” (Matthew 2:1) and does not say how many there were. The writers of the apocryphal texts did their best to clarify these matters. In the Revelation of the Magi, there are at least twelve Magi—the same number is given in other Syriac traditions—and they came to Bethlehem in April (not December) from a land in the Far East called “Shir,” perhaps meant to be understood as China. The Armenian Infancy Gospel says there were three kings, and they were accompanied by 12 commanders, each with an army of 1,000 men, which would make for a very crowded stable indeed. Many of the texts continue the story of the Magi and tell what happened when they returned to their home country: In theLife of the Blessed Virgin (=Arabic Infancy Gospel) they bring back one of Jesus’ swaddling bands, which they worship because it has miraculous properties; in the Revelation of the Magi they share the vision-inducing food (some kind of magic mushrooms?) given to them by the star; and in the Legend of Aphroditianus they return with a painting of Jesus and his mother. None of these apocryphal Magi traditions are featured in nativity scenes today, but some of them influenced medieval art and literature.

Christians of all times and places have delighted in the story of Jesus’ birth, so much that they have yearned to learn more about the first Christmas than is found in the Biblical accounts. The Christmas nativity scene is the outcome of efforts by creative and pious writers to fill in blanks left by Matthew and Luke and to combine multiple traditions, Biblical and non-Biblical, into one enduring image. The nativity scene is a timeless representation of when God became man; it is also a testament to human imagination and the art of storytelling.

This small tripartite painting, The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, is part of a massive altarpiece known as the Maestà. Composed of many individual paintings, the Maestà was commissioned by the Italian city of Siena in 1308 from the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna. It contains elements of the birth of Jesus from Christian Apocrypha, including the cave, the ox, the ass and the midwife.

Interested in learning about the birth of Jesus? Learn more about the history of Christmas and the date of Jesus’ birth in the free eBook

NY Christmas Lights

Canadian Nuns Drive 10 Hours to Ohio to Purchase Armageddon Supplies

NOTE: The following article is taken from Lehman’s Country Life. The owner of Lehman Hardware and Appliances Inc., Galen, describes how a couple of nuns from Geronda Ephraim’s monastery in Quebec drove 10 hours to the village of Dalton, Ohio (pop. 1,843) to fill two vans with products “to help when the power leaves them in the dark.” Interestingly, many of these products can be purchased at various locations in Quebec. However, the nuns chose to drive 10 hours to a small village in a different country to pay a higher price (via the exchange rate).



A Visit From The Sisters of Le Troupeau Benit by Galen Lehman


The sisters often sell their foods and other wares at outdoor markets like this one. (L: Sr. Macrina, R: Sr. Theofano)


Last week our store was blessed with an interesting visit by a group of sisters from Quebec, Canada. These ladies live in a Greek Orthodox religious community and apparently use many of our products, as they came prepared with a LONG list of items they needed! The Sisters run a cheese factory called Le Troupeau Benit (The Blessed Flock) where they make and sell cheeses made from their very own sheep and goats.

Our bright, reliable Aladdin lamps will light the way for the sisters when their power goes out ($235 each).

Beth Smith handled the order entry and had many of us running around gathering items for these ladies. They spent most of their day at the store with a short leave in the afternoon for lunch at Mrs Yoder’s Kitchen in nearby Mt. Hope, Ohio. The Customer Service counter was piled so high we finally had to find another place to gather their wares. The items ranged from milk bottles,Aladdin lamps and canned meat, to lamp partscast iron kettleshow-to books and many miscellaneous housewares items.

Our 3-legged cast iron kettles are oil-cured and ready to cook delicious meals outdoors. 7 sizes available at and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Our staff member Roger helped them load up, and in the conversation discovered they live the Lehman’s lifestyle of gardeningcheesemaking and many other self-sufficient skills. They have electricity, but it frequently goes out on them. This trip was to get items to help when the power leaves them in the dark. Hurray for the Aladdin lamp! They had two vans with seats down and loaded all the goods into them, then had a 10-hour drive back home to Quebec.

The sisters live a simple lifestyle and practice self-sufficient skills such as gardening, cheesemaking and keeping livestock such as chickens, sheep and goats.

We were honored and blessed to serve this very special group of sisters, and we thank them for their visit. We hope the products they purchased will be beneficial in aiding their noble ventures!

For more on these intriguing and enterprising women, visit



The Saint Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery Tumblr page makes the following observation:

Are the nuns preparing for the last days?

One wonders: Why these nuns would drive 10 hours out of province and country to purchase items readily available in Quebec? Especially when the Canadian dollar is so low (1 CAD = 0.72453 USD, thus 1,000.00 USD = 1,380.21 CAD; 1,000.00 CAD = 724.53 USD). Not to mention all these items have to be declared at the border, though there are numerous ways to enter Quebec illegally without border checks. The cost of gas for a 20 hour round trip which include tolls, plus food and snack expenses, are also not cheap. Some of the American monasteries along the border have bank accounts in Canada (usually under a trusted pilgrim’s name, or a shell account) and they send up the Canadian dollars they receive in donations to be deposited there. It is unknown if the Canadian monasteries do the same down here for the US dollars they receive from pilgrims.

The few convenient routes from the monastery to the Lehman’s store are still a few hours out of the way from the MI, NY, and PA monasteries that the nuns sometimes visit for feast days, or privately on regular days.

Perhaps they did not want locals of Quebec to be scandalized with the thousands of dollars spent on things which may seem superfluous. Because why pay $30 for an oil lamp at their local hardware store ( when they can drive 10 hours to buy $300 Aladdin Deluxe Brass oil lamps ( One wonders why such fancy, expensive lamps are needed for “when the power goes out?”

In September 1999, some of the heads of the monasteries stayed at St. Nektarios Monastery in New York as a stopover before Archbishop Demetrios’ enthronement (Saturday, September 18, 1999). Due to Hurricane Floyd, the monastery lost it’s power and some of the basements were flooded (this was before Geronda Joseph spent half a million dollars+ on a generator to power the main buildings). Hieromonk Chrysostomos and Father Kassianos went out and purchased regular oil lamps and lamp oil for each room/monastic. If Gerondissa Thekla followed this pattern, then that is around $6,900 (9,523.42 CAD) for the 23 nuns to have their own lamp (compared to the $690 it would have cost them at their local hardware store).  If the nuns purchased lamps for all the different buildings on their property …

The canned meat is also a curiosity since monastics are forbidden to eat meat by the orthodox canons (interestingly, bishops who are also tonsured monastics tend to ignore this canon here). In some cases, out of economia, monastics who are very ill will be given an obedience to eat meat for strength.

It wouldn’t be for the goats. Though goats will eat almost anything, farmers know that you never feed goats meat, meat byproducts, or food prepackaged for your carnivore pet such as dog food or cat food. For the most part it is illegal to feed animal byproducts to any ruminate animals (

Sometimes, out of economia, non-orthodox workers may be served or permitted to eat meat at monasteries during construction. In extreme cases of economia, pilgrims might be given a blessing to hunt on monastery property. In 1999, Geronda Joseph gave Gerasimos Kourkoumelis permission to hunt Canada Geese at St. Nektarios Monastery, NY. This was allowed for a two-fold purpose: 1) to create a bond with Gerasimos and soften him to the church 2) to eliminate the Geese that were destroying the grass and golf turfs of the property.

With the excahnge rate, the canned meat products are more expensive than those sold in Canada.

Who knew the end of the world would be so expensive …


‘Cake porn’ priest defrocked amid kinky affair (Chris Perez, 2015)

NOTE: The following article is taken from the New York Post, November 30, 2015:

The kinky Washington Heights priest who was caught on video engaging in a “cake-crushing’’ fetish with a married church- school administrator has been defrocked, The Post has learned.

The Rev. George Passias, 67, was relieved of his priestly duties after a unanimous vote on Nov. 28 by the Greek Orthodox Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate during its monthly meeting in Istanbul, church officials said. He had been suspended from St. Spyridon Church in September.

In addition, the entire executive board of St. Spyridon was ordered to step down Friday following the fallout over Passias’ pastry love affair with his goddaughter, Ethel Bouzalas, 45, who was principal of the St. Spyridon Parochial School.

Bishop Andonios Paropoulos, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox church in the United States, said the board was asked to step down “not because of any indication of any unethical or illegal actions on their part, but rather as part of an effort to appoint a new board, which will bring healing and reconciliation to a fragmented community, and to restore confidence in the leadership of the parish.”

In September, The Post revealed that Passias and Bouzalas had been engaging in sex acts that involved her seductively sitting on a piece of banana bread — a fetish called “cake crush” or “cake sitting.”


Cake Crush (Fr. George Passias)

Bouzalas is now five months’ pregnant — and she claims the horny holy man is the father, according to The National Herald, a Greek-American daily.

Bouzalas has alleged that Passias urged her to get an abortion, despite that being against the teachings of the Greek Orthodox church.

The priest has denied that claim.

Steve Papadatos, the parish council’s ousted president, told The Post on Sunday that he was taken aback by the timing of the decision to dismantle the church’s executive board, but he said he understood and respected the move.

“Honestly, I hope I’d have a little bit more time, but I’m not completely shocked,” Papadatos explained.

“If they felt it was right thing for the church, I stand by that.

“Did I want to be removed? No, but I understand the situation, and I understand the predicament they were in.”

Additional reporting by Melissa Klein

Proper Attire Highlighted
The monastery dress code isn’t just about “modesty.”

Foot Worship (Fr. George)