It has always been an honor to be named after St. Basil.  Known for his generosity and care for the poor, St. Basil was also a brilliant theologian.  St. Basil the Great lived during the Fourth Century and was one of the most favored and respected bishop saints in the Orthodox Church, so much so that he is remembered with two feast days: January 1st on his name day (the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord) and January 30th along with St. Gregory and St. John Chrysostom, on the feast of the Three Hierarchs.

I could write about his brilliant defense against Arianism, or his establishment of monastic rules of work and prayer.  Maybe his care for the widowed and the building of hospitals and orphanages would interest you.  Perhaps his holy family and saintly friends would pique your interest.  He also established one of three liturgical services that is still celebrated 10 times a year: the first five Sundays of Great Lent, the Eves of Nativity and Theophany, Great and Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday, and on the Feast of Saint Basil. And I am sure you know of the majestic cathedral in Moscow dedicated to him.

But I think one of his most important teachings is that in Orthodoxy, we do not believe in Sola Scriptura.  We have to respect and defend the faith and her oral and written traditions.

There is a Greek custom where gifts are exchanged on January 1st in honor of St. Basil’s generosity, instead of on December 25th with St. Nicholas or Santa in celebration of Christ’s birth.  And with the January 1st tradition, there is a cake or bread made in St. Basil’s honor with a coin hidden inside to remember his generosity.

Vasilopita Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In medium bowl, combine 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted, and 4 ¼ teaspoons baking powder. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream 2 cups granulated sugar and 1 cup softened unsalted butter for 5 minutes.


Add 12 eggs, one at a time.  Eggs must be at room temperature, or they will chill the butter and it will clump.

Mixing 2

Mix in 1t vanilla, juice of 1 orange and ½ lemon, orange and lemon rind, 3t brandy.


Then slowly add flour/baking powder mixture.

Add to mix

Mix well for 15 minutes.

Line a round 15-inch pan with parchment paper or oil, and pour batter into pan.  Drop in a foil lined coin (or you can insert one when the cake is finished.)


You can decorate the cake top with slivered almonds or sesame seeds.  I like using chopsticks and writing out the year.


Bake for 45-60 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Keep an eye on the oven… my cake was a little over cooked.

Finished product

When the family has gathered for the New Year, the head of the house makes the sign of the cross three times over the bread with the cutting knife, saying, “In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  Then it is time to cut the cake.

Traditionally, the first piece is cut for Christ and His church.  The second piece is for St. Basil, and the third piece is for the household.  Then a piece of cake is cut for each person present, hoping to find the hidden coin.

The coin is in remembrance of St. Basil’s generosity.  Tradition tells us that to maintain the pauper’s dignity, St. Basil would place money in baked goods and offer the poor people a cake or loaf of bread with coins baked inside.  Although we don’t believe in luck, it is said that the person who receives the coin will be blessed all year long, (or at least be a quarter richer.)

Holy St. Basil, intercede for us.

Apolytikion of Basil the Great in the First Tone

Your voice resounded throughout the world that received your word by which, in godly manner, you taught dogma, clarified the nature of beings, and set in order the character of people. Venerable father, Royal Priesthood, intercede to Christ God to grant us great mercy.

About author

Presvytera Vassi Haros

Presvytera Vassi Makris Haros is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Art, Architecture & Planning and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. She is the owner, designer and photographer of V’s Cardbox, In Service and Love. a greeting card company featuring cards with an Orthodox voice. She strongly feels that experiencing the Orthodox Faith through the church’s cyclical calendar of feasts and fasts is a gift that is too often overlooked.