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Phronema is a Greek term that is used in Orthodox theology to refer to mindset or outlook; it is the Orthodox mind. The attaining of phronema is a matter of practicing the correct faith (orthodoxia) in the correct manner (orthopraxia). Attaining phronema is regarded as the first step toward theosis, the state of glorification.

Fasting in the Orthodox Church

 Orthodox Rules for Fasting

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that should be exercised to some extent by the faithful people of God. This spiritual discipline is abstaining from certain kinds of foods on designated days of year. The foods that the Church calls us to fast from vary throughout the year, depending on the situation and referring to a fasting calendar may help . Fasting is not merely a rule that we must follow but a discipline that we enter into that should be partnered with prayer, almsgiving and confession, to prepare the entirety of our humanity, body and soul, for the celebration of the approaching feast or celebration.

The Church calls us to have a strict fast on most Wednesdays and Fridays, Holy Week, Exaltation of the Cross (September 14th), the 2nd portion of the Nativity Fast, Eve of Epiphany (January 5th), during Great Lent, and during the Dormition Fast (August 1-15). A strict fast consists of fasting from meat, fish with a backbone (which allows shellfish), eggs and dairy products (food produced from the milk of mammals), olive oil and wine. Sometimes the last two items of olive oil and wine also are taken to mean any oil (vegetable, corn, etc.) and wine to mean any alcohol (though I have been told that beer is allowable, in some Slavic traditions, but just like throughout the year, not in excess).

Depending on when a minor or major feast falls, fasting can be alleviated. We see a lift of all fasting from the Nativity (December 25th) to the Eve of Epiphany (January 5th); the week following the Publican and the Pharisee, from Pascha to Thomas Sunday, and from Pentecost to All-Saints day. If the following feast days land on typical strict fasting day Fish will be allowed, these feasts are Birth of the Theotokos (September 8th), Meeting of the Theotokos to the Temple (November 21st), Meeting of Christ to the Temple (February 2nd), Annunciation (March 25th), Palm Sunday, Transfiguration (August 6th) and Dormition (August 15th). Four of these feasts are perpetually during a fasting period—Meeting of the Theotokos to the Temple, Annunciation, Palm Sunday and Transfiguration—so these days are always fish allowed days, every year. Another special type of an alleviation of fasting occurs only during “Cheesefare Week” or the week before Great Lent, in which dairy, eggs, and fish are allowed throughout. Lastly, if a great saint’s feast falls on a fasting day or if it is a Saturday or Sunday (besides the Great and Holy Saturday), then we are to allow wine and oil on those days.

Though this prescription may seem tough, I think it is within our means to try with the guidance and blessing of a spiritual father (yes, not only should we fast, but we should also have a guide on our way). I have seen children fast not only stricter than myself, but with more zeal and faith. It is possible to fast and it is not pointless that the Church has created fasting as a means toward spiritual growth. I, and most-likely your spiritual father, would suggest to start small, like maybe fasting from meat twice a week throughout the year, every year adding an added something to be challenging.

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Prosforo or The Offering

What is Prosforo in the Greek Orthodox Church?

Many times we take for granted the bread that not only is part of communion but also the antidoron that is given after the service is over. Prosforo, the name given to the bread that is offered, is Greek meaning “the offering.” We make the mistake that it is the Church’s offering to us for showing up. It is actually supposed to be our offering, but unfortunately only a couple people actually take on this task of offering up the bread. We have our groups of yiayias who made bread not only for the 52 Sundays of the year, but also for numerous weekday liturgies too.

So if we wanted to begin to make the prosforo, what will we need to make it stand out over other breads? The answer is the “Seal.” This seal is circle that circumscribes a cross. The cross is broken into 5 squares. The middle, top and bottom squares have a smaller cross on it with the inscription in the four corners of the square, IC XC – NI KA, which means “Jesus Christ Conquers.” The seal is important for the liturgy as it gives the priest the ability to have the entire Church represented in the Body of Christ. The Lamb, the centerpiece is what represents our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and this portion is cut out first during the Proskomide service. The Proskomide service is done before liturgy and typically during Orthros. To the right-hand side of the Lamb (to us the left side), we find a triangle for the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary.

To the left-hand side of the Lamb, we find 9 small triangles representing the 9 orders of saints–St. John the Baptist, the Prophets, the Apostles, the Holy Hierarchs, the Martyrs, the Holy Monastics, the Unmercinaries, the Ancestors of God and saint of the Church, and lastly the saint whose liturgy we celebrate (St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. James and so on). Then a small triangle is cut, not from inside the sealed area, which represents the Bishop whom the liturgy is presided over, followed by crumbs for all the living and all the dead remembered. As we can see, the prosforo ends up bringing us all together (Christ, Theotokos, Saints, Bishop, Living and Dead) and the Holy Spirit makes us into the Body of Christ.

Making the bread is not a big secret, as you can find recipes by just Googling “prosforo recipe.” In our modern day we are so removed from the understanding of nature that our forefathers had. We can go to the grocery and get the flour, turn on the faucet for water, get salt out of the pantry, and we have yeast ready to go, in individual sized pouches nonetheless. What we fail to understand is that prosforo was a real offering of time and concentration and sacrifice. The grain needed planted and tended to, then picked and crushed, the water needed to be carried from the well, the yeast needed to be naturally cultivated, and the wood needed cut to be able to “bake” the prosforo. We take God’s creation, mold it into our own “creation,” different than it was before, and give it to God as an offering, and he in turn gives it back to us as the Body of Christ. We are called the Priests of Creation and we are the connection between the Creation and the Creator.

Vasilopita or St Basil's cake

About the New Year’s Tradition of Vasilopita


Vasilopita is one of the most prominent Greek traditions on New Year’s Day. It is a sweet, bread-like cake that is only made for New Year’s and is only eaten on New Year’s Day. Recipes for this cake differ depending on the family or the region of Greece but in general, it involves flour, eggs, butter, and sugar and is usually finished with a sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar. Here’s more information about this important Greek ritual:

All About the Vasilopita Tradition

At some point during the first day of January, mostly commonly within the first minute of the year, a family will cut the vasilopita with two slices, making a cross, in order to bring luck and blessings to the home. The trinket is inserted into the dough prior to baking it. The cake is then divvied up so that every family member and guest receives a slice, with the recipients lining up from oldest to youngest.

No one is allowed to look at their piece until everyone is given their piece. Then, once the server or the head of the household gives his or her okay, everyone checks to see if they found the coin. The type of coin contained within the cake varies depending on what’s available. Some cakes have gold coins, others have smaller pieces of change. The type of coin doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the coin is in the cake.

The cake is not only served in Greek households, but also in organizations. For instance, churches often distribute pieces of vasilopita to parishioners who are active in the church for various reasons, such as the choir director. Vasilopita is often used as a fundraiser, where people pay for a piece of cake in order to benefit charity.

History of Vasilopita

The history of vasilopita can be traced back to the ancient festivals of Kronia and Saturnalia and is connected to a legend of Saint Basil. It is said that he implored the citizens of Cesarea, the place where he was from, to raise money in order to stop a siege. Each citizen was to give whatever they had in the form of coins or jewelry. When the ransom was handed to the siege, those who organized the siege were so shamed by the collective generosity that the siege was cancelled. When Saint Basil attempted to return the valuables to every Caesarean only to realize there was no way to distinguish how to distribute the funds back to the people. To solve this problem, he baked the coins and jewelry into bread and then distributed it all back to the people in that way.

In honor of Saint Basil, or Agios Vasilios, people bake this bread every year. The tradition has evolved from the original story and now whoever finds the coin is said to have good luck for the rest of the year. 

The role of oil in the church

Oil today plays an essential role in our lives, but mostly behind the scenes, whether it’s lubricating the gears in our cars, cooking our French Fries, used as fuel, or whatever else. Even though oil is prominent in today’s culture, it was even more important to our ancestors. Because the oil was essential to life, especially in the Mediterranean, the Church naturally takes it and uses it and transforms it from merely about this life, but about our life after death.

In an Orthodox Life, the first time we encounter oil is at the entry into the Body of Christ and Church, the Baptism. This first oil used is called the Oil of Gladness, which is typically just some olive oil bought from the grocery store. This is the oil that the Godparent will hold in his hands. The Priest takes some of the oil in on his fingers and anoints the following areas of the person being baptized (depending on local tradition): forehead, chest, ears, mouth, nose, hands, knees, feet, and back. Next the sponsor will cover the person being baptized from head to toe in the remainder of the oil. This is done because we are preparing the new initiate to be ready for the battle that is their spiritual life. In Greco-Roman times, wrestlers would be covered in oil so that they could be slippery to the hands of their foe, and the Church is making the same statement, be slippery from the clutches of Satan.

Later in our modern baptism service, we find the Chrismation. This is a specific oil, unlike the oil of gladness, which is made by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (some other Archbishops and Patriarchs make their own, but much of the Orthodox World goes through the Ecumenical Patriarch). This oil is applied by the priest to all the same spots the oil of gladness was, saying “The Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit,” each time. This Chrism or Myrrh is a mystery (or sacrament) and unites us with the Holy Spirit and the Church.

Another form of oil we find on a regular basis in the Church is they Mystery of Holy Unction. This is oil that is blessed for healing of body and soul. Many people are confused that this is similar to the oil that many know as the Oil of Last Rights, which we don’t have in our Church, but it is for the healing of body and soul. Unction is a mystery and that is why there are some strong feelings to whether or not you should take unction home to anoint others. My opinion on that matter would be to either a) take those you want anointed to Church, b) tell your priest if you have a “shut-in” at your home or elsewhere, and c) if they cannot attend, find a day when they can, and let the priest know (most priests I know keep the unction for hospital visits and such).

Miraculous Myrrh is a fragrant oily substance that miraculously has been found to come forth from certain icons or holy relics. From my understanding, these oils can be used to anoint anyone.

Lastly, there is also a tradition of taking oil from lamps near icons or relics and blessing yourself with it as a way to ask for the saint’s intercessions to God for healing.

Kollyva or boiled wheat

The Significance of Koliva in the Greek Orthodox Church

Koliva is boiled wheat with (depending on the recipe) a combination of some or all of the following ingredients: powdered sugar, almonds, ground walnuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon, pomegranate seeds, raisins, anise, parsley and more. Koliva is made for memorials, typically on Saturdays of the Souls, and according to different traditions, the day of a Funeral, the 40th day after death, 3rd month, 6th month, 9th month, annually, and even sometimes just on “big” anniversaries only, such as 5 years, 10 years, etc. Though I have never seen the funeral day Koliva, I have heard that it has no sweetness added, so it is very bitter, somewhat fitting for the funeral, and then sweetness is added beginning with the 40th day.

In John’s Gospel we find this quote, “Christ said, ‘Unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’” (John 12:24) As Orthodox Christians we are awaiting the 2nd Coming and the General Resurrection of the dead, through Christ we have Life! But, remembering the memory of our deceased beloved ones is an opportunity to pray for the souls of the departed as well as a way to help us heal from the death.

Koliva is an important part for the beginning of Lent. The first Saturday of Lent and the previous two Saturdays leading up to it are called the Saturdays of the Souls. Saturday, year round, is a remembrance of the dead, but these particular Saturdays the remembrance is intensified. According to tradition, Koliva is connected to Lent because of a miracle from St. Theodore the Tyro. In the 4th Century AD, Emperor Julian the Apostate knew that Christians would be hungry after the first week of strict fasting, which would make them go to the markets in Constantinople to buy food. Emperor Julian ordered blood from pagan sacrifices to be sprinkled on the food that was sold there, trying to force the Christians to paganism. St. Theodore the Tyro, who had died in the early 300’s, appeared to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Eudoxios, in a dream, telling him that Christians should just boil wheat from their homes and sweeten it with honey, to avoid the polluted foods at the market.

Much like prosforo, a few people nowadays only make koliva, typically older ladies who usually have some time honoured family recipes and sometimes one pays for the cake to be made for a family. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, how much better would it be for the family members of the deceased to take time out of their busy life to not only prepare the koliva, but to offer their time in a prayerful manner to their beloved? The process of boiling the wheat takes a long time, as well as drying the wheat after it is boiled to the right doneness, so making koliva is not something that is quick and painless, but rather takes your time and attention. 

On the orthodox life

Jonathan Jackson:
“The tragedy of separating the sacred from the secular is that we stole God away from the world, we took God out of the world and we put Him only in churches. So what happens in society........? The Fathers of the Church taught that the whole world is a sacrament, the whole world is meant to be sanctified and brought into unity and oneness…
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