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Die to self to rise anew

A Commentary by Constance Vanides

Just as an old year comes to a close, the tradition in my family has been to make New Year’s bread. Called “Vasilópeta” in Greek, this sweet raised bread is flavored with mastícha, providing the bread’s distinctive flavor.

Mastícha is a resin tapped from the lentil bush (Pistachio Lentiscus) found only on the island of Chios in the Aegean Sea. This amber-colored sap solidifies, is collected and ready to be ground into powder and added to the prepared sweet bread dough.

But the main focus of Vasilópeta is the addition of a dime, or any other small coin, washed and wrapped in foil, and kneaded into the second rising of the bread. The coin is nowhere to be seen as the blanched almond and sesame-decorated bread is placed into the oven. The fragrance of bread baking fills a home preparing to celebrate the Day of St. Basil (Ayios Vasilios), harbinger of the New Year and bringer of gifts.

The family meanwhile, waits until midnight, when the Vasilópeta is to be cut for the New Year to find in whose slice the coin will appear. Blessed indeed for the New Year will be that one who finds the coin in his piece!

Yes, Vasilópeta is delicious, and its slicing brings a time of anticipation and fun. As Christians, however, we know enough not to rely on the finding of a coin in order to receive any of God’s blessings. He is always ready to give more than we ever can ask for!

    “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”
    (Ephesians 3:20, 21)

To get ready for a New Year, the only preparations all believers need are those of their hearts. We follow the prophet Isaiah’s words,

    “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing. Now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert…to give drink to My people, My chosen.” (Isaiah 43:18-20)

And the “drink” comes from no one else but Jesus, Himself!

    “…whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13, 14)

What heart preparation then do we need? “Set your mind on things above not on things on the earth.” are Paul’s instructions. “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him…” (Colossians 3:2, 3, 9)

More from the prophet Amos, who told the Israelites the same thing we are told today, “Seek Me and live…Seek the LORD and live…Seek good and not evil, that you may live…Hate evil, love good” (Amos 5:4, 6, 14, 15)

The ingredients of preparing our lives are like those which make up a loaf of New Year’s bread: time-honored and tested, the finest you have to offer, prepared as unto the Lord, with a particular fragrance included to be pleasing and honoring to Him alone. A Blessed New Year!

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© Constance Vanides