Conception of St. John the Baptist

The Conception of St. John the Baptist | Orthodox and Vegan
On the 23rd of September in the Holy Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Conception of the honorable, glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John. From the Synaxarion:

On this day the mercy, miracles and wisdom of God are celebrated: His mercy toward the devout and righteous parents of St. John, the aged Zacharias and Elizabeth, who all their lives had wished for and begged a child from God; His miracle, that of John’s conception in the aged womb of Elizabeth; and His wisdom, in the dispensation of man’s salvation. God had an especially great intention for John: namely, that he be the Prophet and Forerunner of Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world. Through His angels, God announced the births of Isaac to the childless Sarah, Samson to the childless wife of Manoah, and John the Forerunner to the childless Zacharias and Elizabeth. All of these were those for whom He had special intentions, and He foretold their birth through His angels.

Yesterday St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Geneva, NY, shared this brief video for the Feast of the Conception of St. John the Baptist:

Apolytikion of the Conception of St. John the Baptist, Fourth Mode
(to the tune of Be Quick to Anticipate)
Rejoice, O thou barren one who hadst not borne until now * for lo, in all truth thou hast conceived the lamp of the Sun, and he shall send forth his light * over all the earth, which is afflicted with blindness * Dance, O Zacharias, and cry out with great boldness * The one to be born is the blest Prophet of God Most High.

Blessed Feast to you all – see you in nine months for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist! 🙂

Elevation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross

Elevation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross | Orthodox and Vegan
On September 14 in the Holy Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Elevation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, the day the Holy Cross was discovered by Empress Helen (mother of Constantine the Great) in 326 AD on Golgotha. “When the true Cross was identified, it was lifted on high for all the people to see, who then continually sang Kyrie eleison, a practice which is still enacted at current celebrations of this feast.” -OrthodoxWiki

On this day we also commemorate the recovery of the Cross from the Persians. After being stolen from Jerusalem in 614 AD, it was recovered by the Byzantine Empire in 627. On March 21, 630 AD, Emperor Heraclius together with Patriarch Zacharios entered Jerusalem with the Cross where it was solemnly transferred to the Temple of the Resurrection, and held up for veneration by the the Christian faithful.

The Elevation of the Cross, also known as the Exaltation of the Cross, is one of the 12 Great Feasts of the Church, and one of two feasts on which is kept a strict fast (the other is the Beheading of John the Baptist).

Apolytikion of the Holy Cross, First Mode
O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance
Granting to Thy people vict’ry over all their enemies
And by the pow’r of Thy Cross
Preserve Thy Kingdom.

Readings for the Feast

1 Corinthians 1:18-24
Brethren, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35
At that time, when the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid; he entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called the Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King!” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.

But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. Then when Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Today is also the Name Day for those who bear the names Stavroula or Stavros (stavros meaning cross). Many years to all who are celebrating today, and blessed feast of the Elevation of the Precious Cross to all!

Dormition of the Mother of God

Icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God | Orthodox and Vegan
Blessed Feast to those of you celebrating! On August 15 in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Dormition (falling asleep, or repose) of the Mother of God. We also commemorate her bodily translation into heaven.

Unless you’re on the Old Calendar – in that case, the fast just began yesterday and I wish you a good journey. Here’s my quick guide to surviving the two week fast. (Shout out to whomever shared a link to that page on Reddit!)

Evangelistria Marble Church on Tinos in Greece
The Feast of the Dormition is a big day for the Greek island of Tinos, home to Evangelistria (Our Lady of Good Tidings) Church.

This church was built in 1823 after the Theotokos appeared several times to a certain nun, prompting the excavation of a specific area where they found the ruins of an old Byzantine chapel, and below that the foundations of a 4th century edifice that had been dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. An ancient well was also found there, and while the foundation for the new church was being leveled, the workers finally uncovered an icon showing the Archangel Gabriel holding a lily out to the Theotokos, and she kneeling in acceptance of her role in the Incarnation.

Today, the icon is housed in the crypt of the church next to the font. On certain Marian feast days, especially for Dormition, pilgrims flood the island to celebrate Liturgy at Evangelistria, venerate the wonder-working icon, and collect water from the font.

Disembarking at the port [of Tinos], a few 100 metres to the left, a pilgrim is confronted by the second largest street known as the Leoforos Megalochares (the Street of Great Joy) which leads up to the neo-classical church at the top of the steep slope. This street is heavily lined with merchants, on either side, selling ecclesiastical bits and pieces such as oil lamps, replica icons, postcards etc.

It is traditional for many pilgrims to crawl the entire length of this street on their hands and knees, crossing themselves first, as a physical ascetical offering in preparation of meeting the icon of Tinos. This offering should be done in supplication, or thanksgiving for prayers answered or in repentance. – Orthodox Wiki

The red carpet you see going up the stairs leading to the church actually begins at the bottom of the Street of Great Joy – in other words, the bottom of that extremely steep slope, meant to give a little relief to crawling pilgrims (however I felt the carpet and it is very thin!).

Of note: I visited Evangelistria three years ago in June. I hadn’t really looked into the church and didn’t know about the font from the ancient well, and that pilgrims buy little glass bottles from the souvenir shops to collect the water because it is thought to be miraculous. So when I got there and heard about the font, I just stuck my hand in the water. When I returned home from Greece a couple weeks later, I realized a hideous scar that had been on my hand for 21 years was gone (seriously, it was ugly. The skin healed in a weird lump after I accidentally stabbed myself with a pencil). Maybe it was just a coincidence…who knows.

How to Make Prosphora (Bread of Holy Oblation)

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan

Thought I’d update this old recipe and step-by-step instruction for baking Holy Bread (Prosphora) for use in the Orthodox Church, according to the tradition of my Antiochian parish. There are various traditions, so check with your priest and ask his preference. The full recipe is at the bottom.

By the way, what is prosphora??? Prosphora is a Greek word meaning “offering”. Prosphora bread is made for use in the Eucharist in Orthodox Christian churches.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
We use all purpose bleached flour – Yes, it’s OK to use bleached flour, you can read more about that HERE. We use rapid rise yeast, so it isn’t necessary to dissolve it in water before adding it.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Just showing this because I thought the graphic was funny 🙂

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Starting out with 2 C of water

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Looking a little dry. Time for another 2 cups of water, slowly added while the machine is mixing.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
One thing I hate about adding water is the dough starts to separate again, or gets some weird texture and looks like it’s ruined. Every time I added water, I had to step away from the machine because I started having a little panic attack. It seemed like it took forever for the dough to get back to “normal”.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Finally the dough looks okay. It’s smooth and soft, but very firm, not dry. Turn it out into a large floured bowl and cover with plastic wrap so it can rise.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
I like to take pictures of my fist punching the dough, that’s my favorite part.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Now we tear off equal portions to be rolled out, the size will depend on your parish tradition.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
We use a tin to cut a perfect circle – old coffee tins work well.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
We do two layers just like we do with our Artoklasia bread.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Now for the seal. Isn’t this a cute little loaf? It’s made from scraps.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
This is a very clear seal.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Press down very firmly. I like to give it a wiggle, too…but I was also told I had to work FASTER! Or while you’re working on the next loaf, your first loaf might start to puff up and the seal won’t look as awesome.

Orthodox Bread of Holy Oblation

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
He’s good at this.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Poke holes in the corners of the Lamb (the center part of the seal) and in a few places around the edge of the loaf to keep the seal from rising and getting distorted as it bakes. We used a chopstick, but you could use a wooden skewer or toothpick.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
I need to buy some seals of my own. Stamping the bread with a seal is an ancient tradition. St. John Chrysostom, who lived from 347-407, mentioned it in his writings, noting that all the bread was “sealed”. Probably with a cross.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Bake the bread until just barely golden brown. It should sound hollow when you knock on it.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Here’s a finished loaf. Let’s talk abut the meaning of the symbols. I’m just learning this myself, I was told to read The Prothesis from The Order of Preparation for Divine Liturgy from the red service book (I don’t know if there’s some official name for the book, but that’s what we all call it). First, notice the IC XC NIKA in the small squares on the top & bottom, and the large square in the center of the loaf. IC XC NIKA is an abbreviation which means “Jesus Christ conquers.”

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Typically the large center square is the Lamb, cut out and used for Holy Communion. Then the small square on the top is removed in honor of the living, and the one on the bottom in memory of the dead. Then other portions are removed in honor of various other things.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
This triangular piece is for the Theotokos. Theotokos is a Greek word that means God-bearer, or Birth-giver of God. In the year 431, the Council of Ephesus decreed that Mary is Theotokos because her son Jesus is one person who is both God and man, divine and human. So she not only gave birth to his human nature, but also to God Himself.

The Greek letters mu & theta are an abbreviation for “Mother of God.” Looking closely at the triangle, you’ll see it’s formed by kind of stacking the theta on the mu. Hovering on either side are the spear and the sponge (you can see those more clearly on the picture of the seal itself).

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
The 9 small triangles on the right represent the 9 ranks of commemorations:

1. Michael & Gabriel, and all the angels of heaven
2. Baptist John and all the Prophets
3. Apostles
4. Hierarchs
5. Martyrs
6. The Holy Ascetics
7. The Unmercenary Healers
8. Sts. Joachim and Anna, and the saints of the day
9. Saint whose liturgy we celebrate (St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil)

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
And these little guys that fill in the empty spaces are not only ornamental but functional. They keep air bubbles from forming. Neat! But from there, or elsewhere, other portions are removed in honor of the Archbishop, Bishop and every order of clergy.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Each portion is usually cut from a separate loaf, using five loaves total. The remaining bread is used for the antidoron – yet another Greek word, it means “instead of the gifts,” and it is a blessed bread not used for Communion. Customs vary, but generally it’s distributed to anyone present, including non-Orthodox (the lamb being reserved for Orthodox Christians since it’s in the Eucharist). Technically, though, you should not take a piece after Liturgy if you already had one after receiving communion (doesn’t seem like many people keep this rule anymore!) or you at least should not take more than one piece for yourself each time.

Prosphora (Holy Bread) Baking | Orthodox and Vegan
Just in case anyone thought this was fancy sandwich bread 🙂

Prosphora/Holy Bread
5 lbs all purpose bleached flour, plus extra for dusting surface
1 packet quick rapid yeast
1 tsp salt
2 – 5 C warm (mildly hot) water, or as needed

Put 5 pounds of flour, yeast, and salt in large commercial stand mixer bowl. Briefly mix to combine dry ingredients, then add 2 cups mildly hot water and continue mixing. Add water as needed until a soft, but very firm, dough has formed.

Turn dough out into a very large floured bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a draft-free spot until doubled in size – approximately 2 hours.

Preheat commercial convection oven to 325 (you may need to use higher heat for a standard oven). Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper and dust them with flour.

Punch the dough.

Tear off equal portions of dough to roll out on a floured surface, the size will depend on the tradition in your parish. After rolling out the dough, you may choose to use a tin to cut it into a clean circle shape.

If making two-layer bread as we do: Place bottom layers on lined and floured baking sheets.

Wet the top of the bottom layers of dough, one at a time, then place the other layer on top.
(At this point some people let their loaves rise a second time, for about 30 minutes. We didn’t do that, but since we rolled out all the loaves at once, they probably did rise for about 10-15 minutes while they waited to be sealed.)

Dust the loaf tops lightly with flour, and be sure to flour your seal regularly between loaves.
Press the seal down very firmly, giving it a gentle wiggle during release.

Poke holes in the corners of the Lamb (the center part of the seal) and in a few places around the edge of the loaf to keep the seal from rising and getting distorted as it bakes. We used a chopstick, but you could use a wooden skewer or toothpick.

The bread should be a light golden brown (very light). Knock on the bread to see if it sounds hollow. If so, the bread should be done. Allow it to cool on racks.

After our bread is cooled we bag it up in very large freezer bags, 2 loaves to a bag, and they’ll keep in the freezer for several weeks. Let the loaves thaw overnight at room temperature (although you can defrost in the microwave in an emergency).

Angelic Powers Exalt You

Angelic Powers Exalt You: Orthodox Quotes & Prayers | Orthodox and Vegan

Around Your throne in heaven
angelic powers exalt you
with ceaseless hymns
and unending songs of praise;
so may Your praise be ever on our lips
that we may proclaim
the greatness of Your holy Name.
Grant that we may
share in the inheritance You have promised us,
together with all those who hear You, who walk in
Your truth
and obey Your commandments;
we ask this
through the mediation of the holy Mother of God
and all the saints.

Through the great goodness
of your only-begotten Son
who with you and your most Holy
and life-giving Spirit
is to be praised
now and for ever,
to the ages of ages. Amen.

-Sunset Prayer from Praying with the Orthodox Tradition from an 8th century codex,

Be Attentive

On Ascetic Labors, by St. Gregory Palamas | Orthodox Quotes at Orthodox and Vegan
“The attentive person can do much more for himself and within himself: first of all, he can draw God’s attention, God’s love, God’s grace. Saint Symeon the New Theologian says that one must struggle, pray, weep, repent, and undertake ascetic labors – but all the while recognizing that it is not ascetic struggles that save us, but attention, God’s eyes, which see us in this spiritual disposition and condition. It is He, the Lord, Who saves us. Through one’s ascetic struggles one simply demonstrates that one desires salvation and that one is disposing oneself to it, that is, that one is attentive to it.”

-From The Heart is Deep: St. Gregory Palamas and the Essence of Hesychasm by Bishop Atanasije (Jevtic)

Merciful Heart: St. Isaac the Syrian

Orthodox Quotes from Orthodox and Vegan

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in the like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God. – St. Isaac the Syrian

True Freedom: St. Philaret of Moscow

St. Philaret of Moscow: True Freedom | Orthodox Quotes from Orthodox and Vegan

True freedom is the active ability of a man who is not enslaved to sin, who is not pricked by a condemning conscience, to choose the better in the light of God’s truth, and to bring it into actuality with the help of the gracious power of God. This is the freedom of which neither heaven nor earth can restrict.”

-St. Philaret of Moscow

Happy Independence Day to all my friends in the US!

16 Things Orthodox Christians Should Avoid

Avoid This Demonic Toxicity

16 Things Orthodox Christians Should Avoid - St. Tikhon -

Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk & Friends 16 Things Orthodox Christians Should Avoid

1. Vain Thoughts
“Humility consists in considering oneself to be nothing in all circumstances, cutting off one’s will in all things, accusing oneself of everything, and bearing without confusion that which befalls him from without. Such is true humility, in which vainglory finds no place.”
– St. John the Prophet

2. Remembering Evil
“Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sins, hatred of righteousness, ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind, shame of prayer, stopping of supplication, estrangement of love, a nail stuck in the soul, pleasureless feeling beloved in the sweetness of bitterness, continuous sin, unsleeping transgression, hourly malice.”
– St. John Climacus

3. Evil Desire
4. Bad Sights
5. Vanity
6. Vile Songs
7. Slanderous Whispers
“He who wants to overcome the spirit of slander should not ascribe the blame to the person who falls, but to the demon who suggests it. For no one really wants to sin against God, even though we all sin without being forced to do so.”
– St. John Climacus

8. Condemnation
9. Blasphemy
16 Things Orthodox Christians Should Avoid - St. Tikhon -
12. Foul Language
13. Every Idle and Rotten Word
14. Killing
15. Stealing
16. Evil Deeds

If you can avoid these 16 sins, you may find your path to theosis rewarding, triumphant, and meaningful!

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

On June 29 in the Holy Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Glorious Apostles (that also means the Apostles’ Fast has ended – this year, thanks to a late Pascha, it only lasted two days!). A couple years ago when we were unable to have a Liturgy due to the priest being away at the Parish Life Conference, we celebrated the Typica and one of our deacons read to us an article by the Archpriest Steven Rogers from The Word Magazine, originally published in 1999. Below is my favorite part:

He will make us who we are supposed to be

Seen together, Saints Peter and Paul teach us a great lesson — that no matter who we are — no matter our backgrounds, our talents, our station in life — if we offer who we are completely to God, He will make us who we are supposed to be. If we offer ourselves completely to God — both our abilities and our limitations — He can and will use us to the glory of His kingdom. If we offer ourselves completely, whether we are a simple fisherman or a towering intellectual, the world will see God within us.

God created us who we are and He came into the world to make us all we can be. Peter continued to be Peter and Paul continued to be Paul, but it was Christ within them that made them into all that God desired them to be.

And so it is with us. If we offer ourselves to God with all our strengths and weaknesses, He will use us to the glory of his Kingdom. As we, the Church of Antioch, gather together to celebrate the feast of our beloved Apostles Peter and Paul, those “luminaries to those in darkness, two rays of the sun,” let us commit ourselves to give all that we are to God as they did, so that like them, we may radiate the love of God into a cold and unbelieving world.

Let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.

Blessed Feast of Saints Peter and Paul!