Venerable Cosmas the Desert Dweller

On September 22 in the Holy Orthodox Church we commemorate the Venerable Saint Cosmas, the Desert Dweller, who reposed in the year 1323.

St. Cosmas the Desert Dweller | Orthodox and Vegan

“Saint Cosmas came from Bulgaria where his devout parents provided him with a good education in Slavonic and Greek. They wanted him to marry but he was drawn by the love of Christ and, unknown to them, made his way to the Holy Mountain of Athos to become a monk at the Bulgarian monastery of Zographou. On the feast of the Annunciation at the Monastery of Vatopedi, he saw a woman among those serving in the Church and in the refectory, and he was grieved at first to observe this breach of the monastic rule, but overjoyed when he realized that it was the Mother of God who had appeared to him in this way.

He was clothed in the holy angelic Habit and, after some time, was ordained priest. One day, as he was praying before the icon of the Mother of God, asking her with tears how to achieve his salvation, he heard a voice saying, ‘Let my servant withdraw to the desert outside the monastery.’ He was obedient to the will of God and, with the blessing of his Abbot, lived in silence from then on. Some years later, he was found worthy of the grace of discernment of thoughts and of beholding things happening elsewhere, as well as of other spiritual gifts. In the course of many years, he was the spiritual helper of a great number of monks.

St. Cosmas the Desert Dweller, Zographou Monastery on Athos | Orthodox and Vegan

The monastery of Zographou on Mt. Athos, where St. Cosmas once lived, is still in use today.

At the end of his life, Christ appeared to him saying that he would shortly have a great trial to endure from the Devil. Indeed, the prince of demons made his appearance next day with a host of his servants bewailing and bemoaning their inability to annihilate their great enemy Cosmas, who had held them in check for so long and gained possession, by his virtue, of the throne in Heaven that had once been Lucifer’s. Taking a heavy stick, the demon beat the Saint so violently that he left him half-dead.

Saint Cosmas died in peace two days later, on 22 September 1323. When the fathers came from the monastery to bury him, the wild animals gathered around. They kept silent until the end of the service, but howled unusually loud as his body was covered with earth. Then having paid their respects, they made off into the wilderness. Forty days later, the monks came to take up the body of Saint Cosmas and translate it to the monastery, but it was no longer in the grave. Where it now is God alone knows.”

Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos

On September 8 in the Holy Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Nativity of the Theotokos (the birth of Mary, the mother of God). It is one of the 12 great feasts of the Church year.

Icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos | Orthodox and Vegan

Read about this icon at A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons

In answer to their prayers, Mary was born to an elderly couple named Joachim and Anna who had previously been barren.

Excerpts from the Old Testament readings of the Vespers service for the feast:

“Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. . . “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Genesis 28:10-17)

“Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut. And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.” (Ezekiel 43:27-44:4)

“Wisdom has built her house.” (Proverbs 9:1-11)

Additional readings for the feast:
Matins Gospel: Luke 1:39-49, 56
Epistle: Philippians 2:5-11
Gospel: Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28

Apolytikion of the Birth of the Theotokos in Fourth Mode
Thy Nativity, O Theotokos, hath proclaimed joy to the whole world
For from thee hath dawned the Son of Righteousness, Christ our God
Annulling the curse and bestowing the blessing
Abolishing death and granting us life everlasting

Blessed Feast to everyone celebrating today!

Happy Ecclesiastical New Year :D 2017

On September 1 in the Holy Orthodox Church, we celebrate the Ecclesiastical New Year, or Indiction. According to Holy Tradition, Christ entered the synagogue on September 1 to announce His mission to mankind (Luke 4:16-22). Quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 the Savior proclaimed, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me; because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to proclaim release to captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord…”

Orthodox Indiction Icon | Orthodox Christian New Year

“O Word of the Father from before the ages, Who, being in the form of God, broughtest creation into being out of nothing; Thou Who hast put the times and seasons in Thine own power: Bless the crown of the year with Thy goodness; give peace unto Thy churches, victory unto Thy faithful hierarchs, fruitfulness unto the earth, and Great Mercy unto us.”

+Orthros of the Feast, Tone 3

What are your resolutions for the new year? One of mine is to start posting here again regularly!!!

Feast of the Presentation of our Lord into the Temple

Orthodox Icon: Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ into the Temple | Orthodox and Vegan
On February 2 in the Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Presentation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into the Temple, also known as The Meeting of our Lord, and the Feast of Lights. This takes place on the 40th day following Nativity.

According to ancient Jewish religious practices, as set down by the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12-15), a period of 40 days from the birth of an infant must pass before the mother and child could enter the Temple in Jerusalem. This 40 day period allowed the mother of a newly born infant to recover from her pregnancy, become well acquainted with her child, settle into her new role and routine, and subsequently be excused from her religious duties. Furthermore it was the time allocated by the Mosaic Law (Lev. 12:2-4) in which a mother and child would undergo the process of “purification”[4] (spiritual preparation), so that the two could present themselves within the Temple, with the mother reassuming her religious obligations, while the infant being initiated into Jewish religious life. – Mode of Life

This feast has been celebrated by Christians since at least the 4th century, as attested to by a homily written for the occasion by Bishop Methodius of Patara who died in 312. It is also mentioned in the Pilgrimage of Egeria:

But certainly the Feast of the Purification is celebrated here with the greatest honour. On this day there is a procession to the Anastasis; all go in procession, and all things are done in order with great joy, just as at Easter. All the priests preach, and also the bishop, always treating of that passage of the Gospel where, on the fortieth day, Joseph and Mary brought the Lord into the Temple, and Simeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Famuhel, saw Him, and of the words which they said when they saw the Lord, and of the offerings which the parents presented. And when all things have been celebrated in order as is customary, the sacrament is administered, and so the people are dismissed.

In the Orthodox Church, it is still customary for a mother and child to be churched on the 40th day.

Hate taking down your Christmas decorations? While many Christians put away Christmas decorations on the 12th Day of Christmas (which is the 12th day after Christmas), it is also customary to wait until this 40th day. Thus, it would also be appropriate to listen to Christmas music up to this point.

Don’t Forget to Leave Your Shoes Out for St. Nicholas Tonight!

St. Nicholas Almsgiving Icon

St. Nicholas brings a dowry in secret

Tomorrow (December 6) is the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia in the 4th century. Known for generously giving to those in need, over the years his image evolved (devolved) from that of a saintly bishop, to a gift-giver to children, to a fat little rosy-cheeked imp from the North Pole, jumping down the chimney to deliver presents on Christmas Day.

I don’t really have a problem with having fun with the imaginary Santa Claus, but since he is so far removed from St. Nicholas now I’m glad the Orthodox Church remembers the real man – in fact, he is one of the most popular Orthodox Saints, and the patron saint of my parish. Not only was he very generous, he is also remembered for punching Arius during the Council of Nicea. If you want to know more about the, um, rugged side of St. Nicholas, check out this interesting video I just saw today for the first time!

Celebrate St. Nicholas Day

If you would like celebrate St. Nicholas Day with your family, here are a couple simple and fun ideas:

1. Have the kids leave their shoes outside their bedroom doors tonight. When they’re asleep, slip a few coins in the shoes along with a special treat.

2. Give a gift to someone in need. You could leave anonymous gifts for each other, or for neighbors, family or friends. You could also make care packages for the homeless in your area (great items to include are warm socks, baby wipes, lip balm, band aids, tissues, and a gift card for food).

3. Punch a heretic. …just kidding 🙂

Nativity Fast 2016 Begins Tuesday, November 15 (Tomorrow!)

Orthodox Icon of the Nativity of Christ | Orthodox and Vegan
Hey guys! In case you missed it earlier, my Nativity Fast page is active again with fasting guidelines and meal ideas. I’ll have it up all throughout the fast in case you need to reference it. I also wanted to share a few links for Lenten staples, some are my own recipes and others I found for you on other vegan websites. Check these out:

Oat Milk Use on cold cereals for breakfast
Coconut Milk Cheese Use for sandwiches, quesadillas, or melt it down for a cheesy sauce (I’ve found great prices on coconut milk and agar powder at Asian markets)
Veggie Lunch Meat For school lunches, or a great addition to hummus wraps
Crusty Bread Great with soup – or for a special treat, spread with peanut butter when the bread is fresh from the oven
Banana Chocolate Ice Cream

There’s always my guide to Ordering Vegan at Taco Bell if you’re in a pinch 🙂

I also recommend buying a giant bag of potatoes and baking a dozen or so at a time. Keep the potatoes in the fridge so they’re ready when you need something quick. You can nuke them in the microwave, and they’ll be great topped with a tahini sauce (or margarine/olive oil on an oil day).

Chia Pudding!
You can also make an interesting treat with chia seeds. If you make the sweetened version of the oat milk with vanilla, combine 1 1/4 C oat milk with 1/4 chia seeds and let it set in the fridge for 30 minutes. Stir again and let sit another 1 1/2 hours and you will have a delicious pudding. Make it banana flavored simply by adding some mashed banana.

Of course I’ll be sharing recipes with you during the next few weeks, and doing my regular What I Ate Wednesday posts. If you want to take a look at past WIAW posts, be sure to check out What Vegans Eat.

And as always, post any comments or questions and I’ll do my best to help!

Happy Fasting!!!!

St. Demetrios Cake

Myrrh Streaming Relics of St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki
The holy, glorious and right-victorious Great-Martyr Demetrios of Thessaloniki, whose memory we commemorate on October 26, is one of the most popular Orthodox saints, and a myrrh-streamer. He is special to me because I venerated his relics in Agios Demetrios Church in Thessaloniki, and later was gifted with some of the sweet-smelling myrrh that streams from those relics. I keep the myrrh in a little pouch in my purse – which, by the way, makes everything in my purse smell wonderful – in case an emergency anointing is ever necessary. You just never know.

St. Demetrios Cake | Orthodox and Vegan
Well, since we have Phanouropita for St. Phanourios, I thought it would be nice to have a special cake for St. Demetrios. I’m not sure if it’s proper to call it a Demetriopita, so we’ll just call it St. Demetrius Cake 🙂 I created this recipe for the Feast Day of St. Demetrios, but like Phanouropita, I think it would be nice to make any time of year when you’re asking for special intercessions from St. Demetrios, or when there’s been a miracle through his prayers or through anointing with his myrrh oil.

I’ve adapted a recipe for olive oil cake since St. Demetrios is a myrrh streamer. The blueberries I like because, besides tasting wonderful, St. Demetrios is a Great Martyr and the purple color reminds me of the line from the apolytikion for All Saints, “Adorned with the blood of Thy Martyrs throughout all the world as in purple and fine linen. . .” The cinnamon is very faint, just enough to give this simple Lenten cake a little warmth and depth. Feel free to double the amount if you really love cinnamon.

A couple notes about the St. Demetrios cake:
-Since blueberries are out of season here this time of year (and also because…purple swirls), I’ve been using frozen. I let them thaw first, which means there is a lot of extra liquid. Because of this, I cut down by 1/4 C the amount of liquid in the original recipe. If you’re using fresh blueberries, you may need to add a bit more liquid; however, excess liquid will result in a weirdly dense cake with an unpleasant texture.

-It matters what kind of olive oil you use. In the end, I went with an extra light olive oil that is specifically for baking (just check the label) because not everyone wants to taste olives in their dessert. I originally started out using my finest unfiltered organic olive oil. I actually liked the unusual flavor, but my taste-tester thought it was too overwhelming. Feel free to experiment.

St. Demetrios Cake | Orthodox and Vegan

My sad attempt at decorating the cake with a delta for Demetrios

St. Demetrios Cake
2 C flour
3/4 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
3/4 C unsweetened almond milk
1/2 C light olive oil, for baking
juice of one lemon
2 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 C blueberries*

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8″ square pan and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine first six ingredients. Make a well in the center, and add wet ingredients. Mix just until combined, then gently fold in blueberries with a spoon or rubber spatula.
Pour batter into greased pan and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

*Tossing blueberries in flour helps to keep them from falling to the bottom of the cake. You may wish to set aside 1/4 C of the combined dry ingredients to toss the blueberries in before folding them into the batter.
Also, you can double the blueberries but will probably end up with a stickier cake.

Just like with Phanouropita, you can certainly adapt this recipe to suit your taste – after all, it is your own special offering to St. Demetrios! For example, although the cake is delicious on its own, you may want to dress it up by dusting it with confectioners sugar, or drizzling it with vanilla icing.

Apolytikion of St. Demetrios, Third Mode
A great champion hath the whole world
Found thee to be when in grave perils
For thou dost put to flight the heathen, O victorious one
As thou didst humble Lyaeus’s arrogance
And gavest boldness to Nestor in the stadium
Thus, O Holy Great-Martyr Demetrios,
Do thou entreat Christ God that we be granted great mercy.

All Hallows’ Eve

All Hallows' Eve/All Saints Day/Halloween | Orthodox and Vegan
The Western world celebrates All Hallows’ Eve (aka Halloween) today, and All Hallows’ Day tomorrow. This is the day when all saints, both known and unknown, are commemorated. In some places, commemoration of the dead continues on November 2 in the form of Day of the Dead, with people building personal altars to honor their loved ones. The altars usually include the favorite food and drink of the deceased, and these items are brought to the grave of the departed at the end of the day when family and friends gather there to pray.

In the Orthodox Church, we commemorate All Saints Day – or All Hallows’ Day, on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Rather than dressing up in scary costumes, we commemorate the day with Vespers the evening before, and Orthros & Liturgy the day of 🙂

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!