“The children of St. Basil’s Academy need your help,” reads the opening line of a promotional poster inside the Peter G. Mihailides Center in Cranston. “Please support the Philoptochos Vasilopeta Luncheon; let’s put a smile on the children’s faces!”
For starters, the luncheon – which was held Sunday – is a time-honored treasure at the Church of the Annunciation on Oaklawn Avenue. The parish’s Good Samaritan Philoptochos Society has been hosting the event since 1933 as its annual fundraiser for St. Basil’s Academy, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s home and school for orphans and other children who need a safe place.
Named in honor of St. Basil the Great, who according to Annunciation Pastor Rev. Andrew George was ”a much loved bishop and great intellect and prolific author in theology,” the academy has also served as a parochial school, teacher’s college and National Retreat Center.
Meanwhile, the Philoptochos Vasilopeta Luncheon is one of the many obligations of every Ladies Philoptochos Chapter in the country whose efforts and support have helped St. Basil’s Academy to maintain its status and work of helping children and families through difficult times.
Sunday’s luncheon – which was chaired Kate and Jim Silva, Roula Proyous and Eleni Trikoulis and prepared and served by such Annunciation mainstays as Theofanis Markos, Kevin Phelan, Gus Proyous, Paul Kallis, Elizabeth Degaitas and Jimmy Grammas – featured and outpouring of support and love from upwards of 150 proud parishioners who enjoyed a delicious roasted chicken dinner and ice cream sundaes and purchased tickets for the day’s 28-prize raffle.
“St. Basil’s Academy is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2020,” George offered. “It’s dedicated to Saint Basil’s name and his life of compassion for people abandoned and in need … He was also known for giving bread to poor families, and within the bread, he would place money.”
That’s where the Vasilopeta part of Sunday’s luncheon comes into play.
One of the many traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church is the Vailopeta, which means the “Sweet Bread of St. Basil” and symbolizes the sweetness and joy of life everlasting and hope for the new year.
As the bread is prepared, a gold coin is baked into the ingredients. When the observance actually begins, the parish priest cuts pieces of the bread for each organizational head of the church as well as every person at the luncheon.
Whoever finds the gold coin in their piece of bread is considered blessed for the year.
Thus, every January, the Ladies Philoptochos Society hosts the Vasilopeta Luncheon that like Sunday produced a heart-warming blessing, and as co-chairman Jim Silva said: “After all is said and done, our total anticipated income will be $5,846.”
And that, George and Father Nick Lanzourakis offered, “was a beautiful and bountiful blessing for our Greek Orthodox Children at St. Basil’s Academy in New York.”