A New Year’s Eve Tale by Photios Kontoglou with audio and video links
The Nativity Feast having passed, St. Basil took his staff and traversed all of the towns, in order to see who would celebrate his Feast Day with purity of heart. He passed through regions of every sort and through villages of prominence, yet regardless of where he knocked, no door opened to him, since they took him for a beggar.
On the eve of the New Year, he came upon a certain hamlet, which was the poorest of the poor villages in all of Greece. There, he beheld in front of him a small knoll, below which there was secreted away a sheepfold. St. Basil went into the pen and, knocking on the door of the hut with his staff, called out: “Have mercy on me, a poor man, for the sake of your deceased relatives, for even Christ lived as a beggar on this earth.” Awakening, the dogs lunged at him.
But as they drew near him and sniffed him, they became gentle, wagged their tails, and lay down at his feet, whimpering imploringly and with joy. Thereupon, a shepherd, a young man of twenty-five or so, with a curly black beard, opened the door and stepped out: John Barbákos—a demure and rugged man, a sheepman. Before taking a good look at who was knocking, he had already said, “Enter, come inside. Good day, Happy New Year!”
John’s flock was sparse and he was poor; yet, he was blessed. Anyone who happened to pass by their hut they cared for as though he were a brother. And it is thus that St. Basil found lodging in their home. On that night, he was awaited, in all of the cities and villages of the known world, by rulers, Hierarchs, and officials; but he went to none of these. Instead, he went to lodge in the hut of John the Blessed.
“Elder, I am greatly joyful. I wish to have you read to us the writings [i.e., hymns] about St. Basil. I am an illiterate man, but I like all of the writings of our religion [ie. Church]. In fact, I have a small book from an Hagiorite [ie. from Mount Athos] Abbot, and whenever someone who can read and write happens to pass by, I get him to read out of the booklet, since we have no Church near us.”
In the East, it was dimly dawning. St Basil rose and stood, facing eastward, making his Cross. “Blessed is our God, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” John the Blessed went and stood behind him, and his wife, having nursed their baby, also went to stand near him, with her arms crossed [over her chest]. St. Basil said the whole of Matins and the entire Liturgy, and blessed the household. As they sat at the table, having eaten and finished their food, the wife brought the Vasilopita [a sweet bread or cake baked in honor of St. Basil on the New Year] and placed it on the serving table. Then St. Basil took a knife and with it traced the sign of the Cross on the Vasilopeta, saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He cut a first piece, saying, “for Christ,” a second, afterwards, saying, “for the Panagia,” and then “for the master of the house, John the blessed.” John exclaimed, “Elder, you forgot St. Basil!” The Saint replied, “Yes, indeed,” and thus said, “And for the servant of God, Basil.” After this, he resumed: “…and for the master of the house,” “for the mistress of the house,” “for the child,” “for the farmhand,” “for the animals,” and “for the poor.” Thereupon, John the Blessed said, “Elder, why did you not cut a piece for your reverendship?” And the Saint said, “But I did, O blessed one!” But John, the Blessed one, did not understand.
Then John the Blessed said: “I wonder if you can tell me, Elder, since you know many things, to what palaces did St. Basil go this evening? And the rulers and the monarchs—what sins do they have? We poor people are the sinners, since our poverty leads us into sin.” “O Lord my God,”, said St. Basil with tears, “ I have seen that Thy servant John the simple is worthy and that it is meet that Thou shouldest enter into his shelter. He is a babe, and it is to babes that Thy Mysteries are revealed.” And again John the Blessed, understood nothing….
Transl. Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna.
Ad. Kleio Kechagia