The Pious Cake

Last week my hairdresser, Vagia, asked I if had a good recipe for fanouropita. I had known about St. Fanourios since childhood and his feast day, August 27, the day specially baked cakes were brought to the church. I thought the tradition was ago forgotten.


“Oh. You cannot believe how many cakes were brought to the church last year.” Vagia said, filled with pride for her own special fanouropita. She then leaned over and whispered that she did cheat sightly by using real butter instead of olive oil which the tradition called for. The tradition also mandated that the fenouropita be made with either seven or nine ingredients.

Intrigued by her enthusiasm, I decided to bake my own cake and join the other Keans for the evening Mass.

Fanourios was a later Greek Orthodox saint. His name comes from the verb fanerono which means ‘to reveal’. Anthropologists link the cake blessing to ancient rituals and offerings to the dead. In the Orthodox tradition the celebration of the day is thought bring good health or help people find lost objects. It is also thought to reveal to unmarried women their future husbands. This is one of many picturesque pagan rituals incorporated into church tradition.

When I arrived at the church for the celebration I was surprised at the number of cakes laid out on the tables and floor at the front of the sanctuary. Most cakes were covered with cling film or aluminum foil, protection from the tall thin candles burning in each of them.

At seven the bells rang, summoning the worshippers. The service lasted over an hour during which Keans continued to bring their cakes. First the priests blessed the prosfora, special breads flavored with aniseeds and sugar, baked by the local bakery. Father Dionysios read the names of the attendees as well as those family members and friends in need of remembrance. During this reading the prosfora were sliced and offered to the worshippers. Throughout the atmosphere was festive and social gathering rather than an austere religious ceremony.


I was walking back and forth taking pictures and was concerned that maybe the old lady with the black scarf who was sitting in the front and knew all the psalms would be annoyed. But at the end, as we were cutting and tasting each other’s cakes, she said to me: “Bravo, bravo! How good of you to take pictures…”


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