Auto-immunity, calendar concerns, Celiac, Christian, Chrohn's, Chronic Illness, food allergies, Invisible Illness, Lent, Orthodox Church, Spoonies, Theological Reflection

Rend Your Hearts and Not Your Intestines


I remember blinking into the bright window at the allergist’s office as he handed over the prescription for my Epi-pens. “Anaphylaxis is a train leaving the station. We have to catch it before it gets going,” he said. I had gone to him after my throat started swelling closed on an ordinary morning. I thought maybe I had developed a peanut allergy because of how dull my breakfast had been: toast with butter and strawberry jam, tea with sugar and milk, and a bite of the peanut butter Lara bar my son handed me. But the allergist was holding a readout with a very strange set of answers. I was allergic to wheat.

The first thing I thought about when I got home was how I was going to commune at church. I inquired of the Lord and immediately heard a word of comfort: Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. 

I was going to have to overhaul all of my habits and diet and, when the sensitivity got too strong later, my family’s diets. But at least I knew that I was not saying goodbye to God when I said goodbye to bread.

After months of trying to manage with Benadryl and near misses on throat swelling, my priest and I found a way for me to receive communion that allows me to participate in God and stay alive. I have to come to the chalice like one severely ill and have the wine-dipped spoon just touch my lips.

I find it humbling in a good way to come to the hospital for souls and receive communion like someone in the hospital for bodies. In fact, the differences forced on me by food allergies do not cause any spiritual obstacles to me at all. They are a gift, reminding me of the deep love of God who made me and has arranged the challenges and gifts of my life for our salvation.

But there are also external challenges from people who have a hard time believing that food allergies are a big deal. Here are the most common misconceptions and how I’ve navigated them prayerfully through the tradition.

Either God Or Bread–Oops! Casual Heresy

  • The most basic push back when I tell people I cannot eat bread, including the Holy Gifts, is that I am wrong. The Holy Gifts, according to this logic, are either bread and wine OR the Body and Blood of Christ; I cannot have it both ways.
  • #nope: Time warp with me back to St. Irenaeus (or even St. Paul, but Irenaeus is clearer). The gifts of God are given by Him, and we offer them back to Him, and we see that this means that the material world is good. With me? The reason that matters is because…
  • There is no either/or when God comes to us. Our Lord was both fully man and fully God, and the Holy Gifts are both fully God and fully bread. 

***Take-away: You can be allergic to bread without being allergic to God.***

“Marytrdom” and the St. Polycarp Side-eye

  • “Eating blessed bread or Holy Gifts in the Liturgy when you have celiac/allergy can be thought of as a form of martyrdom.”
    • Teensy bit of medical info before the theological importance: Celiac damage is cumulative, so the idea that no harm is done is, well, false. Allergies to wine or wheat have more immediate consequences. All of them cause harm when a person with the condition is exposed to the allergen/gluten.
  • #nope: Time warp back to St. Polycarp. Yes, the beloved and aged bishop who, once he was finally caught, denounced an entire coliseum of Romans as “athiests.” Let’s look at his story and see how many times he deliberately turned himself in for martyrdom. That would be none. And in fact, in the prelude to his martyrdom, we find an illustrative story about how people who zealously went forward to prove themselves by trying to become martyrs wound up chickening out and renouncing the faith when it came to it.
  • Martyrdom is not self-harm. Martyrdom is witness to the truth of the Incarnation and Resurrection. Self-harm undermines witness.
    • Hey, Ms. Early Church Examples Person, what about Ignatius of Antioch, who told people not to rescue him from martyrdom? 1)He was already captured when he wrote his letters, and he wanted his flocks to understand their role in bearing witness with him. 2)He was going to offer himself in language remniscent of the Eucharistic offering in order to bear witness to the Resurrection, not intentionally off himself by eating poisons.

***Take-away: Hurting yourself is not martyrdom. It actually diminishes witness.***

Just Believe the Anaphylaxis Away

  • If you have faith, God won’t let you be hurt by Holy Communion.
  • #nope: Time warp back to our Lord in His 40 day temptation. Yes, that temptation, the model for our own fasting. What did He say about just having faith and doing something you know is harmful? Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
    • Look, I’m an Orthodox Christian. Like most of you, I’ve seen miracles with my own eyes, besides reading about the multitude of miraculous stories in the lives of saints. I’ve even added my “amen” to the Church’s request for them, and seen the energies of God the Holy Spirit change things.
  • The miraculous is normal for us. But that does not mean that we know better than God. If we tell a member of Christ’s Body that they have to prove their faith by asking God to save them from an attempt at harming themselves, we are not being faithful to God. We are not encouraging the brother’s or sister’s faith. By telling other people that they will not be harmed if they do something they know is harmful, we are not showing faith at all. We are being self-centered and trying to comfort ourselves by endangering another. We are saying, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

***Take-away: Demanding that your brother or sister test God shows lack of faith, and it’s not faithful to God or neighbor.***

Allergy sufferers are not the only Orthodox Christians facing troubles with holy food. Medically fragile persons, persons with feeding tubes, persons with muscular issues, special needs, and mobility issues all might need modifications in how they celebrate with Orthodox cultural foods and, importantly, how they receive the Holy Gifts.

This blog category–Always Lent– is for those of us who, due to medical needs, cannot partake of many of the traditional foods of the Orthodox Church, and for their communities. Some of us cannot even share _in the usual way_ in the Holy Gifts. We are always fasting. It is always Lent for us.

As my husband likes to remind me, some were born eunuchs, and some were made eunuchs. Some were born fasting, and some learn to fast as a discipline.

We who have this gift of being born fasting have two needs that this blog will address: 1) To celebrate the spiritual richness that comes with limited diets. 2) To find ways to participate in the fellowship of the Church in a way that does not harm us. 

Follow this blog for modified recipes and reflections on life when it is Always Lent.

calendar concerns, Celiac, Chrohn's, Feast Day, food allergies, Uncategorized

Gluten-Free Vasilopita From GF Bread Mix

It’s St. Basil’s day here on the New Calendar, and thus begins the month of sharing Vasilopita with friends and family. Unless you’re allergic, in which case you will never, ever get the coin. *sad trombone music*

It’s blurry because of your tears.

Cheer up! Always Lent has your back. Today I’m sharing two Vasilopita recipes that you might be able to adapt for your allergy needs. (And if not, comment your restrictions. The team will try to find a recipe for you that works.) First up, bread Vasilopita.

There are two basic types of Vasilopita (Basil bread/cake) recipes: the cake version, and the bread version. Bread versions are similar in texture to a spiced brioche, and gluteny recipes run the gamut in complexity. If you’re gluten-free, you know that bread is tricky to make.

Enter the Glutino Favorite Sandwich Bread* mix and the King Arthur Gluten Free Bread & Pizza Crust Mix*. I spent a few hours this week testing and adapting these mixes into Vasilopitas. They both turned out great!


Most of the ingredients for egg free Vasilopita.

First up, the Glutino Favorite Sandwich Bread Mix, eggless version:

Because I have five children, I sometimes get distracted in the kitchen. On Friday, this happened in the best possible way. Short version of the story: I forgot to add the sugar and three eggs, and the recipe still came out well. It was a little dry, but you could serve it with a glaze on top. It was a good tea bread even without sugar.

Long version of the story: My son Basil who has autism has only recently started speaking in one and sometimes two-word sentences, after 8 months of early intervention. He walked up to me when I turned on my stand mixer with the bread hook to beat this dough. I lifted him and told him I was making Vasilopita. I started to walk away, when he pointed (! big deal for a child with autism!) and asked, “What is that thing?” (!!!) I took him to the mixer and said, “Mixer.” He repeated, “Mixer. Round and round,” while making a circular hand gesture (!!!!). Yes, the long version of the story is a miracle tale about the intercession of St. Basil for his little one when I started making Vasilopita. So, yes, this is kinda miraculous bread. 

This is the Vasilopita without eggs.

Here’s what I recommend to turn either of these bread mixes into Vasilopita:

  • Preheat oven according to the recipe for baking a regular 9″x5″ loaf.
  • Add to dry mix ~2 teaspoons mahleb, or to taste
  • Add to dry mix 1-1.5 teaspoons crushed mastic resin (the kind for cooking, not chewing gum)
  • Optional: add 1 teaspoon of almond extract or vanilla extract.
  • Add 5 tablespoons of a sugar of your choice (such as raw cane sugar or coconut sugar –NOT stevia/artificial sweeteners)
  • Grease a 9″ round cake pan well and line the bottom with parchment if you’d prefer (it comes out of the pan fine without the parchment, though)
  • After all ingredients are combined, mix in a stand mixer with dough hook for 3-5 minutes.
  • Add a coin that has been wrapped in aluminum foil, and stir it so you don’t know where it is in the dough.
  • Turn dough into pan and smooth it with a spoon. Spray top of dough with coconut oil or brush with butter/oil.
  • Leave it to rise in a warm spot for 40 minutes. (I leave mine on top of my preheating oven, because my kitchen is cold in the winter otherwise.) The dough is too spread out to rise much, due to the lack of gluten. Let it be and ignore the descriptions on the box.
  • Do not beat down dough! You don’t want to lose any loft that it has acquired.
  • Place in the preheated oven and bake according to package instructions for the regular loaf size.
  • The Vasilopita will rise to a nice dome in the oven, though it seems not to rise much beforehand.
  • Optional: sprinkle with powdered sugar, and write the year on the top with almonds or sunflower seeds.

I know for sure that the Glutino mix works with or without the eggs, provided you beat the dough a little longer to activate the gums in the mix. I have not tested the King Arthur mix without the eggs, but they were almost identical in ingredients and instructions. The recipes can also be made dairy free by following instructions on the package. I tested the recipes with milk and butter.

If you do not have mahleb or mastika, substitute: 1/4 teaspoon cardamom, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger. If you are not allergic to nuts, the closest taste to mahleb is 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon of almond extract. I like cardamom, so I add it on top of the traditional spices as well.


I tried baking the date on with sunflower seeds, but I wound up covering it later. Best to decorate after baking.

This is a BASIC recipe. Lots of people enjoy spicing their Vasilopita a bit more, with orange peel, cinnamon, more almond extract, and so on. The final result is like the dry part of a cinnamon roll (if you can remember what those were like). I like to make a simple glaze of 1 cup powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, and a little (1-2 tablespoons) boiling water from my tea kettle, and pour it over the top to harden before the powdered sugar. It makes the overall effect a little sweeter for the children, and it turns the bread into more of a coffee cake for our teatime.

I did NOT get the coin. This is the version with eggs and a maple glaze.

If you need more protein in your bread but you can’t eat nuts (the cake recipe I’m posting next is almond based), another option is to add an additional egg, a few tablespoons ground flax seeds, peanut butter powder (allergy-dependent), a few tablespoons poppy seeds, or a few tablespoons of pre-soaked chia seeds (allergy-dependent, and will be visible). OR if you can eat eggs, turn your slice into French toast.

The Second Recipe is for a Cake Version of Gluten Free Vasilopita. You can find it HERE on my other blog, Tea & Crumples.

Joyous Feast!

*The links to the bread mixes on Amazon are Affiliate links. If you shop through them, I will receive a small commission, though the prices will be the same for you. I use any Affiliate income to pay for the cost of blog space so it doesn’t have to come out of my family’s budget.*