“Jesus is the Light of the World!”  

By Angie Nasrallah

February 2019
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At 22, my daughter still walks the halls of our home in the wee hours of December 13th, to awaken each of us with a sweet cake and to say, “Jesus is the Light of the World.”   This tradition was started in our family years ago when Regina was just 8. We had just converted to Orthodoxy and I was very interested in learning and celebrating the early traditions of our church.  In Europe and in the East, people have been celebrating the life of St. Lucy since her death in 304 AD.

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When researching her life, I discovered that St. Lucy was a virgin-martyr, born in Italy during the reign of Diocletian and was martyred around 304.  The Orthodox Church commemorates her on December the 13th along with St. Herman of Alaska.  St. Lucy is remembered by the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches.  Her history, like many early female martyrs, tells of her devotion to Christ and His church through acts of generosity and virginity.  It is said that Lucy, upon devoting herself to Christ was unwittingly promised to a pagan suitor by her single mother who was concerned for her future.  When the suitor discovered that Lucy was a Christian, he reported her to the prefect who sentenced her to a life of prostitution in a brothel. Through the Lord’s mercy, she was spared defilement and burning by her pagan oppressors.  Later, however, she was martyred by a sword thrust into her neck. (https://oca.org/saints/lives/2008/12/13/103536-virginmartyr-lucy-of-syracuse)

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According to several accounts, Lucy’s name, Lucia, comes from the Latin word lux which means light.  As far as I can tell, the concept of light tells her story in many ways. It is told that Lucy’s eyes were gouged out at her death, and this is why she is credited with saying to her captors, “Jesus is the Light of the World.”  In darkest December as we prepare for the Christ Child, we are reminded that Jesus is the Light of the World through St. Lucy’s life of generosity and sacrifice.

In Europe, the centuries old tradition is that the oldest daughter of the home begins the Feast of St. Lucy by walking through the house offering a special sweet cake to each sibling while saying, “Jesus is the Light of the World.”  For this special event, the young lady will wear a floral crown of greenery embedded with lighted candles and offer St. Lucy cakes, saffron cakes of golden wheat glazed with icing. In Sweden, St. Lucy’s Day, December 13, marks the beginning of the Christmas season.   For us in the United States, St. Lucy’s Day comes right in the middle of December when the mornings are darkest and the Advent fast has been going for about a month. A sweet cake is usually a very welcome offering to those in the house.

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This year, Regina researched and made traditional Swedish “Lucy Cats” or St. Lucy cakes.  Somehow, she was able to get the whole family involved in the process which became a fun and meaningful Advent adventure.  Even dad got involved with the kneading and the baking. And, of course, the next morning arrived with that time-told truth: “Jesus is the Light of the World.”

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Regina loves this tradition and makes a point to always be home with us for December 13.  Even her brothers seem to be okay with it. “Oh, that’s just Regina! She’s offering me my yearly cake with a candle in her hand and she’s saying Jesus is the Light of the World again.”

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And, who can deny that having that phrase on our lips at least once a year is a beautiful thing.

Wearing the radiant cloak of virginity

And being betrothed to the Lifegiver Christ

You forsook the love of your earthly betrothed

O Lucy Virgin-Martyr

Therefore as a bridal gift

You have brought to Christ the outpouring of your blood

You also intercede to Him for us all!
— Troparion (Tone 5)