An Ancient Symbol of Prayer

Photo by Andriy Tod on Unsplash

Let my prayer be set forth as incense before thee. ~ Psalm 141:2

Recently, at an evening service, and through the golden glow of candlelight… smokey tendrils of incense swirled as wreaths of living halos about the holy icons, before wafting upwards as billowing clouds – the noetic breath of our prayers… and the setting sun’s beams pierced through the church windows to ignite the mosaics’ gold tessera like fiery embers. Immersed in all this spiritual beauty, my cup overflowed. It took my breath away.

I’d love to share these beautiful reminders listed from St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church – of the rich symbolism and significance of Church incense and the Censer.

What is the Censer?
The censer is a covered dish suspended on four chains. It is used to convey the fragrant smoke of the incense to holy objects. It’s parts represent all of God’s creation.

What does it represent?

  • The ring (symbol of eternity) represents GOD.
  • The top represents ‘Alpha’ (A) the beginning.
  • The four chains represent the Four Evangelists.
  • The twelve bells represent the Twelve Apostles, and their teaching.
  • The Cross reminds us of the cross of our Lord.
  • The top of the bowl represents the Heavens.
  • The firepot (where the incense and charcoal go) is the earth, and the charcoal is man who requires the fire of the Holy Spirit to give him light and life. We blow on the charcoal to set it afire just as God put life in man by breathing on him.
  • The bottom of the cup is the universe of which the earth is a part.
  • The base of the censer is the ‘Omega’ (Ω), the end.

May we continually blow breath to spark our own noetic charcoal – keeping it afire with the Love, Zeal, and the Fragrance of Christ.

Ocean of Love

Detail of Shell Mosaic, Angel Wing, by Marie

…whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! ~ Psalm 8:8-9

When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you… the hard trials that come will not hurt you. ~ Isaiah 43:2

The soul cannot get enough of beholding the beauty of nature. Oh, if man would only lift his mind above this earthly realm to the Heavenly Jerusalem, to the inconceivable beauty of Paradise where the finite, earthly mind ceases to operate… There every saved soul will live in an ocean of love, sweetness, joy, amazement, and wonder! ~ Elder Ephraim, Arizona Monastery


We Need Two Wings to Fly!

Parish Mosaic in Progress: The Dormition of the Theotokos

Prayer is one wing, faith the other, that lifts us heavenward. With only one wing no one can fly: prayer without faith is as meaningless as faith without prayer. But if your faith is very weak, you can profitably cry: Lord, give me faith! Such a prayer seldom goes unheard. The grain of mustard seed, says the Lord, grows into a great tree. ~ Tito Colliander (Way of the Ascetics)

Alleluia and Amen!

Image by Laila from Pixabay

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. ~ Hebrews 13:8

What a joyful consolation … especially with the constant change in our lives!

I love you, O Lord, my strength. ~ Psalm 18:1

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. ~ Psalm 100:1-2

Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light… ~ Psalm 148

Let every thing that has breath Praise the Lord! ~ Psalm 150

Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” ~ St. John 20:29 (This blessing includes ustoday!)

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. ~ Philippians 4:13

…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. ~ Ephesians 5:18-20

Alleluia and Amen!

If you ever have the chance to watch the classic 1963 movie: Lilies of the Fielddo! It’s a heart-warming story starring Sidney Poitier as Homer Smith – a staunch Baptist, who winds up in Arizona, crossing paths with a convent of destitute nuns who emigrated from Eastern Europe.

The simple, contagiously joyful song Amen featured in the movie is an easy warm up I sometimes use at Youth Choir rehearsal, before turning it into a three-part “round”. The effect is amazing. We sing the repeated “one-word-prayer” Amen (just the part which the nuns sing in the movie) but use the softer sounding Awh-men pronunciation.

Over the years, the youth choir share they’ve often found themselves singing or humming this happy little piece (along with other psalmody of course) at unexpected times. Including… getting up for a glass of water in the middle of the night, or doing daily house chores, or driving in the family car on long, long, road trips!

Happy Summer! Amen!

Before praising God in private, before psalmody is truly prayerful, the song of the lips must first become the song of the soul. ~ Anonymous

For the Peace From Above

Image by wal_172619 from Pixabay

Greetings on the Feast Day of St. Geneviève of Paris!

In peace, let us pray to the Lord. For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord. For the peace of the whole world, for the welfare of the holy churches of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord. That we may live out our lives in peace and repentance, let us pray to the Lord… ~ From the Great Litany

Beauty of the Lord

Gold Tesserae Awaiting Placement in Parish Mosaic

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in his temple. ~ Psalm 27:4

Sanctify those that love the beauty of Thy house. Glorify them in return by Thy divine power. ~ Prayer behind the Ambo

…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. ~ Philippians 4:8

Numinous beauty is found in the physical and spiritual splendour surrounding us!

We perceive God’s grace through the noetic beauty of nature. Our souls sense it when we throw open the doors of our heart and gaze upon the holy icons at Church. We smell it in the sweet fragrance of pure beeswax candles, the bouquets of flowers, and the clouds of billowing incense. We hear it in the joyful voices singing hymns and psalms of praise. We taste it in the Holy Mysteries, the antidoron and prosphora. We experience His Mercy of Peace through the powerful permeation of communal prayer at Divine Liturgy.

Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote: Beauty will save the world.

True Beauty points to God… Who exudes and transcends Inexpressible Beauty in everything, through the Glorious, Gladsome Light of His Divinity!

Angelic Efforts

Progress on Altar Angel by Parish Mosaicists based on detail from background angels of a 6th century icon at the ancient St. Catherine’s Monastery of Mt. Sinai.

When we once begin to form good resolutions, God gives us every opportunity of carrying them out. ~ St. John Chrysostom

You can set up an altar to God in your minds by means of prayer. And so it is fitting to pray at your trade, on a journey, standing at a counter or sitting at your handicraft. ~ St. John Chrysostom

Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honour your patience. ~ St. John Chrysostom

We all do nearly nothing – some a little more, some a little less. When Christ sees our little effort, He gives us an analogous [matching] token; and so our “nearly nothing” becomes valuable, and we can see a little progress. For this reason we must not despair, but hope in God. ~ Elder Paisios of Mount Athos

Broken Glass

These empty ceramic vessels were used to obtain certain colours in the molten silica and glass mixtures at the Orsoni Mosaic Studio Venice, Italy. – 2009

We are like broken glass that reflects reality in small fragments until the power of God makes us whole again. ~ Elder Thaddeus

Ribbons of Blessings

Ancient Mosaic from Museum – Turkey, 2004

Just as the blessings of God are unutterably great, so their acquisition requires much hardship and toil undertaken with hope and faith. ~ St. Macarius the Great

If God is slow in answering your request, or if you ask but do not promptly receive anything, do not be upset, for you are not wiser than God. ~ St. Isaac of Syria

Crystalline Cantatas

Beautiful Star Mosaic by Melania

If we could hear stars sing their crystalline cantatas of praise to the Creator, our hearts would be so effused with such Divine sweetness and yearning; it would be unbearably impossible to not join in chorus of jubilation with them.

What sort of praise can I give Thee? I have never heard the song of the Cherubim, a joy reserved for the spirits above. But I know the praises that nature sings to Thee. In winter, I have beheld how silently in the moonlight the whole earth offers Thee prayer, clad in its white mantle of snow, sparkling like diamonds. I have seen how the rising sun rejoices in Thee, how the song of the birds is a chorus of praise to Thee. I have heard the mysterious mutterings of the forests about Thee, and the winds singing Thy praise as they stir the waters. I have understood how the choirs of stars proclaim Thy glory as they move forever in the depths of infinite space. What is my poor worship! All nature obeys Thee, I do not. Yet while I live, I see Thy love, I long to thank Thee, and call upon Thy name. ~ Ikos 12, (The Akathist Hymn: Glory to God for All Things)

The firmament has the stars for its beauty, and dispassion has the virtues for its adornments. ~ St. John of the Ladder

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