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.

The Healing Strength of Tears

On a recent gray day, raindrops on our patio’s Montana Clematis reminded me of tears.

There are tears that burn and there are tears that anoint as oil. ~ St. Isaac the Syrian (Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian)

True tears, flowing from love for God, possess such power. Greater than Baptism itself is the fountain of tears after Baptism. ~ St. John Climacus

When said with pain, the prayer gives birth to mourning. Mourning brings tears. Tears in turn give birth to purer prayer. For tears like a fragrant myrrh wash away the filth, and thus the inbreathing of God is cleansed, which like a dove is confined within four walls, as if made of the four elements… And then, as soon as the walls break down and collapse, the dove immediately flies to the Father whence it came. ~ St. Joseph the Hesychast

You know how troubled I am; you have kept a record of my tears. Aren’t they listed in your book? The day I call to you, my enemies will be turned back. Because I know God is on my side. ~ Psalm 56:8-9

All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. ~ Psalm 38:9

Everyone has heartache. That’s part of life, and there are many kinds of tears. There are tears of sorrow, contrition, and frustration… to name a few. There are also good, and joyful nourishing tears of gratitude that flow from the love of God.

Accept the fountain of my tears, Thou who dost gather the waters of the sea to clouds... ~ Hymn of Kassiani

Standing in front of an holy icon, and looking into the eyes of our Saviour or His Most Pure Mother, or our Patron Saint…. our tears can become prayers when we can’t speak. Tears bring us back to God, closer to God.

A place without sorrows can only be in the heart, when the Lord is within it. ~ St. Nikon of Optina

May we bathe more often in the sweet consolation of prayerful tears and God’s holy, healing, spiritual myrrh. Both now and ever.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. ~ St. Matthew 11:28-30

Aflame With Zeal

Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

When you look at the candles and lamps burning in church, rise in thought from the material fire to the immaterial fire of the Holy Spirit, ‘for our God is a consuming fire.’ When you see and smell the fragrant incense, rise in thought to the spiritual fragrance of the Holy Spirit, ‘for we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ.’ ~ St. John of Kronstadt

In order to teach us that just as the vigil lamp cannot be lit without our hand, so too, our heart, our inward vigil lamp, cannot be lit without the holy fire of God’s grace, even if it were to be filled with all the virtues. All these virtues of ours are, after all, like combustable material, but the fire which ignites them proceeds from God. ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich

In order to remind us that before anything else the Creator of the world created light, and after that everything else in order; And God said, let there be light: and there was light. And it must be so also at the beginning of our spiritual life, so that before anything else the light of Christ’s truth would shine within us. From this light of Christ’s truth subsequently every good is created, springs up and grows within us. ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich

May the Light of Christ Illumine us all! Keep looking up… there’s always bright Sonshine above those heavy snow clouds!

We Are Never Alone

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… ~ Hebrews 12:1

Though the Christian may pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him. ~ St. Clement of Alexandria

If you feel sweetness or compunction at some word of your prayer, dwell on it; for then our guardian angel is praying with us. ~ St. John Climacus

When you are about to pray to our Lady the Holy Virgin, be firmly assured, before praying, that you will not depart from her without having received mercy. To think thus and to have confidence in her is meet and right. She is, the All-Merciful Mother of the All-Merciful God, the Word, and her mercies, incalculably great and innumerable, have been declared from all ages by all Christian Churches... ~ St. John of Kronstadt

The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind… She is constantly by our side, and all too often we forget her. ~ Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

When you are praying alone, and your spirit is dejected, and you are wearied and oppressed by your loneliness, remember then, as always, that God the Trinity looks upon you with eyes brighter than the sun; also all the angels, your own Guardian Angel, and all the Saints of God. Truly they do; for they are all one in God, and where God is, there are they also. Where the sun is, thither also are directed all its rays. Try to understand what this means. ~ Elder Herman of Mt. Athos

A saint is a Christian who lets God’s light shine through. ~ Anonymous quote by a child who looked at a saint in a stained glass window

Vigil lights are placed before the icons of the saints to show that without the Light, Who is Christ, the Saints are nothing. It is only as the light of Christ shines on them that they become alive and resplendent. ~ St. Symeon the New Theologian 

The candles lit before icons of saints reflect their ardent love for God for Whose sake they gave up everything that man prizes in life, including their very lives, as did the holy apostles, martyrs and others. These candles also mean that these saints are lamps burning for us and providing light for us by their own saintly living, their virtues and their ardent intercession for us before God through their constant prayers by day and night. The burning candles also stand for our ardent zeal and the sincere sacrifice we make out of reverence and gratitude to them for their solicitude on our behalf before God. ~ St. John of Kronstadt

In God and in His Church there is no division between the living and the departed, but all are one in the love of the Father. Whether we are alive or whether we are dead, as members of the Church we still belong to the same family, and still have a duty to bear one another’s burdens. Therefore just as Orthodox Christians here on earth pray for one another and ask for one another’s prayers, so they pray for the faithful departed and ask the faithful departed to pray for them. Death cannot sever the bond of mutual love which links the members of the Church together. ~ Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Noting the small congregation in church one Sunday morning, a cynic said to the priest, “Not many in church this morning, Father. Not many at all.” The old priest replied, “You are wrong, my son. There were thousands at church this morning. Thousands and thousands and tens of thousands.” For, the priest had just read in the prayers of the liturgy: “Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee. It was the Communion of Saints in action! ~ fatheralexander.org

…Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. ~ St. Matthew 28:20

It’s Always Our Choice

Quietude at a Vigil Service

We all receive God’s blessings equally. But some of us, receiving God’s fire, that is, His word, become soft like beeswax, while the others like clay become hard as stone. And if we do not want Him, He does not force any of us, but like the sun He sends His rays and illuminates the whole world, and he who wants to see Him, sees Him, whereas the one who does not want to see Him, is not forced by Him. And no one is responsible for this privation of light except the one who does not want to have it… ~ St. Peter the Damascene

It is Truly Meet

A Monastery Wall – Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay 

Towards the end of evening vigil services, and after the Anaphora at Divine Liturgy, we sing a short, compelling, ancient hymn. Its history is amazing, for it was revealed by the Archangel Gabriel himself, posing as a monk while visiting a monastery on Mt. Athos during the 10th century!

When he began to sing before the Panagia Eleousa (Merciful) Icon of the Virgin Mary, it shone brilliantly. He then was asked by the brethren to write down this unknown beautiful hymn, but there was no paper available. Taking a piece of slate, and inscribing the words on it with his finger, as if the rock was as soft as wax, he vanished. The phrase it it truly meet (meet is old English), meaning it is truly fitting, proper and suitable.

This miracle is celebrated on June 24/11.

Ancient Hymn to the Theotokos
It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honourable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word. True Theotokos we magnify thee! ~ Axion Esti

There are many melodies to this hymn, and below are two English tunes from Youtube. The first part has women singing and the second part has men singing another melody of this hymn.

Listen time total – a short 2 minutes, 21 seconds.

Congratulations on your Saint’s Day,
Helena and Eleanor!
May God grant you many years!

The Thoughts We Nurture

Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what are life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility. ~ Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Our Time to Shine

Radiant Candles beside the Transfiguration Feast Day Icon, from August 19/6.

A sweet custom when placing a candle in the sand after Crossing oneself, is to also make the sign of the Cross in the sand with the bottom of your candle, then place the candle in the centre of the Cross you have just traced.

If but ten among us lead a holy life, we shall kindle a fire which shall light up the entire city. ~ St. John Chrysostom

If from one burning lamp someone lights another, then another from that one, and so on in succession, he has light continuously. In the same way, through the Apostles ordaining their successors, and these successors ordaining others, and so on, the grace of the Holy Spirit is handed down through all generations and enlightens all who obey their shepherds and teachers. ~ St. Gregory Palamas

The candles lit before icons of saints reflect their ardent love for God for Whose sake they gave up everything that man prizes in life, including their very lives, as did the holy apostles, martyrs and others. These candles also mean that these saints are lamps burning for us and providing light for us by their own saintly living, their virtues and their ardent intercession for us before God through their constant prayers by day and night. The burning candles also stand for our ardent zeal and the sincere sacrifice we make out of reverence and gratitude to them for their solicitude on our behalf before God. ~ St. John of Kronstadt

When you look at the candles and lamps burning in church, rise in thought from the material fire to the immaterial fire of the Holy Ghost, ‘for our God is a consuming fire.’ When you see and smell the fragrant incense, rise in thought to the spiritual fragrance of the Holy Ghost, ‘for we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ.’ ~ St. John of Kronstadt

The candle you place before the Lord is a metaphor of the fire and light within your soul. Your whole life’s purpose is to intensify its warmth and illumination. ~ Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky

Because our faith is light.  Christ said: I am the light of the world (John 8:12).  The light of the vigil lamp reminds us of that light by which Christ illumines our souls. Just as the oil and wick burn in the vigil lamp, submissive to our will, so let our souls also burn with the flame of love in all our sufferings, always being submissive to God’s will. In order to teach us that just as the vigil lamp cannot be lit without our hand, so too, our heart, our inward vigil lamp, cannot be lit without the holy fire of God’s grace, even if it were to be filled with all the virtues. All these virtues of ours are, after all, like combustible material, but the fire which ignites them proceeds from God. In order to remind us that before anything else the Creator of the world created light, and after that everything else in order: And God said, let there be light: and there was light (Genesis 1:3).  And it must be so also at the beginning of our spiritual life, so that before anything else the light of Christ’s truth would shine within us.  From this light of Christ’s truth subsequently every good is created, springs up and grows in us. ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovic

The True Aim

2004 – Dome from the Ancient Chora Church, in Turkey

Sadly, this church was converted to a mosque in 2020.

Prayer, fasting, and vigils, and all other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, certainly do not constitute the aim of our Christian life: they are but the indispensable means of acquiring that aim. For the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, vigils, prayer and almsgiving, and other good works done in the name of Christ, they are only the means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Note well that it is only good works done in the name of Christ that bring us the fruits of the Spirit. ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov

error: Content is protected !!