Lights and Candles
The Orthodox Church is characterized by its lights. We use candles in our prayers, during the Bible reading, in front of the icons of the saints, on the altar, in the sanctuary in general and in front of the altar on its eastern side, and the church remains lighted constantly. Our brethren the Protestants do not use any of these rites despite their symbolic significance.
this brief article we will discuss the subject of lights in the
church, the reason for using them and the spiritual meanings they
(1) The church itself is called in the Holy Bible the golden lampstand. This is clear from the Book of Revelation. St. John the Visionary saw the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of seven golden lampstands and the Lord said to him: “...the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches” (Rev.1: 20).
church resembles heaven because it is the house of
God or God's dwelling place. This is nearly the expression used
about the first house of God. Jacob the Patriarch said: “How
awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of
God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Gen.28: 17) Since the
church resembles heaven, it must have lights to illuminate it like
the stars of heaven.
(3) The lights in the church may represent the angels in heaven or the angels whom Jacob saw in his vision ascending and descending the ladder in Bethel (‘House of God’) (Gen.28: 12). The lights symbolise the angels because the angels are also called angels of light (2Cor.11: 14).
(4) The lights of the church also symbolise the saints, to whom the Lord says: “Let your light so shine before men” (Matt.5: 16). On this occasion the Lord likens the saints to lighted lamps put on lampstands (Matt.5: 15).
the Holy Bible says: “the
righteous will shine forth as
the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt.13: 43). And the
Lord Jesus Christ said to the Jews about John the Baptist as an
example of those righteous: “He was the burning and shining
lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light”
(John.5: 35). Since the church is full of angels and saints then it ought to be full of lights.
Primarily the church ought to be filled with lights because
of God's presence in it: God is Light (John.1: 5) and the Lord
Jesus Christ says of Himself: “I am the Light of the world”
(6) The church is lighted by
lights after the pattern of the
Tabernacle and the Sanctuary. They were full of lights and their
lamps were never put out. The Lord commanded that the
lamps be lighted by pure olive oil under the supervision of
Aaron and his children as an everlasting statute. The Lord says:
"And you shall command the children of
Israel that they bring
you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to
burn continually. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil,
which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it
from evening until morning before the Lord. It shall be a
statute forever to their generations" (Ex.27: 20,21).
This is a Divine command, given by God who said on the first day of creation: “ ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good" (Gen.1: 3,4).
(7) The lamps, which are
lighted by oil, have a spiritual
meaning. The oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, It was used for
anointing, after which the Spirit of the Lord descended: When
Samuel anointed David, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power (1Sam.16: 13). The Holy Bible also tells us about the anointing from the Holy One (1John.2: 20,27).
Even the candles which we
light in church are made of oil,
and the lamps in church are lighted by oil for the same symbolic
(8) We notice that the Lord commanded that lampstands be made in His house, whether the Tabernacle or the Sanctuary. The lamps and the lampstands were made of pure gold (Ex.25: 31); (Ex.37: 17); (2Chr.4: 20). All these are proof of God’s concern about the existence of lights in His house.
(9) The lamps were
lighted continually upon God's
command. Extinguishing the lamps' light or negligence in
lighting them were considered as treachery to the Lord and
deserved severe punishment. Concerning this, the Holy Bible
says: “For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the
eyes of the Lord our God; they have forsaken Him, have turned
their faces away from the habitation of the Lord, and turned
their backs on Him. They have also shut up the doors of the
vestibule, put out the lamps, and have not burned incense...
therefore the wrath of the Lord fell upon Judah and Jerusalem,
and He has given them up to trouble, to astonishment”
(2Chr.29: 6-8). All these show us how God cares for lights in His house.
Lighting lamps has a special profound spiritual meaning.
It symbolises constant readiness, perpetual watchfulness and
preservation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart.
Concerning this readiness, the Lord Jesus
Christ tells us: “Let
your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you
yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will
return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they
may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants
whom the master, when he comes, will find watching” (Lk.12:
The Lord Jesus Christ gives us the parable of the five wise virgins whose lamps were burning whilst the lamps of the five foolish virgins went out (Matt.25: 1-12).
of the lamp symbolises the work of the Holy Spirit in
the heart. The constant burning symbolises the constant
watchfulness in keeping the heart tied to the work of the Holy
Spirit within it.
What is said about individuals can also be said about the
whole church. When people see the lights in church they are
reminded of their duties in preserving the light inside them and
that their lamps should be lighted continually. They remember
that the church is one of the five wise virgins who kept their
(12) With regard to lighting
candles during the Gospel
reading, this is undoubtedly better than reading the Gospel
without light. It reminds us of the verse: “Your word is a lamp
to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119), and also “The
commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Ps.
(13) The Early Church, ever since the Apostolic Era, has given importance to lights and their symbols. The Book of Acts tells us about the upper room from which St. Paul was preaching after the breaking of the bread: “There were many lamps... where they were gathered” (Acts 20: 8).
The candles that we light before the saints’ icons remind
us that the saints were lights in their generations; they were like
candles, melting in order that their light might shine before
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