by Fr. Theodore Ziton
from The Word, April 1968
The candle is one of the oldest and the most widely used sacramentals in the Church. It is one of the richest religious symbols or instruments used to express spiritual ideas. It is seen glowing throughout the entire Church and is used in every Sacrament except that of Confession.
Two things are needed for the illumination of the Church. They are oil and wax. The oil which comes from the fruit of the olive tree is symbolic of the grace of God. It is an indication that the Lord sheds His grace upon men, while men on their sides are ready to offer Him in sacrifice deeds of mercy. Pure wax which is collected by bees from the flowers of the field, is used as a token that the prayers of men offered from a pure heart are acceptable to God. And, too, the pure wax, produced by virgin worker bees, is a beautiful figure of the pure body of Christ, born of the Virgin Mary.
Thus, we see that the Church used and uses visible things of God’s creation to lead man to the invisible majesty of God’s Kingdom.
The candle is lit to illumine God’s home, the Church, but it is also a confession that He is the Light of the World, and that we attest to that light by our belief through prayers to Him. The lighted candle reminds us, too, of Christ’s gospel, the Holy Bible, which dispels the darkness of sin and ignorance; the lighted candle also stands for the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth. For the individual Christian the candle’s flame means the faith that makes us “children of the light.”
Candles are lit as an offering back to God of what He has already given us; done so in prayerful manner. Each candle is a unique jewel, crowned with a little tongue of fire, like the Saints on the day of Pentecost with their crowns of Spirit Fire. The candle’s warmth and heat show us the fiery tongues of that Pentecost, “which does not consume but enlightens.” Each candle lit is as a little clean waxen-saint, piously burning away all its brief life in a single minded devotion . . . . all its life to God in prayer. Each candle having its fire as a flame tipped sword pointing straight to heaven. Thus, the burning taper must signify Christian self-sacrifice. As the burning candle consumes itself, so, too, the Christian should burn up his energies in serving God. . . living the burning prayer!
Light is one of the most fitting and appropriate symbols of God, who is absolutely pure light. Light is pure in itself; light penetrates long distances and into the farthest corners; light moves with unbelievable speed; light awakens and nourishes life in the organic kingdom; light brightens with its brilliance all that comes within its influence.
Holy Scripture makes frequent use of this symbolic meaning: “The wisdom of the Son is spoken of as the brightness of His glory.” (Hebrews 1: 3) And the psalmist exclaims:
Thou art clothed with light as with a garment. (Psalm 103:2)
Light also represents the mission of our divine Lord upon earth. The prophet Isaiah (9:2) calls Christ a great light and foretells that “to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death light is risen.” The saintly Simeon declared that He is “a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” To this St. John added that Christ “was the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world.” (1:9) And Christ says of Himself, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12).
Lights are also symbols of respect. They are used on occasions when we wish to show more than ordinary deference to distinguished personages or to holy things. Even the pagans used lights to show honor to their gods and to prominent personages.
Our Spiritual Mother, The Church, uses every possible means for raising our minds to heaven. Among the sacraments the candle is outstanding. . . . to offer to God what is already His, to cause us to speak to Him in language He loves best of all. . . . prayer.
Not only should we burn candles in the Home of God, but, too, in our own homes, before our Saintly Ikons as prayerful offerings on behalf of others in the world and for ourselves.
Let our candles be true spiritual inspirations to us. Have and use them in your home. Use them in times peaceful and times perturbed. They do represent the true light of the world.
Holy Apostle Thaddeus (of the Seventy) - August 21
O holy disciple and witness to God who appeared in the flesh for our sakes, thou didst bring the light of saving grace to those in darkness, thou wast revealed as an excellent physician to the people of Edessa. Wherefore shelter those who fervently seek thee.
Kontakion of the Apostle Thaddeus, Tone 4
The Church has acquired thee as a star, O Thaddeus, and is ever enlightened by thy miracles. Save those who faithfully venerate thy memory.