Candles and Candle Stands

Published by Jacob P Varghese on

Candles on the Holy Altar

In the early centuries of Christianity, first lamps and then candles were used for lighting. Light is symbol of the presence of God. Light symbolises Divine presence. Israel experienced presence of Jehovah through the pillar of fire at night. “God is light (1 Jn. 1: 5) and in Him is no darkness at all”. A lighted candle reminds us of the words of Jesus, “I am the light of the world, He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of Life” (Jn. 1:9, 8:12). Light is a symbol of angels and saints. (Matt. 5:14). Light is an expression of Christian joy, which Christ has redeemed for us from darkness and brought us to eternal light. Light also signifies that God accepts worship, with reverence and awe, as God is a consuming fire. (Heb.12: 29). The candles symbolise new Israel walking in the Light of God. “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22: 5).

Candles used on the Holy Altar are made of pure wax. Candles made of animal wax are strictly forbidden, as animal sacrifice ceased, with our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary. Therefore, no animal product is used on the Holy Altar. Just as wax is gathered from different types of flowers, similarly those who have believed in Christ and His Gospel are united from different tribes, nations, and characters. The burning of candles wax reminds that we should be prepared to sacrifice ourselves to give light to others. Our good deeds and actions must give light, by our burning faith (James 2: 17). Candle wax when it burns is changed into another shape. Similarly, when a person accepts Christ, by rebirth in Jesus, becomes a new creation in Christ. Candles also stands for the illumination of our souls by the Holy Spirit, so that the bodily desires and passions must be eradicated by the Holy Spirit.

The number of Candles used on the Holy Altar varies. One candle in the middle represents the Resurrected Lord. Two candles, lighted during Soothara Prayers represents the two cherubim. Seven, reminds us of the golden lamp in the Holy Place of Jerusalem Temple. Twelve candles, represents 12 apostles. 12 candles placed on the 12 candle stands also signify the twelve thrones, the twelve tribes of Israel. (Mt 5: 16; 2 Cor. 3: 18; Lk. 22: 30). In some Churches, 13 candles are lighted, an extra one below the Cross, representing Christ. It is in light, of the prayers and works of the 12 disciples that we do see the glory and works of the incarnation of the Son of God.

Old Testament days had lamps, instead of candles kept lighted in front of the Curtain permanently (Leviticus 25: 1- 4). “And you shall bring in the tabernacle and arrange what belongs on it; and you shall bring in the lampstand and mount its lamps” – Exodus 40: 4. Lamps were used in worship during New Testament days (Acts 20: 8; Rev. 4: 5). Even today, some Churches use oil lamps in the sanctuary. According to Hudaya Canon, the Madbaha where Holy Communion is preserved should always have a lighted lamp, indicating the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the Bread of life and Light of the world. A lighted lamp is kept on Good Friday after the burial service.

Light is another symbol universally used in the Churches and lighting is the first act of worship in the Eastern Churches. The Christian tradition has always held that the sun is the source of biological life in this universe. ‘Christ is the Son of Righteousness’ is the true source of eternal light and in him there is no darkness (1 Jn. 1: 5). Light is knowledge and life. Lighted candles symbolise Light of life. Jesus, the Light, dispels darkness, which is ignorance and death. Light also symbolically recalls the fact that we are also the light of the world.

In the Orthodox Churches, a high priest is usually received by the congregation with lighted candles. This symbolizes the bridegroom (Christ) received by the bride (the Church). Candles are also lighted for daily prayers and at the foot of Cross Towers (Kurishum moodu). Also, in front of graves and tombs, signifying the God’s grace the departed receives due to our prayers and graces, and the graces we receive by virtue of their intercession. The lighted candles that we hold during prayers for intercession signifies the illumination of our souls and the souls of the departed. When Evangelion is read, lighted candles are the accompaniment which brings to our mind what the Psalmist has said: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalms 119: 105). Two lighted candles symbolize believers and one symbolize, John the Baptist.


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