What does a person entering church do first of all? In nine cases out of ten —he buys a candle. Our joining the real Christian rituality begins with a small wax candle. It is impossible to imagine an Orthodox church without burning candles.
The interpreter of the Liturgy, the Holy Fool-for-Christ Simeon of Thessalonica (XV century), said that pure wax symbolizes the purity and innocence of people offering it. The wax is offered as a sign of our repentance for our obstinacy and willfulness. The softness and malleability of the wax speak of our readiness to obey God. The flame of the candle shows the warmth of love to God. We should not put up a candle just for the sake of the ritual, with our remaining cold. The outward action must be supported by a prayer, be it even a simple one expressed in your own words.
Candles are indispensable during church services. The newly baptized and those undergoing the mystery of marriage are holding candles. The burial service is read in in the presence of many burning candles. Believers are forming a procession of the Cross holding candles and shielding the flame from the wind with their hands. There are no strict rules about the number of candles to be put or any definite place to put them. To buy a candle is a small sacrifice to God, a sacrifice which is voluntary and not burdensome. A big and expensive candle is not more gracious than a small one.
Those who come to church regularly usually put several candles: to the icon celebrated on that day—it is usually placed on the lectern in the center of the church; also to the icons of the Savior and the Holy Theotokos—in a prayer for the your living relations, to the Crucifix on a small rectangular table holding candles (canon) for the departed to rest in peace. If you wish you can put a candle to any icon of a saint or saints.
Sometimes there are so many burning candles on the candleholder in front of an icon that there is no room to put yours. You should not put out somebody else’s candle for the sake of yours, it would be better to ask someone working in the church to put it there later. Do not be embarrassed by somebody putting out your candle when the service is over—the sacrifice has already been accepted by God. You should not listen to ales about the necessity to put a candle only with your right hand, about the misfortunes to happen if the flame of your candle went out, and that it is a deadly sin to melt the candle at the bottom in order to fix it better in the candleholder, etc. There are many superstitions associated with church and all of them are meaningless.
Your bees wax candle is pleasing to God. But He appreciates the burning ardor of your heart much more. Our spiritual life and participation in service cannot be limited to putting up a candle. The candle itself would not deliver us from sins, would not bring us closer to God, neither will it give us strength for resistance in the invisible battle. A candle is full of symbolic meaning, but we are saved not by a symbol, but by a real entity—God’s grace.
The practice of blessing water on the day of Christ’s Baptism was already existent in the 3rd century. This holy water is used to sprinkle and bless icons, liturgical articles, priestly vestments and crosses. It is also used to bless houses, food, automobiles and other articles. When received with faith, it has the power to cure both physical and spiritual infirmities. Although holy water cannot replace Holy Communion, it can be taken instead of Communion by one who is, for one reason or another, deprived of the consolation of the Sacrament. During times of despondency, confusion and spiritual turmoil it offers tranquility and relief. For this reason Christians keep this holy water in a special place in their homes near icons and partake of it in the morning, with prayer before eating any food.
“On the Feast of Theophany, that is the Day of the Lord’s Baptism, every year a great miracle is performed. The Holy Spirit, coming down upon the water, changes its natural properties. It becomes incorrupt, that is, it does not spoil, remains transparent and fresh for many years, receives the grace to heal illnesses, to drive away demons and every evil power, to preserve people and their dwellings from every danger, to sanctify various objects whether for church or home use. Therefore, Orthodox Christians with reverence drink Holy Water–a great Agiasma (holy thing), as the Greeks call it.
“One should have at home enough Theophany water so that it will last the whole year, and make use of it at every need: in cases of illness, leaving on a journey, whenever one is upset, students when going to examinations. They do well who daily, before eating any kind of food, drink a little Holy Water. It strengthens the powers of the soul–if it is done, of course, with prayer and reverence, and one does not merely expect from it a mechanical result” (St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco).
Prayer Before Consuming Prosphora and Holy Water
“O Lord my God, may Thy holy gift and Thy holy water be unto the enlightenment of my mind, unto the strengthening of my spiritual and physical powers, unto the health of my soul and body, unto the taming of my passions and weaknesses, according to Thy limitless mercy, through the prayers of Thy Most-pure Mother and of all Thy Saints. Amen.”