Someone once called the Orthodox Church ‘The Candlelight Kingdom’, candles are so much a part of our worship that it has been said ‘to light a candle is to pray’.
Why do we use candles? And what has prayer to do with lighting candles?
In the Bible God is often described in terms of fire and light. (Heb12: 29, ‘For our God is a consuming fire’) The coming Messiah, Jesus, is spoken of in terms of light. (Is.9: 1-2 ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined’) The Gospel of John portrays Jesus in terms of light in many places: John 1:5 ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’ and in John 8: 12 Jesus said ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’
So every time we light a candle the flame and the light should remind us of God.
There is a custom of lighting a candle upon entering church. You may have noticed a bowl of sand and some tapers for this purpose. This simple act is deeply meaningful. It means that in the liturgy when the word of God is preached, the Holy Spirit will come to remove the veil of blindness from our eyes, the veil of lack of understanding and make the light of Christ shine in our hearts. Lighting a candle on entering church expresses our belief that Jesus is the Light of the world and that as His disciple, I am called daily to reflect His light in my life. Some of you may remember the Sunday school song on the same theme ‘Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light, like a little candle burning in the night, in this world of darkness so we must shine, you in your small corner and I in mine’
At one point during a Baptism or Chrismation, the members of the congregation all hold a lit taper to show that we are little Christs i.e. Christians, and we bear the light of Christ.
When the Priest comes out in procession with the Gospel Book he is preceded by a server, carrying a candle, to show that the word of God, to use the words of the Psalmist, ‘is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path’.