Candles Represent the Light of Christ
As we finish celebrating the cycle of feasts that comprise forty days of the life of Christ, from His Nativity to His Baptism to His Presentation in the Temple, we reflect on the meaning of candles in our pious practices. It is often customary to bless candles at the end of the Liturgy celebrating the Entry of Our Lord into the Temple and to use them to bless others in our devotions at services and at home.
The Orthodox Church from its very inception has always used oil lamps (or lampadas) and candles during its worship and prayers. The burning of candles and oil lamps has always been the traditional source of lighting in God’s churches, in which we must forgo the artificial light that comes from electricity.
Candles and oil are offered to God from material goods that He has given us, as pure beeswax, because bees make the wax by collecting the pollen from various flowers. For this reason, some of the saints have taught that a candle reminds us not only of how hard working the bee is, but also of the fact that it collects the good and rejects the polluted. Furthermore, the Church has taught us that the use of pure beeswax candles produced by virgin bees represents the human nature of Christ, which came from the Holy Virgin Mary.
But first and foremost, the candle represents the Light of Christ in our midst, because as it burns, it illuminates the darkness. Candles represent the deification of our souls because the candle is mixed with fire, representing the Light of Christ. They represent the love and peace which are attributes each Christian should have because the candle burns and comforts everyone with its light in the darkness. Lighting a candle reminds us we must remember to live in the light we received in our baptism.
This light is renewed every time we participate in the Divine Liturgy, every time we receive the Holy Mysteries, and every time we offer prayers. At the end of every celebration of the Divine Liturgy we sing: “We have seen the True Light! We have received the Heavenly Spirit! We have found the True Faith! Worshiping the Undivided Trinity, Who has saved us.” The candle also reminds us of how fire, that is, the Triune Deity Himself, unites with the malleable soul and then softens and illuminates both it and all those who come into contact with it.
When we as Christians sacrifice ourselves for the love of God, we enlighten our fellow human beings and show them the way of salvation. And just as the candles we light at baptism represent the spiritual light received by the newly baptized person, so too, the candles we hold and light during funerals, at memorial services, and place on the tomb of the reposed represent the Light of Christ that we wish the deceased to receive.
Just as we light candles for the living and the dead, we should always accompany them by offering words of prayer. For the living we ask for God’s mercy and protection. For the dead we ask for God’s compassion and eternal rest.
All-Merciful Saviour Monastery
Vashon Island, Washington