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Various Rituals in the Orthodox Church

A Look into some of the Rituals in the Orthodox Church

1. Veneration of the Cross

2. Facing the East

3. The sanctuary and the altar

4. Incense

5. Lights and candles

6. Pictures and icons

 

 

(1) Veneration of the Cross

One of the differences between Orthodoxy and Protestantism is

the Orthodox’s wonderful veneration of the cross. Our brethren the

Protestants do not sign themselves with the sign of the cross before

or after prayer, and say: “In the name of the Father and of the Son

and of the Holy Spirit.” They do not sign food with the sign of the

cross before eating, nor do they use the cross to bless people or

clothes.

 

Our brethren the Protestants are content that they believe in the

cross in their hearts without using it. Until recently, they were not

raising crosses on their churches. Many of them do not wear

crosses and none of them hold crosses in their hands. Also, they do

not celebrate the feasts of the cross nor do they make any

processions holding crosses whilst singing hymns and praises.

 

They neither kiss the cross nor take a blessing from it.

Now we will try to explain why Orthodoxy gives such

importance to the cross and we shall see that making the sign of the

cross is beneficial, useful and in accordance with the teaching of

the Holy Bible.

 

(1) The emphasis of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross

 

Since the commencement of the Lord’s ministry, during His

teaching and prior to His crucifixion, He laid great emphasis on the

cross. He says: “And he who does not take his cross and follow

after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:38) and “If anyone

desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his

cross, and follow Me” (Matt.16: 24); (Mark.8: 34). In His

conversation with the rich young man, He said to him: ‘Go your

way, sell whatever you have and give to the poorand come, take

up the cross, and follow Me’ (Mark.10: 21). He also says: “And

whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My

disciple” (Lk.14: 27).

 

(2) The cross was the core of the ministry of the angels

and the Apostles

 

An important point is that the angel who proclaimed the

Lord’s resurrection said to the women: “…you seek Jesus who

was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said”

(Matt.28: 5,6). Thus the angel called the Lord “who was

crucified”, although He had already resurrected. Thus the title

‘crucified’ continued to be attributed to the Lord.

Our fathers the Apostles emphasised the Lord’s crucifixion in

their preaching. In preaching to the Jews, St. Peter said:

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God

has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and

Christ” (Acts2: 36). St. Paul says: “..we preach Christ

crucified” (1Cor.1: 23), although the Lord’s crucifixion was

considered “a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness”.

The Apostle considered the cross the essence of Christianity

and says: “For I determined not to know anything among you

except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1Cor.2: 2). He means

that the cross is the only subject he wants to know.

 

(3) The cross was the object of the Apostles’ glory

St. Paul the Apostle says: “But God forbid that I should

glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal.6: 14).

If we ask him the secret behind these words, he will continue

and say: “by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to

the world” (Gal.6: 14).

 

(4) When we make the sign of the cross, we remember

many of its divine and spiritual meanings

 

We remember God’s love for us, who for the sake of our

salvation accepted to die for us: “All we like sheep have gone

astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the

Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is.53: 6). When

we make the sign of the cross, we remember “The Lamb of

God who takes away the sin of the world” (John.1: 29), and

that “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for

ours only but also for the whole world” (IJohn.2: 2).

 

(5) When we make the sign of the cross, we profess that

we belong to the Crucified

 

Those who take the cross only by its spiritual meaning inside the

heart without showing any manifest sign do not reveal this

belonging openly which we proclaim in making the sign of the

cross, in wearing and kissing the cross in front of all, in engraving

it on our wrists and in upraising it on our places of worship. By

doing all these we are merely proclaiming our belief openly. We

are not ashamed of Christ’s cross in front of people but we glory in

it, are called by it, celebrate its feasts and cling tort so that, even

without us talking, our appearance professes our belief.

 

(6) Man is not only spirit and mind but he also has

corporeal senses which should sense the cross through the

above-mentioned means

 

Not all people are of the same spiritual level and do not need

the senses for their spiritual contemplation. The senses are

nourished by all the above-mentioned means and are not

confined within themselves but they transfer the effects they

receive to the mind and the spirit. The mind by itself might not

remember the cross or might not remember it much. But when

it perceives the cross before it, through the senses, it remembers

all the divine and spiritual feelings connected with the cross and

the Crucified. Thus we worship God spiritually, intellectually

and physically. All these strengthen each other.

 

(7) We do not make the sign of the cross in silence, but

we say: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of

the Holy Spirit. One God. Amen”

 

Therefore every time we make the sign of the cross, we

profess our belief in the Holy Trinity who is the One God

forever. Amen. Thus we are given the chance of constantly

remembering the Holy Trinity.

 

(8) In making the sign of the cross, we profess our belief

in the Incarnation and the Redemption

 

We make the sign of the cross from up downwards and from

left to right. We remember that God descended from heaven to

earth and transferred people from the left to the right; from

darkness to light; from death to life. How numerous are the

contemplation we think of with our minds and feel with our

hearts when we make the sign of the cross!

 

(9) Making the sign of the cross is a religious teaching to

our children and to others

He who makes the sign of the cross when he prays, when he

enters the church, when he eats, when he goes to bed and all the

time, is the one who remembers the cross. This remembrance is

beneficial spiritually and is Biblically requested. It also teaches

people, especially little children, that Christ was crucified.

 

(10) In making the sign of the cross, we proclaim the

Lord’s death for us, according to His commandment

 

This is the commandment of the Lord: to proclaim His death

(which is for our redemption) till He comes (1Cor.11: 26).

Every time we make the sign of the cross we remember His

death and will remember Him till He comes.

We also remember the Lord in the Eucharist but this

Sacrament is not celebrated constantly whereas we can make

the sign of the cross at any time, and thus remember the Lord’s

death for us.

 

(11) In making the sign of the cross, we remember that the

penalty of sin is death

 

That was why Christ died. We were “dead in trespasses”

(Eph.2: 5), but Christ died for us on the Cross and gave us life. On

the Cross He paid the price and said to the Father: “Father, forgive

them”.

 

(12) In making the sign of the cross we remember God’s

love for us

 

We remember that the Cross is a sacrifice of love. “For God

so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that

whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting

life” (John.3: 16). We remember that “God demonstrates His

own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ

died for uswe were reconciled to God through the death of

His Son” (Rom.5: 8,10). In the cross we remember God’s love

toward us, because “Greater love has no one than this, than to

lay down one’s life for his friends” (John.15: 13).

 

(13) We make the sign of the cross because it gives us

power

 

St. Paul the Apostle felt the power of the cross and said:

“But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our

Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me,

and I to the world” (Gal.6: 14) and “For the message of the

cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who

are being saved it is the power of God” (1Cor.1: 18). We

notice that he did not say that the crucifixion is the power of

God but that the mere word ‘cross’ is the power of God.

Therefore, when we make the sign of the cross and when we

mention the cross, we are filled with power because we

remember that, through the cross, the Lord trod upon death,

granted life to all people, defeated and overcame Satan.

 

Therefore:

(14) We make the sign of the cross because Satan fears it

All Satan’s efforts ever since Adam’s creation and until the

end of ages, came to naught on the Cross. God paid the price

by His blood. He effaced with His blood the sins of all people

who believe and obey Him. Therefore whenever Satan sees the

cross, he trembles, remembering his great defeat and the loss of

his strivings, is disgraced and retreats.

 

Thus the children of God use the sign of the cross because it

is the sign of victory and the power of God. They are filled with

power within, and the enemy trembles without.

 

The lifting up of the serpent in the past, which was a cure for

people and salvation from death, resembles the lifting up of the

Lord of glory on the Cross. It also resembles the sign of the

cross in its efficacies (John.3: 14).

 

(15) In making the sign of the cross , we receive a

blessing

 

The whole world was cursed and under the penalty of death.

But on the Cross the Lord carried all our curses to give us the

blessing of reconciliation with God (Rom.5: 10), the blessing of

the new pure life; the blessing of membership in His body. All

the graces of the New Testament are derived from the cross.

That is why the clergymen use the cross in giving the blessing,

signifying that the blessing does not come from them but from

the Cross of the Lord who entrusted it to them to use in giving

the blessing. In addition, they use the cross because they derive

their priesthood from the Priesthood of the Crucified. All the

blessings of the New Testament sprang from the Lord’s Cross

and from its efficacious.

 

(16) The cross is used in all the holy Sacraments in

Christianity

 

All the Sacraments sprang from the merit of Christ’s blood

on the Cross. Had it not been for the Cross, we would never

have been worthy to approach God as His children in the

Sacrament of Baptism, we would never have been worthy to

partake of His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the

Eucharist (1Cor.11: 26), nor would we have been able to enjoy

the graces of any of the Church Sacraments.

 

(17) We exalt the cross to remember our fellowship with

it

 

We remember the words of St. Paul the Apostle: “I have

been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ

lives in me” (Gal.2: 20) and “… that I may know Him and the

power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings,

being confirmed to His death” (Phil.3: 10). Here, we ask

ourselves: When can we enter into the fellowship of the Lord’s

sufferings and pray with Him?

 

We also remember the Penitent Thief who was crucified with

the Lord and deserved to be with Him in Paradise. Probably he

was singing in Paradise the song of St. Paul: “I have been

crucified with Christ”.

 

Our aspiration is to ascend to the cross with Christ. The

cross is our glory whenever it comes into contact with our

senses.

 

(18) We venerate the cross because it is the Father’s

pleasure

 

The Father received Christ on the Cross as a pleasing sin

offering and also as a burnt offering. He was “a pleasing

aroma to the Lord” (Lev.1: 9,13,17). Concerning this, the

Prophet Isaiah said: “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him”

(Is.53: 10).

 

The Lord Jesus Christ satisfied the Father all His life on

earth. But He entered into the fullness of this satisfaction on

the Cross when He “became obedient to the Point of death,

even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8).

 

Every time we see the cross, we remember the perfect

obedience and the perfect submission so that we may resemble

Christ in His obedience: to the point of death.

 

The Cross which was the pleasing object of the Father, was

also the pleasing object of the Crucified Son, about whom it is

written: “… who for the joy that was set before Him endured

the cross, despising the shame” (Heb.12: 2). Thus the full joy

of Christ was in the Cross. May we be like Him.

 

(19) In the cross we go forth to Christ outside the camp,

bearing His reproach (Heb. 13: 13)

 

Christ’s reproach is His crucifixion and His sufferings. In

making the sign of the cross, we relive the feelings of the Holy

Week and remember what is said about Moses the Prophet:

“…esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the

treasures in Egypt” (Heb. 11: 26).

 

(20) We carry Christ’s cross because it reminds us of His

Second Coming

 

The Holy Bible says about the end of the world and the

coming of the Lord: “Then the sign of the Son of Man will

appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will

mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds

of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt.24: 30).

Therefore let us venerate the cross, the sign of the Son of Man,

now on earth as long as we expect to see it in heaven when He

comes on the clouds of heaven at His great Coming.

 

(2) Facing the East

 

Our churches are built facing eastwards. We pray facing

toward the East because the East has become a symbol to us

since it directs our hearts to many precious contemplation. It

also has an important place in God’s thought. Since God gives

importance to the East then let us also give it importance.

(1) Before God created man, He created the East as a source

of light for him, and God saw that the light was good. God

created the sun on the fourth day and man on the sixth (Gen. 1).

The rising of the sun is a symbol of Christ and His light. The

Lord is called the ‘Sun of Righteousness’, and it is written:

“…the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His

wings” (Mal.4: 2).

 

(2) Before God created man, He planted the Garden of Eden

in the East for him and then placed him there. He also planted

the tree of life in the Garden where man first lived before sin.

The Garden of Eden symbolises Paradise to which we aspire

(Gen.2: 8). Man’s facing eastward has become a symbol of his

aspiration to Paradise of which he was deprived and a symbol of

his aspiration to the tree of life.

 

(3) The Lord Jesus Christ was born in an eastern Country.

The Magi saw His star in the East (Matt.2: 2). The star was a

symbol of Divine guidance. When the Magi followed it, it led

them to the Lord. This is a beautiful contemplation!

 

(4) The Lord Jesus Christ was born in an eastern Country,

His star appeared in the East and His mother the Virgin Mary

was likened to a gate facing toward the East (Ez.44: 1,2).

 

(5) Salvation came to the world from the East. Christ was

crucified in an eastern Country where His blood was shed for

the remission of sins of the whole world.

 

(6) Christianity and the Church began in the East. Jerusalem

is in the East. It is the Country of the Great King where the first

Church in the whole world was established. The Gospel spread

from the East to the whole world. In the East the blood of the

first Christian martyr was shed.

 

(7) The Holy Bible mentions several times that the glory of

God is in the East. It is written in the Book of Isaiah:

“Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord” (Is.24: 15). In

the Book of Ezekiel, there is a prophecy about the coming of

Christ in His glory from the East. It is written: “And behold,

the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east.

His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth

shne with His glory” (Ez.43: 2).

 

(8) Therefore most theologians say that the Second Coming

will be from the East. In the same manner He went into heaven

He will come back (Acts 1: 11). In Zechariah’s prophecy, it is

written: “And in that day ; His feet will stand on the Mount of

Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east” (Zech.14: 4).

 

(9) The East is an appealing subject and evokes splendid

memories. In the Book of Ezekiel, the Prophet writes about

rivers of life in the East (Ez.47: 1-9). And in the Second Book

of Kings, it is written that the East is the “arrow of the Lord’s

deliverance” (2Kin.13: 17). Also, in the Book of Isaiah, it is

written: “Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord” (Is.24:15).

 

(10) The remembrance of the East has a great effect on the

heart; it has a spiritual effect on the soul. I admire Daniel the

Prophet when he defied pagan worship: He went into the upper

room, opened the window which faced Jerusalem, and knelt

down to pray. It is true that God is everywhere, but facing

Jerusalem in the East has a profound meaning and a strong

effect on the heart. The remembrance of certain places

awakens sacred emotions in the heart.

 

(11) Our worship is not worship with the intellect only. The

senses also act; they are affected and they affect the feelings of

the soul. An example to illustrate this: When we pray we look

up although God is everywhere. But looking upwards evokes

in our hearts spiritual feelings which give more depth to our

prayer. The same applies to facing the East.

 

The Lord Himself, on more than one occasion, looked up,

although the Father is in Him and He is in the Father. But

looking upwards has a certain significance.

 

(12) When we face the East, we are in fact facing the altar

which lies eastward because the Sacrifice has Its spiritual place

in our hearts and Christ our Passover was a Sacrifice in the

East.

 

(13) In the Baptismal Service, in a symbolic way, the

baptised and his godparent face westward to renounce Satan

and then eastward to recite the Creed. Thus the baptised feels

in Baptism that he is transferred from west to east, that is, from

darkness to light.

 

(14) We ask: Why do our brethren the Protestants fight

against facing toward the East although it carries spiritual

meanings, sacred contemplation and memories textproved from the

Holy Bible and involves no dogmatic error to stir the sacred zeal?

 

(3) The Sanctuary and the Altar

 

There is neither a sanctuary nor an altar in Protestant

churches. The reason for this is more serious: There is no

Sacrifice. We shall discuss the subject of the Sacrifice when we

come to the Sacraments of Eucharist and Priesthood. Now we

will confine our discussion to the altar.

 

(1) In the Old Testament there are numerous passages about

the altar. But our brethren the Protestants think that the altar

was merely a symbol of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross, and has

now terminated. Therefore, in our discussion with them, we

have to present text-proofs from the New Testament.

 

(2) St. Paul the Apostle says: “We have an altar from which

those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat”

(Heb.13: 10). The tabernacle is the Tent of Meeting or the old

Sanctuary. St. John Chrysostom comments on this, saying: “St.

Paul the Apostle turned from the symbolic meaning to the

actual meaning… We now have the authority to partake of the

Holy Blood which was the authority of the priest only.”

 

(3) There is a prophecy in the Book of Isaiah the Prophet about

an altar in the midst of the land of Egypt. The prophet says: “In

that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land

of Egypt. Then the Lord will be known to Egypt, and the

Egyptians will know the Lord in that day, and will make sacrifice

and offering” (Is. 19: 19,21).

 

Of course, the altar referred to here is the altar of the New

Testament in the Christian Era, because the Jews could not offer

sacrifices in a Gentile land, nor would the Egyptians have allowed

them to do so. Thus the appeal directed to Pharaoh at the time of

Moses and Aaron was: “Let My people go, that they may serve

Me” (Ex.8: 20). Yet Pharaoh refused to let “the people go to

sacrifice to the Lord” (Ex.8: 29). After the Plague of Flies, when

Pharaoh gave his first promise, he said: “I will let you go, that you

may sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness” (v.28). It is

understood from these verses that the Jews could not offer a

sacrifice in Egypt.

 

So when did the Egyptians know the Lord? When did they

begin to have an altar and offer sacrifices to the Lord?

Undoubtedly, it was in the Christian Era. This is an explicit proof

of the existence of altars in Christianity to offer sacrifices on.

 

(4) God willed that the word ‘altar’ be fixed in the minds and

hearts of people, therefore He mentions it more than once in the

Book of Revelation which was written at the end of the first

century, after the martyrdom of the Apostles and the disciples of

Christ. St. John the Evangelist says: “Then another angel, having

a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given

much incense” (Rev.8: 3). He also says: “I saw under the altar the

souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the

testimony which they held” (Rev.6: 9).

 

(5) The altar will continue to exist as long as the words of the

Divine Inspiration: “the Body and Blood of the Lord” (1Cor.11:27)

remain before us. As long as there is Blood, then there should

be an altar, and by necessity, a sanctuary to contain it.

We shall discuss this subject in detail, God willing, when we

discuss the subject of the Holy Sacrifice and the clergyman who

offers It.

 

(4) Incense

 

Our brethren the Protestants do not use incense or censers,

considering them part of the Old Testament worship which

were mere symbols and have now terminated. Here we would

like to display the history of incense in the past and present and

see whether incense is a symbol or an independent spiritual

performance.

 

(1) The Lord said to Moses: “You shall make an altar to

burn incense on; you shall make it of acacia wood” (Ex.30: 1).

Here the Lord presents us an important point: The incense was

considered a sacrifice in itself, offered on an altar called the

altar of incense.

 

(2) The Lord gave great importance to the altar of incense.

He commanded that it be overlaid on all sides with gold, have a

horn of gold, be carried on two rings overlaid with gold and be

placed before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony

where He would meet with Moses (Ex.30: 3-6).

 

(3) The incense was conditioned to be ‘sweet incense’. The

Lord says: “Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every

morning” (Ex.30: 7). And also at twilight “he shall burn

incense on it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout

your generations” (Ex.30: 8).

 

The spices for making the sweet incense are mentioned in

(Ex.30: 34). It is said that this incense “shall be to you holy for

the Lord” (Ex.30: 37). Moreover, “It shall be most holy to

youyou shall not make any for yourselves, according to its

composition” (Ex.30: 36,37).

 

The phrase ‘sweet incense’ is repeated on many occasions in

the Holy Bible: (Ex.25: 6); (Ex.37: 29); (Lev.16: 12). So

incense represented a fragrant perfume ascending before the

Lord.

 

(4) Some people are mistaken and say that incense was

presented with burnt offerings to absorb their smell. And as

there are no animal burnt offerings now, incense is subsequently

cancelled. This interpretation is unsound because incense was a

form of worship independent in itself. It had its own special

altar different from the altar of burnt offerings. It had its own

rites in the way of offering it. It was meant and considered as a

prayer in itself and not as a symbol of another thing.

 

(5) We notice that when the Lord sent the plague on the

Israelites, Aaron the chief priest, upon Moses’ command, took

his censer, put incense in it and burnt it with fire from the altar

to intercede for the people before God. When he ran into the

midst of the assembly and offered the incense, the plague

ceased. The Lord accepted the incense from Aaron as a prayer

(Num.16: 44-48) as though it were a sacrifice.

 

We notice that Aaron did not offer a sacrifice for the

Israelites, but incense alone. The incense was not offered to

absorb the smell of a burnt offering but it was an offering to

make atonement for the people (Num. 16: 46,47).

 

(6) Because of the importance of incense, only priests were

allowed to offer it. So incense is in a higher position than prayer

because prayer can be raised by any individual to the Lord.

When Korah, Dathan and Abiram dared to offer incense, the

earth opened its mouth and swallowed them with all their

belongings. So they went down to the pit alive (Num.16:

31,32). This happened not because they offered a sacrifice, but

because they offered incense, even though they were of the tribe

of Levi.

 

(7) As incense was so important, it was offered in golden

censers as is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb.9: 4)

and as is said about the twenty-four priests who had golden

bowls full of incense (Rev.5: 8).

 

(8) In the Book of the Prophet Malachi, there is a prophecy

about the continuation of the offering of incense and that it is

not limited to the Jewish Era. The Lord says: “For from the

rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be

great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be

offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be

great among the nations” (Mal.1: 11). Of course, worship

among the Gentiles did not happen except in the Era of

Christianity. Thus the Lord has included incense among the

forms of Christian worship.

 

(9) There are two examples in the New Testament showing

the Divine concern about incense, and both are written in the

Book of Revelation:

 

(a) About the twenty-four priests, it is written: “and the

twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a

harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers

of the saints” (Rev.5: 8).

 

(b) St. John the Visionary says: “Then another angel,

having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he

was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers

of all the saints upon the golden altar, which was before the

throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the

saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand”

(Rev.8: 3,4).

 

(10) In commenting on the expression “the smoke of the

incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God”,

we say that the whole life of the Church is incense. The Church

is resembled to incense in the Book of the Song of Solomon, in

which the Divine Inspiration says: “Who is this coming out of

the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and

frankincense, with all the merchant‘s fragrant powders?”

(Song 3: 6)

 

(11) One of the important situations in the history of incense

in the life of the saints is that the angel of the Lord appeared to

Zacharias the priest on the right side of the altar of incense

while he was burning incense in his lot (Lk.1: 8-11). This is

proof of the sanctity of the place and the sanctity of the work of

offering incense. This holy occasion was worthy to be

associated with a Divine revelation.

 

It is clear from the incident of Zacharias’ burning incense in

his lot that offering incense was a separate work in itself; it was

not connected with the offering of a sacrifice or burnt offering.

 

(12) Because incense is important in Christianity,

frankincense (which is a component of incense) was one of the

gifts offered by the Magi to Christ. It was a symbol of His

Priesthood and a profession from the Magi that He is a Priest,

in the same way that gold was a symbol of His Kingdom and

myrrh a symbol of His sufferings.

 

(13) Incense has numerous meanings, which satisfy the

senses and nourish the soul. Not all those who attend church

are of a profound spiritual level and deep thought. Children, for

example, who do not apprehend much from the sermon or the

readings of the Holy Bible or the prayers, are spiritually affected

through their senses by the incense, candles and icons which

serve as spiritual lessons for them, uplifting them to a spiritual

atmosphere. The same applies to the uninformed and

superficial believers who have no depth of knowledge and have

not studied theological books.

 

Spiritual meanings and contemplation of incense

 

(14) The first lesson we learn from incense is the Lord’s

teaching: “…he who loses his life for My sake will find it”

(Matt.10: 39). An example of this is the particle of incense, which

burns and burns until it becomes perfumed pillars of smoke. You

look for it in the censer as a particle of incense, but you do not find

it because it offered itself as a burnt offering to God.

Burnt offerings are not only of sacrifices but also of incense,

which the Holy Bible considers as a sacrifice to be offered on the

altar of incense. Incense teaches us a great lesson. How beautiful

it is when a man offers himself as a burnt offering to the Lord!

Every offering is outside the self but the offering of the self is the

greatest offering. Offering the self is represented by putting the

particle of incense in the fire. It is said that our God is a consuming

fire (Deut.4: 24). The saints were particles of incense put into the

Divine censer and were burnt by the love of God.

 

(15) The second lesson in incense is its constant ascent. The

burning incense does not accept to be kept down, but it rises to the

sky, stretches and spreads and never ceases to ascend and spread.

When you watch and follow it you cannot help raising your eyes to

the sky whether you wish to or not. That is why incense always

attracts people’s senses to above as if it is an arrow pointing

continually to heaven.

 

(16) A third lesson in incense is that it resembles the sweet

aroma. The Holy Bible conditions incense to be sweet incense.

Whoever smells the incense remembers that man’s life should be

a fragrant perfume before God. The Holy Bible says: “For we

are to God the fragrance of Christthrough us diffuses the

fragrance of His knowledge in every place” (2Cor.2: 15,14).

 

(17) One of the most magnificent contemplation of incense is

that it reminds us of the cloud or the dark cloud in which the

Lord appeared. The Lord says: “I will appear in the cloud

above the mercy seat” (Lev.16: 2). It is also written in the

Book of Leviticus: “…cloud of incense” (Lev.16: 13). It was

said about Aaron the chief priest: “Then he shall take a censer

full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, with

his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside

the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the

Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is

on the Testimony, lest he die” (Lev.16: 12,13).

 

In directing His people in the Old Testament, whether in the

Tabernacle or in the Sanctuary or in the Wilderness of Sinai,

God appeared in the cloud or in the smoke. His guidance to the

people in Sinai was in the form of an overshadowing cloud

during the day, representing God who was overshadowing

them. If the cloud moved, they knew that God was moving

them so they moved. If the cloud settled, they settled (Num.9:17).

Thus it is written: “And the cloud of the Lord was above

them by day when they went out from the camp” (Num.10: 34).

 

(18) When the Lord Jesus Christ came to Egypt it is said that

He came on a cloud (Is.19: 1). The cloud was a symbol of the

Virgin who was an ascending fragrant incense. In Christ’s

Second Coming, He will also come on the clouds (Matt.24: 30).

So clouds represent the presence of the Lord in the Old

Testament and in the New Testament.

 

(19) The incident of the Transfiguration is an example of God’s

presence in clouds. It is written that while the Lord Jesus

Christ was talking to the three disciples, “a cloud came and

overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the

cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My

beloved Son. Hear Him!’ ” (Lk.9: 34,35)

 

(20) The Lord talked to Moses from a cloud. When the Lord

spoke to Moses, the Holy Bible says: “Then Moses went up into

the mountain, and a cloud covered the mountain. Now the

glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered

it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of

the midst of the cloud” (Ex.24: 15,16). The same happened

when the Lord spoke to the people of Israel from the

Tabernacle: the cloud and smoke were overshadowing the

Tabernacle.

 

(21) We see the same again in the consecration of Solomon’s

Temple. The Holy Bible says: “And it came to pass, when the

priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the

house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue

ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord

filled the house of the Lord. Then Solomon spoke: ‘The Lord

said He would dwell in the dark cloud’ ”(1Kin.8: 10-12).

 

(22) Incense represents clouds or dark clouds reminding us

of God’s presence and the glory of God. It is written: “Clouds

and darkness surround Him” (Ps.97: 2). Therefore incense has

numerous spiritual meanings for whoever wishes to benefit from

it. It is a form of worship in itself. It was not connected with

the Old Testament sacrifices thus not necessitating its

termination with that of those sacrifices

 

(23) Lastly, we say that there is not one single verse in the

New Testament commanding the cancellation of incense: “He

who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the

churches” (Rev.2: 7).

 

(5) Lights and Candles

 

The Orthodox Church is characterised by its lights. We use

candles in our prayers, during the Bible reading, in front of the

icons of the saints, on the altar, in the sanctuary in general and in

front of the altar on its eastern side, and the church remains lighted

constantly. Our brethren the Protestants do not use any of these

rites despite their symbolic significance.

In this brief article we will discuss the subject of lights in the

church, the reason for using them and the spiritual meanings they

carry.

 

(1) The church itself is called in the Holy Bible the golden

lampstand. This is clear from the Book of Revelation. St. John the

Visionary saw the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of seven golden

lampstands and the Lord said to him: “…the seven lampstands

which you saw are the seven churches” (Rev.1: 20).

 

(2) The church resembles heaven because it is the house of

God or God’s dwelling place. This is nearly the expression used

about the first house of God. Jacob the Patriarch said: “How

awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of

God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Gen.28: 17) Since the

church resembles heaven, it must have lights to illuminate it like

the stars of heaven.

 

(3) The lights in the church may represent the angels in

heaven or the angels whom Jacob saw in his vision ascending

and descending the ladder in Bethel (‘House of God’) (Gen.28:

12). The lights symbolise the angels because the angels are also

called angels of light (2Cor.11: 14).

 

(4) The lights of the church also symbolise the saints, to

whom the Lord says: “Let your light so shine before men”

(Matt.5: 16). On this occasion the Lord likens the saints to

lighted lamps put on lampstands (Matt.5: 15).

 

Also, the Holy Bible says: “the righteous will shine forth as

the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt.13: 43). And the

Lord Jesus Christ said to the Jews about John the Baptist as an

example of those righteous: “He was the burning and shining

lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light”

(John.5: 35). Since the church is full of angels and saints then it

ought to be full of lights.

 

(5) Primarily the church ought to be filled with lights because

of God’s presence in it: God is Light (John.1: 5) and the Lord

Jesus Christ says of Himself: “I am the Light of the world”

(John.8: 12).

 

(6) The church is lighted by lights after the pattern of the

Tabernacle and the Sanctuary. They were full of lights and their

lamps were never put out. The Lord commanded that the

lamps be lighted by pure olive oil under the supervision of

Aaron and his children as an everlasting statute. The Lord says:

“And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring

you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to

burn continually. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil,

which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it

from evening until morning before the Lord. It shall be a

statute forever to their generations” (Ex.27: 20,21).

 

This is a Divine command, given by God who said on the

first day of creation: “ ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good” (Gen.1: 3,4).

 

(7) The lamps, which are lighted by oil, have a spiritual

meaning. The oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, It was used for

anointing, after which the Spirit of the Lord descended: When

Samuel anointed David, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in

power (1Sam.16: 13). The Holy Bible also tells us about the

anointing from the Holy One (1John.2: 20,27).

Even the candles which we light in church are made of oil,

and the lamps in church are lighted by oil for the same symbolic

significance.

 

(8) We notice that the Lord commanded that lampstands be

made in His house, whether the Tabernacle or the Sanctuary.

The lamps and the lampstands were made of pure gold (Ex.25:

31); (Ex.37: 17); (2Chr.4: 20). All these are proof of God’s

concern about the existence of lights in His house.

 

(9) The lamps were lighted continually upon God’s

command. Extinguishing the lamps’ light or negligence in

lighting them were considered as treachery to the Lord and

deserved severe punishment. Concerning this, the Holy Bible

says: “For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the

eyes of the Lord our God; they have forsaken Him, have turned

their faces away from the habitation of the Lord, and turned

their backs on Him. They have also shut up the doors of the

vestibule, put out the lamps, and have not burned incense

therefore the wrath of the Lord fell upon Judah and Jerusalem,

and He has given them up to trouble, to astonishment”

(2Chr.29: 6-8). All these show us how God cares for lights in

His house.

 

(10) Lighting lamps has a special profound spiritual meaning.

It symbolises constant readiness, perpetual watchfulness and

preservation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart.

Concerning this readiness, the Lord Jesus Christ tells us: “Let

your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you

yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will

return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they

may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants

whom the master, when he comes, will find watching” (Lk.12:35).

 

The Lord Jesus Christ gives us the parable of the five wise

virgins whose lamps were burning whilst the lamps of the five

foolish virgins went out (Matt.25: 1-12).

The oil of the lamp symbolises the work of the Holy Spirit in

the heart. The constant burning symbolises the constant

watchfulness in keeping the heart tied to the work of the Holy

Spirit within it.

(11) What is said about individuals can also be said about the

whole church. When people see the lights in church they are

reminded of their duties in preserving the light inside them and

that their lamps should be lighted continually. They remember

that the church is one of the five wise virgins who kept their

lamps lighted.

 

(12) With regard to lighting candles during the Gospel

reading, this is undoubtedly better than reading the Gospel

without light. It reminds us of the verse: “Your word is a lamp

to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119), and also “The

commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Ps.19).

 

(13) The Early Church, ever since the Apostolic Era, has

given importance to lights and their symbols. The Book of Acts

tells us about the upper room from which St. Paul was

preaching after the breaking of the bread: “There were many

lampswhere they were gathered” (Acts 20: 8).

 

(14) The candles that we light before the saints’ icons remind

us that the saints were lights in their generations; they were like

candles, melting in order that their light might shine before

people.

 

(6) Pictures and Icons

 

Our brethren the Protestants do not believe in the pictures

and icons in the Orthodox Church or in the statues in the

Catholic Church. They consider them against the second

commandment, in which the Lord says: “You shall not make for

yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is

in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in

the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or

serve them” (Ex.20: 4,5); (Deut.5: 8,9).

 

There was a war waged against icons in the 8th century in 726

A. D. during the time of Emperor Leo III. It continued for a few

centuries then calmed down. It was revived in Protestantism since

the 15th and 16th centuries and has remained among their beliefs

till this day. Some of our Protestant brethren consider icons as

remnants of paganism. They reproach Orthodoxy and Catholicism

for venerating icons, kissing them, lighting candles in front of them

and kneeling before them.

 

We will try to reply to all these points, showing the spiritual

benefits of icons and why the Church keeps them.

 

(1) In order to reply to the subject of icons, we must

consider the following:

 

(a) What does the verse, which our Protestant

brethren use imply? Why was this verse said and what is its

purpose? The reason behind our questioning is the Apostle’s

phrase “the letter kills” (2Cor.3: 6).

 

(b) What are the other verses which, if put beside this

verse, will complete its meaning and make us realise the spirit

and not the letter in the Lord’s commandment? We have

previously explained the danger of using one verse.

 

(2) What was God’s aim in banning images and statues? The

Lord’s aim is clear in His words: “You shall not bow down to

them nor serve them.” Therefore the commandment is not

broken if the purpose of using them is far from worship.

There is no doubt that this forbidding is one of the Lord’s

Ten Commandments. It was given in an era in which paganism

abounded and there was so much anxiety that the believers

might apostate that it was forbidden to engrave any stone, even

in ordinary buildings or in constructing the altar.

 

(3) We see that God Himself, who commanded the people

not to engrave any idol or form, ordered Moses in the incident

of the enormous snakes to “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on

a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he

looks at it, shall live” (Num.21: 8). So Moses did this and he

was not breaking the second commandment.

 

Moreover, the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that this act was

a pattern of His sacred cross. He says: “And as Moses lifted up

the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be

lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but

have eternal life” (John.3: 14,15).

 

(4) When the Lord ordered Moses to build the Ark of Covenant,

He asked him to make cherubim of gold on top of it. He said:

“And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work

you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one

cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you

shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the

mercy seat. And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above,

covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one

another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy,

seal. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark

you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will

meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy

seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the

Testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to

the children of Israel” (Ex.25: 18-22). And it was done.

 

Forming the images of these two cherubim was not a

transgression of the second commandment which orders not to

make an idol in the form of anything in heaven above, because the

aim was not to worship the angels represented by these two

cherubim. On the contrary, the image of the two cherubim

was formed upon a Divine command in the same way that the snake

was made upon a Divine command.

 

(5) In the same manner, Solomon built the Temple and

decorated it from within: “he made two cherubim of olive

wood, each ten cubits high. One wing of the cherub was five

cubits and the other wing of the cherub five cubits: ten cubits

from the tip of one wing to the tip of the otherboth cherubim

were of the same size and shape. Then he set the cherubim

inside the inner room; and they stretched out the wings of the

cherubim. Also he overlaid the cherubim with gold” (1Kin.6:23-28).

 

(6) It was not only a matter of two cherubim, but the Holy

Bible says: “Then he carved all the walls of the temple all

around, both the inner and outer sanctuaries, with carved

figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers”(1Kin.6: 29).

 

He made two doors for the entrance and “carved

on them figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, and

overlaid them with gold” (1 Kin.6: 32,35). Thus the house of

the Lord was decorated with images, paintings and carvings and

the people still worshipped God. They did not worship these

images or carvings. They did not disobey the second

commandment.

 

(7) Likewise the Ark of the Covenant, which was respected

by priests, people and kings, did not at all represent pagan

worship. The Holy Bible tells us that after the Israelites were

conquered at Ai, Joshua, the son of Nun and the successor of

Moses, together with the elders of Israel, knelt down and

prayed to the Lord before the Ark of the Covenant till evening

(Josh.7: 6). The Lord did not say to Joshua: “You have broken

the second commandments”. But on the contrary, the Lord

talked to him, performed a miraculous sign in revealing the sin

of Achen, son of Carmit, gave Ai into Joshua’s hands and lifted

up Joshua’s head.

 

Joshua did not sin by kneeling before the Ark of the

Covenant of the Lord because he was not worshipping the Ark

but he was worshipping the Lord who came and spoke from

between the cherubim. Likewise David the Prophet did not sin

when he celebrated the return of the Ark, leaping and dancing in

front of it (2Sam.6: 12-15).

 

(8) Similarly, we say that we do not worship the pictures or

the icons, but we venerate them, thus venerating those to whom

they belong, according to the Lord’s words to His disciples: “If

anyone serves Me, him MY Father will honour” (John.12: 26).

 

If the Father venerates His saints, should we not venerate them?

(9) We say the same regarding the cross, of which St. Paul

the Apostle says to the Galatians: “O foolish Galatians

before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among

you as crucified” (Gal.3: 1).

 

(10) We thank God that our Protestant brethren now raise

the cross on top of their churches without considering it a

carved image.

 

(11) We thank God that in their Sunday Schools, our

Protestant brethren distribute pictures of the Lord Jesus Christ,

the angels, the prophets, Noah’s Ark with its animals, the Good

Shepherd and the sheep, David feeding his sheep, Elijah and the

ravens looking after him, Poor Lazarus and the dogs licking his

wounds, Balaam, and the Devil tempting the Lord Jesus Christ

in the wilderness. In distributing these pictures they are not

worried or in any doubt that they may be breaking the second

commandment by having pictures of anything that is in heaven

above or that is in the earth beneath.

 

(12) We cannot disregard the effect of pictures as lessons

explaining the events of the Holy Bible and the lives of the

heroes of faith and history. An icon may leave a more profound

effect on the soul than reading or listening to a sermon.

Icons connect the believers on earth with the angels in

heaven and the righteous who abide in Paradise. They give us a

strong inner motive to carry out the Apostle’s words:

“Remember the leaders who spoke the word of God to you.

Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their

faith” (Heb.13: 7).

 

(13) In venerating pictures, we are in effect venerating their

owners. When we kiss the Gospel, we show our love to the

word of God and to God who gave us His commandments for

our guidance. When we bow down before the cross, we bow

down, as one of the Fathers said, “to Him who is crucified on

it”. The commandment “You shall not bow down to them or

serve them”, does not apply to us at all when we do these

things.

 

(14) It is well known that icons have been recognised since

the Apostolic Era. It is said that St. Luke the Evangelist was an

artist and that he portrayed more than one picture of the Virgin

Mary. Tradition tells us about the image of the face of the Lord

Jesus Christ imprinted on a handkerchief.

 

If you study the history of icons you will find that the

strongest eras in faith were those in which people venerated

icons. Their faith was not affected but on the contrary, they

were virtuous people.

 

(15) Why should we deprive artists from sharing in

activating the spiritual life of people? Pictures give spiritual

feelings that affect the soul and effectively transfer to people the

life-stories of saints.