In Orthodox churches we see many lights and candles burning. They are lit in the Sanctuary during services. These candles burn before the icons, and are carried in front of the Gospel in the procession and while reading from it.
The large candle holders situated in the rear of the nave are lit by the worshippers saying special prayers. The upper level is used when praying for the living and the lower level is for prayer for the souls of those that have fallen asleep in the Lord.
Above the north and south candle holders are icons of various patron saints venerated by parishioners. The icon of Saints Cosmas and Damian is located near the candle holder on the north side and the icon of Saints Cyril and Methodius is located to the south side also near the south candle holder.
The candle is one of the oldest and the most widely used of sacramentals in the church. It is one of the richest religious symbols or instruments used to express spiritual ideas. It is seen glowing through the entire church and is used in every Sacrament except for confession.
A candle is a unique jewel, crowned with a little tongue of fire like the Apostles on the day of Pentecost with their crown of Spirit Fire. The candle’s warmth and heat shows us the fiery tongues of that Pentecost which does not consume, but enlightens. It serves as a reminder of the words of our Saviour, when He said, “I am the light of the world.”
When we watch candlelight in church, it brings to mind one of the most beautiful verses of the Bible, from Psalm 119, verse 105: “Thy word is a lamp unto My path.” Light also represents the mission of our divine Lord upon earth. The prophet Isaiah (9:2) calls Christ a great light and foretells that “to them that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”
The vigil lights burning before the icons are to remind us of the light and warmth of love that have been brought to our lives by the lives of the Saints. Not only should we burn candles in the home of God, but also in our own homes before our saintly icons as, prayerful offerings on behalf of others in the world, and for ourselves. Candles represent the true light of the world. For the individual Christian the candle’s flame means the faith that makes us “children of the light.”