Fragrance, sweet smelling!

Wow, what is the wonderful smell?  The smell you are greeted with as you enter an Orthodox Church.  The smell of Incense and prayers to Christ our God.

OrthodoxWiki states, “Incense is a product of aromatic plant matter, often with an oil or resin as a base. In the Orthodox Christian practice, incense is an important liturgical implement which is often considered distinctive to the Faith as well.

Incense is burned in a gold censer and ignited by burning charcoal. Customarily, the censer is suspended by chains and swung; however, a hand censer can be used when necessary. The censer is employed only by the priest and/or deacon to venerate all four sides of the altar, the Holy Gifts, the clergy, the congregation, icons, and the church structure itself.”

34 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: 35 And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered  together, pure and holy: 36 And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy. 37 And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD. 38 Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his peopleExodus 30:34-38

Incense represents prayers of the saints lifting up into the heavens before God. This is evident from the blessing verse of the celebrant of the censer before incensing begins:

  • Incense do we offer unto Thee, O Christ our God, as an odor of spiritual fragrance; accepting it upon Thy most heavenly altar, do Thou send down upon us the grace of Thy Most Holy Spirit.”

And elsewhere:

  • Psalm 140:2 – “Let my prayer be set forth before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Incense is also described as being used in heavenly worship, offering the faithful a foretaste of what is to come.

  • Revelation 5:8 – “Now when He has taken the scroll, the four living creatures 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.”
  • Revelation 8:4 – “And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.”

“In the New Testament incense has a prayerful meaning as St. John the Divine Disciple beheld how in heaven “an angel came and stood at the altar, with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden Altar before the Throne of God; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the Saints from the hand of the angel before God.” (Revelations 8:3-4), but it has a much deeper meaning; the transformed ideal. The burning coal is the burning ember. Christ, Who takes away the sins of the world as we behold in Isaiah at the calling of the prophet Isaiah, “then flew one of the Seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the Altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips: your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.’ “(Isaiah 6:6-7)”

Incense used at the Divine Services represents:

a. Adoration or the worship paid to God alone, present in the Eucharist. The burning of the fragrant spices shows the unimportance of all creatures before their Creator.

b. Prayer, which rises to God like smoke.

c. Grace, which God pours into our souls as incense pours fragrance throughout the Church.

The Church incenses relics, ikons and Holy things:

a. To honor God who crowned the saints in heaven, who worked wonders through them here on earth, who sanctified and glorified their bodies.

b. To show respect and devotion to the special friends and servants of the Almighty.

The Church incenses her ministers, her bishops and priests, in order to honor in their person Jesus Christ, whom they represent and with whose sacred character they are clothed.

The Church incenses the faithful in order to honor in them the likeness to Christ which was imprinted upon them in Baptism … to show them forth as the temples of the Holy Spirit. At the censing of the parishioners make the sign of the cross upon their bodies in respect to this meaning.

The Church incenses the bodies of the departed to honor the bodies which were sanctified and made holy by Baptism, and to beg God to receive the prayers and petitions we offer for the repose of the soul of the departed in the Faith.” From Rev. Fr. Theodore Ziton, Liturgy and Life: The Use of Incense in Church; http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/ziton_use_of_incense.htm

The smoke reminds you to pray, if you are not praying. So enjoy the sights and smells as you use your senses and worship God Almighty in the Orthodox Church.

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About padrerichard

I am a Priest with ROCOR and serve as Rector at St. Joseph of Optina Parish in Virginia Beach, VA
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