Oil Lamps

A golden oil lamp against a golden-hued backdrop.

The first thing you may notice when you visit us is that Orthodox worship engages all the five senses. The burning candles and oil lamps, the color, form, and placement of the Icons, the music of the choir, the smell of the incense, the taste of the Bread and Wine, all work to focus our entire being on the worship the Living God.

In the Orthodox Church, an oil lamp still burns on the altar. The oil lamp in the Orthodox church is lit at the time the church is consecrated and is never allowed to go out. Referred to as the sanctuary lamp or altar lamp, it goes back to God’s command in Exodus that a lamp should always burn in the tabernacle. The sanctuary lamp symbolizes the presence of God.

“There are two basic types of vigil lamps: hanging and standing. Usually vigil lamps are lit using oil, usually olive oil, as the fuel feeding a floating wick. The vessel holding the oil is a cup usually made of heat treated glass. Sometime lamps that burn a wax, usually bee’s wax, candle are used. In Orthodox Christian usage, electric lamps are not used.

Vigil lamps are used extensively in churches and chapels. Hanging lamps are the most common, consisting of a wall mounted bracket with three chains attached to a holder that holds the glass bowl containing the oil. The metal ware is generally plated in silver or gold. The hanging lamp is hung from a bracket mounted over an icon so that the lamp is in front of the lower half of the icon.

Standing lamps are often used when an icon is hung low over a table or stand, Often a vigil lamp maybe mounted on top of a tube placed in the middle of a candle stand, that is before an icon, where the faithful can place individual bee’s wax candles. In these cases the vigil lamp provides the source for the worshiper to light their candles.

Vigil lamps are often used by the faithful before icons in icon corners in their homes.” (per OrthodoxWiki)

Why Vigil Lamps, by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich

“1. Because our faith is light.  Christ said: I am the light of the world (John 8:12).  The light of the vigil lamp reminds us of that light by which Christ illumines our souls.

2. In order to remind us of the radiant character of the saint before whose icon we light the vigil lamp, for saints are called sons of light (John 12:36, Luke 16:8).

3. In order to serve as a reproach to us for our dark deeds, for our evil thoughts and desires, and in order to call us to the path of evangelical light; and so that we would more zealously try to fulfill the commandments of the Saviour: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matt. 5:16).

4. So that the vigil lamp would be our small sacrifice to God, Who gave Himself completely as a sacrifice for us, and as a small sign of our great gratitude and radiant love for Him from Whom we ask in prayer for life, and health, and salvation and everything that only boundless heavenly love can bestow.

5. So that terror would strike the evil powers who sometimes assail us even at the time of prayer and lead away our thoughts from the Creator. The evil powers love the darkness and tremble at every light, especially at that which belongs to God and to those who please Him.

6. So that this light would rouse us to selflessness. Just as the oil and wick burn in the vigil lamp, submissive to our will, so let our souls also burn with the flame of love in all our sufferings, always being submissive to God’s will.

7. In order to teach us that just as the vigil lamp cannot be lit without our hand, so too, our heart, our inward vigil lamp, cannot be lit without the holy fire of God’s grace, even if it were to be filled with all the virtues.  All these virtues of ours are, after all, like combustible material, but the fire which ignites them proceeds from God.

8. In order to remind us that before anything else the Creator of the world created light, and after that everything else in order: And God said, let there be light: and there was light (Genesis 1:3).  And it must be so also at the beginning of our spiritual life, so that before anything else the light of Christ’s truth would shine within us.  From this light of Christ’s truth subsequently every good is created, springs up and grows in us.

May the Light of Christ illumine you as well!”


This is day twenty-Six of the 40 Days of Blogging.
For more articles on oil lamps, check out these bloggers.

About padrerichard

I am a Priest with ROCOR.
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2 Responses to Oil Lamps

  1. Sdcn Joseph says:

    Wonderful Blog Father!!! Please say hello to Fr Seraphim for me.
    Sdcn Joseph

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