Why we light a candle and what it symbolizes


All things within the Church have their symbolism.

The words of Saint Gregory Palamas are characteristic: “Every rite and every particular element of it, even the most apparently small and insignificant, is a symbol and embodies the truth which it symbolizes, and therefore has power and reasons and significance.”

One of these symbols is the candle – candle – candle.

It is known that the early Christians used candles as a means of illumination in their meetings. When in the 4th century M. Constantine ceases the persecutions against Christians, we also have the construction of Temples where the Church, in order to save a part of its existence, incorporates into the worship a chalice to which it attributes the following symbolism:

  1. The offered candle reminds us of the inner transformation we must seek.
  2. The lighting of the candle motivates us to ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit
  3. The flame of the candle reminds us that we must become fiery poets of our faith, of love, of peace and of indomitability.

The candle should also be remembered that we find it in all the sacraments of the Church and each time with different symbolism.

In the Eucharist, it symbolizes the light of Christ shining through the Gospel on our souls.

In Holy Baptism, we have the lighted lamp which symbolizes that the new convert should see good works and glorify God. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

In the Sacrament of Marriage, the lighting of the white candles symbolizes the purity of the souls of the newlyweds.

The candle is also found in memorial services, which symbolizes our plea for the sleeping ones. The Lord rest them in a bright place.

The candle is a symbol of devotion, piety to God and respect for His saints. It is used in joyful occasions (weddings, baptisms), but also in sad events (funerals, memorials) because as it burns and melts, it symbolizes spiritual joy, but also sadness and devastation. Just as the candle, when heated, becomes soft and pliable, so our hearts, when we enter the Church and attend the Divine Liturgy, should become tender and compassionate. The candles also symbolize the hearts of Christians who, enlightened by the light of Christ and inflamed by His fire (Luke 12:49), are drawn to the glory of God. It is, therefore, a foreshadowing of the bright life that believers should live.

According to Saint Simeon of Thessaloniki, it also symbolizes:

  • The purity of our soul (since it is made of pure beeswax).
  • The plasticity of our soul (since we can engrave on it whatever we want).
  • Divine Grace (since it comes from the fragrant flowers)
  • The theosis to which we must attain (because the wax mixes with the fire and gives it life).
  • The light of Christ (since it burns and illuminates in the darkness).
  • The love and peace that should characterize every Christian (since the candle burns-flames when it illuminates and comforts man with its light in the darkness).

The candle is our offering to God during the Divine Liturgy. worship. By lighting a candle we make a kind of confession and prayer: we confess faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and we recite to the Holy Trinity the ode of our blessedness. We also light a candle to the Virgin Mary and the saints. We confess their holiness and their sincerity before God and ask for their intercessions.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov lit many pure candles, large and small, in his cell. When asked why he does it, he said that he lights these candles, one for each person he would like to remember again in the service (and he didn’t have time because there were too many), as a sacrifice to God for them. With the candle we light we express our faith in the Triune God and ask for His support for our daily spiritual struggle, as well as for the support of our loved ones. Especially when we are in danger or in need of special help. But we also light a candle for our deceased brothers and sisters, praying at the same time for the repose of their souls.

According to Saint Nicodemus the Athonite, we light the candle:

  • To glorify God who is the true and unique light that illuminates every human being.
  • To dispel the darkness and comfort ourselves in the face of the fear of darkness.
  • To show that we have joy in our souls.
  • To honour the saints and martyrs of our faith (in this way we imitate the ancient Christians who lit candles on the tombs of the martyrs).
  • To symbolize our good works according to the word of the Lord:
    “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
  • To forgive the sins of those who light a candle and those for whom they light it (in many churches there are separate candelabras where candles are lit for the living and the deceased).

The candles, says Philip Serrard, -whose beeswax, distilled from the nectar of innumerable flowers, is the virgin soul, their light the spirit which, nourished by the purest essence of the soul, strives for heaven- are lit so that the eye can penetrate the meanings they speak through shapes and colours. When they are lit and extinguished, we not only reflect, but we can see the creation of light and the coming of darkness and sin. … the flames of the candles, flickering like the spirit in danger, repel the darkness…

St. Simeon the New Theologian writes: “the lamps you light reveal to you the imaginary light. For as the whole church shines from the candles, so the house of your own soul must also shine imaginatively…”

Finally, in lighting the candle we must remember that we must live in the light we received at our baptism (that is why during baptism we keep lit candles). This light is the fire of Pentecost, the light of St. Spirit (renewed every time we participate in the Divine Liturgy, when we pray, especially when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ).
We must remember that the “light of Christ is shining through”.

From all this we understand that the lighting of the candle is not just a formality, but a great act to which we must give the attention it deserves.

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