Meaning of Candles

Based on Their Twelve Properties

  1. Candles give light. They remind us of Christ Our Savior, Who said “I am the Light of the world.” (John 9:5) They also remind us that we must also shine as lights, for Christ said that we, too, are the light of the world. For He said: “You are the light of the world.” And, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:14-16).
  2. Candles give warmth. They remind us that we must also give warmth to those around us, especially those who are cold and needy—to warm them with our love.
  3. Candles burn with fire. They remind us of the eternal fires of hell, which await us if we do not repent and do not follow God’s commandments.
  4. Candles are beautiful but dangerous. They shed a beautiful soft light in the Church makes the icons glow and that makes it so much easier to concentrate in prayer. However, if not monitored, they can also ignite the church furnishings and cause the church to burn down and all of the icons be destroyed. They teach us to be ever vigilant and careful, because lack of vigilance can bring terrible consequences.
  5. Candles are not permanent. They remind us that our time of life here on earth is fleeting, and that every day our life grows shorter until it is extinguished. Candles call us, therefore, to repentance, for our time here on earth is not forever.
  6. Candles are straight. They remind us that we must stand straight before the Eyes of the Lord., that our deeds must be straightforward and righteous. A candle that is not standing straight up will not burn properly. So we too must be straight in our ways, leaning neither to one side or the other.
  7. Candles bend but do not break. A wax candle has the wonderful property of being able to be bent in a full circle without breaking, but can then be straightened out again. They remind us that we must be able to withstand challenges and sorrows that we face in our lives without breaking. Though these sorrows may bend our resolve, we, through contrition and repentance, can become straight once again.
  8. Candles can be both hard and soft. They are hard when they are cold, but become soft when they are warmed. In the same way, our hearts are hard when cold, and we must warm them with love of God and of our fellow man in order for them to be soft again.
  9. Candles shed tears. When burning, the wax of a candle causes little drips to form and run down the candle that look like tears running down our face. They remind us that we must shed tears over our sins, and out of compassion for others.
  10. Candles are gift of the animal world. Candles are made from wax, which is the product of the labor of thousands of honeybees working together. Candles remind us that we must also be industrious and not lazy, and that we must love all of God’s creatures, big and small and be thankful to them when we use the fruit of their labors for our benefit.
  11. Candles are useful but simple. Candles are not complex. They are simple in nature, but perform their task well. Especially in our age where we are surrounded by complex technology, candles remind us that the simple things are often the best. Throughout the ages, candles have made it possible to perform services in the hours when it is dark outside. They make it possible for the priest to read the prayers in his service book, for readers and chanters to be able to assist in the services. Without candles, there would have been no All-Night Vigils, no Midnight Offices, no Paschal Midnight Matins and liturgies. Candles remind us that we too must do our jobs well, to live our lives well in accordance with God’s commandments, without complications.
  12. Candles are useless without a spark. They remind us that we all are dead and useless unless we are lit with the spark of the Holy Spirit, which ignites the flame of life. Candles remind us of the Holy Spirit, Who appeared to the Disciples in the form of a flame. They remind us that we must ask the Holy Spirit to come and abide in us, and cleanse us of every impurity that our souls may be saved.

According to St. Nikolai of Ochrid:

 Vigil lights are lit for many reasons:

  1. Because our faith is light. Christ said: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). The light of the lampada 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 lampada, 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 Savior: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matthew 5:16).
  4. So that the lampada 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 assault 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 lampada, 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 lampada cannot be  lit without our hand, so too, our heart, our inward lampada, 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.

From St. John of Kronstadt:

The candles burning on the altar represent the non-created Light of the Trinity, for the Lord dwells in an unapproachable light. They also represent the fire of Divinity which destroys our ungodliness and sins.

The candles lit before the icons of:

  • the Savior signify that He is the True Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John 1:9); at the same time, He is a Fire which engulfs and revives our souls and bodies.
  • the Theotokos are a symbol of the fact that She is the Mother of the Unapproachable Light, and also of Her most pure and burning love for God and Her love for mankind.
  • the saints reflect their ardent love for God for Whose sake they gave up everything that man prizes in life, including their very lives, as did the holy apostles, martyrs and others. These candles also mean that these saints are lamps burning for us and providing light for us by their own saintly living, their virtues and their ardent intercession for us before God through their constant prayers by day and night.

The burning candles also stand for our ardent zeal and the sincere sacrifice we make out of reverence and gratitude to them for their solicitude on our behalf before God.