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The censer of incense

The night vigil begins. Solemnly and slowly the choir is singing Psalm 103, which tells us about the creation of the universe. At that time the priest is going around the church with the censer. The aroma of incense is filling the whole church.

The censer as well as the seven candleholder are indispensable parts of the Orthodox service (Levit 16:12). From the time of the Apostles the incensing is done during prayers. The aromatic resin of eastern trees is placed over the coals smoldering in a metal censer. When that resinous substance burns, it gives out a sweet smell ó incense.

Burning of sacrifices before God can be traced back to ancient time. Suffice it to mention the sacrifice made by the righteous Abel. The Lord Himself told Moses to make a special place for ritual smoking of aromatic substances. The magi who came to worship Christ brought those resinous substances among other gifts for the newly born God. John the Theologian, one of the writers of the Gospel, in his Revelation saw an Angel in the Heavenly temple accepting a golden censer (Rev. 83-5).

The incense spreading in the church symbolizes the prayer of the faithful sent up to God and at the same time it is a symbol of the Grace of the Holy Spirit mysteriously embracing them.

Before every censing a priest reads a secret (quiet) prayer: "We offer onto Thee, 0 Christ our God, this incense for an odor of spiritual sweetness which do Thou accept upon Thy most heavenly altar, sending down upon us in return the Grace of Thy Holy Spirit." Listening to this prayer we understand that the smoke visible to everybody denotes the invisible presence of the Lordís Grace, which is sanctifying the faithful.

The incensing during services can be complete when it covers the whole church, and minor, when the altar, iconostas and the people are incensed from the pulpit. Incensing of sacred things (such as icons and the church) is sent up to God praising Him appropriately. When the censer is turned to people, it testifies to the fact that the Holy Spirit is descending upon all the faithful, as the carriers of Godís image within them. Traditionally we bow when censed.

There is no unanimous opinion on whether laymen can be incensing their homes while praying. Priests have diverse opinions on that definitely righteous procedure. One should consult his or her spiritual father.

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