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 ). 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
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