Once when one of my nri marthomite cousins came to our church for my grandfather’s remembrance service, i was shocked to find her coughin at the incense and blowing it away with her hands. Later i think some protestants have also asked me this question, why do we have incense in our church? It is because we the Oriental Orthodox Christians follow the Early Christian worship,(which had much Jewish influence) and like to use Biblical symbolisms in our worship. The Orthodox church is Scripture in brick and wood. Significance of Incense in Scriptures
Malachi. 1:11. “…and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name” Numbers 16:46-50. “And Moses said to Aaron, Take your censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and lay incense on it, and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them. Here offering of the incense is to get rid off the plage. It also removes the foul smell of sin”. Ps. 141:2. “Let my prayer be counted as incense.” Heb. 9:4. “Having the golden altar of incense.” Rev. 5:8. “golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints.” The worship of the Church is a heavenly worship and hence fragrant incense is used. Mt. 2:11. ” They offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh”. Ex. 35:8, 15. “Spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense this altar of incense”. Proverbs. 27:9. “Oil and perfume make the heart glad”. Ex. 40:26, 27. “..Put burnt fragrant incense upon it”. 2 Chron. 2:4. “..dedicate it to him for the burning of incense.” 1 Dings 9:25. “Solomon offered the incense in the temple of God”. 2 Chron. 2:6. “..it is the place to burn incense before God”. Revelations 8:3,4 “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. The smoke from the incense and the prayers of the saints went up from the angel’s hand to God.” Courtesy: Dr. Siju, kuwait.
Worship with all the human senses
Another important aspect is that in Orthodox Christian worship we participate with all the 5 senses of the human body:
– Eyes (Seeing the Qurbana, Icons, Altar).
– Ears (Hearing the Liturgy and songs).
– Skin (Kiss of peace/Kaiyasthuri, blessing by the priest).
– Tongue/Taste (Eating the Eucharist bread and wine, chanting prayers).
– Nose (INCENSE).
Censing to emphasis unity in Christ
The main theme of the Orthodox Church is theosis or becoming God-like (John 10:34) not by essence but by grace.
* We cense the Altar Table as God’s throne and the Holy of Holies in Christianity.
* We cense the icons in the church that remind us about our continuous presence in heaven on earth and give us vivid examples of successful stories of personal theosis of the saints.
* We cense the bodies of our departed this life brothers and sisters in Christ before and during funeral services to show that their bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20), and that our unity in Christ is not broken by temporal separation through death (John 11:25-26).
* We also cense the people present, the living members of the Church to underline our unity with the saints through the grace of God and through sharing in the image of God.
Everybody and everything is being censed during the service to emphasize the essential unity of those in heaven and on earth, as well as our participation in heavenly things during services. That is why we not just have a liturgy but Divine Liturgy where people are united with Christ, through Christ and in Christ our God! Therefore, we use incense and censer for our own spiritual awakening, and for making our experience of worship more complete. O Lord, I cry out to you. Come quickly to me! Pay attention to me when I cry out to you! May you accept my prayer like incense, my uplifted hands like the evening offering! (Psalm 141)