Church Candle. How to Correctly Light Candles for the Living and the Reposed?

Church Candle

The history of the candle can be traced since the very inception of the Church. This can be seen from the Holy Scriptures (see Acts 20:8). Beyond that, the tradition of lighting candles existed in the Old Testament Church (see Ex. 30:8).

Persecuted by the pagan authorities, Christians were forced to hide themselves. They gathered in catacombs or prayed at night using homes of like-minded believers. In such conditions, deprived of natural illumination, sources of artificial light were an urgent need.

Fun Facts about Candles

  • The first Christians made their own candles and donated them to churches as a sacrifice. Today, candles are purchased in churches, also as a voluntary sacrifice.
  • After the cessation of persecution against Christians, the need for secret night meetings disappeared, however candles became so deeply ingrained in liturgical life that they have never ceased to be used in the entire history of the Church.
  • Lighting candles is an essential part of all worship services.
  • A lit candle is a material symbol of prayer. At the same time, a candle remains just a candle. It does not bring any spiritual benefit when  it is not lit for prayer. 

The main Types of Church Candles

Candles can vary in length, diameter, composition, and burning time. In the Russian Church, the shortest candles are usually 15-16 cm long, and the longest—about 38 cm. Their diameter is about 4.7 and 13 mm, respectively. The burning time of such candles varies between 40 minutes for a small candle and 5 hours for a large one. Wax candles with standard diameter and length are often called numbered candles. Candles may vary in color, shape and size depending on local traditions and characteristics.

What are church candles made of? Candles can be made from paraffin wax, palm wax or beeswax. Paraffin is the most accessible and most high-demand material. However, paraffin candles are inferior in quality compared to wax candles. Palm wax is very solid, which allows using it to make candles of unusual shape (for example, in the form of a spiral). Besides, palm wax candles burn longer than paraffin wax candles. Beeswax candles are completely natural. They burn even longer and brighter, emitting a pleasant aroma, and producing much less soot. Often, church candles contain a mixture of paraffin and wax.

What other candles are there? Besides the usual candles lit by parishioners in church, there are other types of candles. Essentially, these candles differ only in their usage.

Liturgical Candles

This type of candle is used only during worship. It includes deacon candles, sanctuary candles, menorah, dikirion, trikirion and primikirion. 

Deacon candles are placed on long candlesticks, carried by deacons, subdeacons and altar servers at certain moments of worship, for example, during the Small and Great Entrances, or Gospel readings.

A sanctuary candle, lit in the altar, is carried out to the Ambon and placed in front of the Holy Doors during the Communion of the clergy. It stays there until after the Communion of the clergy and preparation of the Holy Gifts for Communion of the congregation.

A menorah can be designed to be placed on the floor or on the table. Depending on this, it is placed either directly behind the altar table, or on top of it. Its seven candles symbolize the seven Sacraments of the Church. In modern practice, the candles on menorah are commonly replaced by seven oil lamps. A menorah is lit before the service and put out after its completion. 

Orthodox Vigil Lamps

Dikirion and trikirion are candles with which the bishop blesses the congregation. Two dikirion candles symbolize the two natures and two wills of the Lord Jesus Christ, while three trikirion candles symbolize the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

 

A primikirion is a single-candle candlestick with a stand. It is used only in worship led by the primate of a Local Church (rarely—an autonomous church). At certain moments of the service, a primikirion is brought before the primate. Notably, the clergyman carrying the candle is also called a primikirion.

Wedding Candles

Wedding candles are held by the spouses during the rites of engagement and wedding. As a rule, wedding candles are decorated with ornaments, flowers and ribbons. According to a pious tradition, spouses keep these candles for life and light them during a joint prayer.

Wedding candles
Buy wedding candles at the Convent

Candles for home prayer

Christians light candles at home during private prayer. Candles for home prayer are sold in sets.  As a rule, these are small candles 15-19 cm long and 4-5 mm in diameter.

Candles for home prayer
Buy candles for home prayer or candles set for children

How to light candles in church correctly

First of all, it should be borne in mind that in case a divine service is celebrated in church, it is always better to light candles after it ends. Light candles during worship only if you do not interfere with anyone, so as not to distract other parishioners from prayer.

Before placing a lit candle on a candle-holder, make the sign of the cross and say a prayer quietly. A candle should be lit from other candles, and if there are none, then very carefully—from an icon lamp. The lower end of the candle needs to be melted slightly using the fire of other candles so that it is more stable in the candlestick. Place candles as close to the center of the candlestick as possible, because if the empty slots in the center are surrounded by burning candles, then other parishioners will have to reach through the fire to place their candles on the candle-holder. 

Candle for the Repose

Where to place a candle for the repose? Any candle, regardless of your prayer intentions, can be placed in any free space on any available candlestick. However, there is a designated memorial table for candles lit for the repose. It is usually found in the far right corner of the church. This table, in front of which memorial services are performed, is easy to recognize by an upright crucifix attached to it.

Candles for the living

Feel free to place candles in front of those icons that you feel particularly disposed to. There is a folk tradition of praying and lighting candles to specific saints on specific occasions. In reality, there is no “specialisation” among saints. Prayer intercession can be asked from any saint for any prayer intentions. You can place candles for the living in front of any icon.

Is it possible to order lighting candles online?

If you decide to donate or order church services remotely, do it exclusively on the official website of a particular church or monastery.

There are Internet services or “virtual churches” where you can “light candles” online. There are also web pages that offer to light a candle or order services for you in a certain church. As a rule, these are fraudulent websites that profit from religious illiteracy and serve solely to enrich their creators. 

The meaning of purchasing a candle is sacrifice to the Church. By purchasing a candle online through an unfamiliar resource, you are donating money to unknown people, often not related to the Church. The same applies to resources that supposedly order church services for you. Practice shows that in most cases you simply transfer money to someone who does not follow through with the services advertised. Most of these services were never blessed by the hierarchy, and the clergy of the churches they refer to know nothing about “cooperating” with them. 

Wax candles
Buy wax home and church candles

Candle FAQ

Why do you need to buy candles in a church?

When you buy a candle from the Church, you are donating to the Church. Besides, a candle can help you tune in to a prayerful mood, although sacrifice remains its original and main meaning. It is bad form to be bringing candles bought elsewhere to church. Besides, it is pointless.

Why are candles lit in the church?

Buying a candle is a sacrifice for the maintenance of a church, in addition, a candle is a visible symbol of a person’s prayer.

When can you not light candles for the dead?

Outside of worship, you can light any candles at any time.

How to dispose of candle-ends?

Items consecrated in church cannot be thrown away. Collect your candle-ends and bring them to church, or burn them.

You can use candle-ends to make a new candle at home. 

Take a small jar and a thick thread. Place one end of the thread to the bottom of the jar, and leave the other one outside of it. Melt your candle-ends in a water bath and pour the melted wax into the jar. When the wax hardens, break the jar. The candle is ready. 

If you do not want to break the jar, then you can make a dipped candle out of wax. Melt the wax in a water bath. Dip a wick or a candle in wax and hold it there for several minutes. Then take it out for a few minutes. When the wax has cooled down a little, smooth out the bumps. Then dip the candle into the wax for a few more seconds and remove for three minutes. Repeat this step until you get the desired result. The wick can be partially dipped to change the shape of the candle. For example, if you dip it less and less each time, you can make a cone candle.

Is it possible to light candles for the repose or the health of unbaptized people?

Yes, it is. Your prayer while lighting a candle in church remains your personal prayer. The prohibition to commemorate the unbaptized applies only to conciliar church prayer. The same goes for suicides.

How to behave in church when lighting candles?

If you are taking your first steps in church and need help, do not hesitate to ask church workers for it. Start by adjusting your behaviour in church to that of other parishioners. After several visits to worship, you will feel more confident. 

If you have never been to church, choose modest clothes for your first visit; cover your head (only for women) and avoid talking loudly inside the church. Try to act with reverence and a sincere desire of communion with God. 

Buy a handmade candleholder for home or church

Where to place a lit candle at home if there is no candlestick?

First of all, consider purchasing a candlestick. As a temporary solution, you can pour some sand or grits (for example, wheat) into a mug up to a level where the candle would stand upright in it. 

You can also melt the bottom of the candle until wax drips (for example onto a saucer). Then flatten the lower edge of the candle by pressing it firmly against the surface of the saucer until the candle sticks and stands firmly in it.

You can light candles at home and in church, remembering that the time when they were a source of light has long passed. A candle is a symbol of our prayer and our standing before the Almighty God, as well as our sincere conversation with Him. 

About the author

John Malov,
Reader, theologian, member of The Catalog of Good Deeds team.

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