Orthodox Christianity is a religion that is both material and spiritual in its expression. The spiritual side of Christianity is reflected in prayers that we say daily and liturgically and the material side is reflected in everything that follows those prayers (candles, incense, icons etc). Assuming that the spiritual side of Orthodoxy is taken care of, there is also the material side that should be present in every home which at the very least should include censing, candles, and a vigil lamp. Today’s blog will address the importance of a vigil lamp in an orthodox home.
Although, the Church is the central place of gathering for all Orthodox Christians, every home is considered to be a small church and should emulate what is present in the central place of gathering. One of those things is the presence of vigil lamps. Vigil lamp is not simply a decoration but an altar to the Almighty God and a burning candle that is lit daily in front of the icon of our Slava or any other icon where the vigil lamp is placed.
The vigil lamp shines light upon the face of the Saint emphasizing his or her importance for our family and his intercessions before the Lord. It also reminds us that God is light and with His light He fills His saints who offer themselves to become the dwelling place of His. Additionally, the vigil lamp serves as a house candle for our whole family. Many people wait for the Sunday liturgy to light a candle for their loved ones, alive or departed; but they do not know that when they light a vigil lamp in their house, they can commemorate the names of their family members and offer them up for prayers from their patron saint.
For our vigil lamps we use oil. Whenever we use oil for our vigil lamps (traditionally it is olive oil but you can use whatever oil you like) we are offering up a sacrifice to God and our daily offering. In Serbia, many people when they come to Church offer oil for vigil lamps because they know that when the oil is burning, it is as though they have a constantly lit candle before God. We can also have this at our home if we decide to follow this pious custom of having vigil lamps.
Some homes have vigil lamps that are filled with dust, low hanging and neglected. This ‘humiliation’ of vigil lamps must come to an end and all those vigil lamps have to be washed and put to good use. In general, misuse or neglect of objects that add to our worship and are in itself dedicated to that use is considered sin. If you have a vigil lamp, put it to use. If you do not have it, it is time to make your home more authentically Orthodox by placing a vigil lamp in front of your slava icon and have it lit for you and the family.
As a side note, there are two types of vigil lamp wicks. Both of these styles are equally used in Orthodox homes or Churches.