Icon Lamps and Incense

          The lamps which hand in Orthodox Churches have a very long and venerable tradition. In the book of Exodus it says:  
    And do thou command the sons of Israel, and let them bring to thee refined pure olive oil beaten to burn for light, that a lamp may burn continually in the tabernacle of the testimony, outside the veil that is before the ark of the covenant. Aaron and his sons shall burn it from evening until morning before the Lord; it is a perpetual ordinance thoughout your generations of the sons of Israel.
    (Ex. 27:20 - Septuagint)
            In his commentary on Psalm 17, Saint Athanasius the Great points out that the lamps used in our worship represent the mind that is illumined with repentance, for without repentance, our lamps - that is , our minds, are darkened by sin. 

        The incense, too, has a long history in the rites of both the Old and the New Israel. at every vespers service in the Church, we chant the verse from Psalm 140  

Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee; the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.

            Thus, it is a symbol of our prayers and teaches us how our prayers must rise unto God, free of the early passions; but filled with warmth and fragrance. 

            Furthermore, the incense typifies the life of virtue, as opposed to the stench of sin. It reminds us of the fragrance of the holy relics of the saints, who are graced with incorruption - which stands in contrast to the foul stench of corruption and decomposition that comes from sin. 

            In his ninth sermon on the Song of Songs, this is what Saint Gregory of Nyssa says concerning the true meaning of the aromatic incense, as it is used in sacred rites of the Church of New Israel:   

    The soul that breathes a sweet spiritual fragrance, in the manner of Paul who was the fragrance of Christ (II Cor. 2:15), surpasses all the aromatic spices of the old Law. She becomes fragrant throughout her entire life, breathing the myrrh of holiness and an incense variously mixed and compounded of all the virtues; and thus she comes to delight the nostril of (Christ) her Spouse in a fragrance of sweetness.
    (Pg. 44, 967-7)
            Thus, the incense is meant to teach us that we must strive to become the 'fragrance of Christ', so that both our souls and bodies may escape the bonds and the bitter stench of sin and corruption, even as Christ triumphed over sin and death.