A Guide to the Symbolism of Orthodox Candles

While some of us go to church for religious reasons, others find churches as sacred spaces where they can eliminate stress and find peace. Reading the Bible can also help you find peace, but the truth is that nothing can help you more than talking with a priest and lighting a candle. Speaking about candles, do you know the real meaning behind them? If not, it’s time to learn something new and believe in their light even more.  

Why Do Greek Orthodox Light Candles?

Lighting a candle is a common thing in the Greek Orthodox church. Candles can be lighted on a daily basis and on special ceremonies as they represent the light of Christ. According to Jesus’ own words, he says “I’m the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” – John 8:12. Jesus came to the world to die on the cross in order to save us from our sins. So, each time we light a candle, it helps us remember that our Holy Father is the light of the whole world. In fact, that is why Christians refer to it as the Light of God or the Light of Christ.

There are many types of candles in the Greek church ceremonies ranging in size, thickness and height. The most basic types of church candles are the prayer candles or also known as religious prayer smokeless candles. They also can come in several sizes and thickness, but truth to be told, there really is no difference which one you’ll light. The only difference between the different candle thicknesses and height is in how long the candle will burn.

The Meaning According to Saint Symeon of Thessalonica

White smokeless candles
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According to Saint Symeon of Thessalonica, the candle we light represents six things. The first real explanation according to him is that the light of a candle represents the purity of our soul because candles are made of pure beeswax.

According to him, smokeless candles also represent the plasticity of our soul. That is because we people can easily engrave anything on it. It also represents the deification because the candle is mixed with fire. Moreover, it represents the light of Jesus Christ, as it burns, it illuminates the darkness. The candle represents the Divine Grace , as the candle comes from fragrant flowers. And finally, saint Symeon says that the candle represents the love and peace that every Christian should have. That is because the candle burns and comforts everyone with its light in the darkness. When lighting a candle in the church, people must remember that they should live with the light they received with their baptism.

In fact, that is why baptism is called “Enlightenment” and Christians hold lighted candles during the ceremony. The light of the candles is the light of the Holy Spirit and this light is renewed within our souls every time one participates in the Divine Liturgy. But also, every time one receives the Holy Communion and when praying. This explains the fact why this liturgy ends with everybody singing  “We have seen the True Light. We have received the Heavenly Spirit. We have found the True faith. Worshiping the Undivided trinity who saved us”.

As you can see, the meaning of orthodox candles is huge, especially for real believers. By lighting a candle and praying for their soul and health, a true believer can feel an instant relieve which is important for their mental health. That is why upon entering the church, believers should light a candle in front of the icons. Besides lighting a candle for themselves and for their family, Christians can light a candle for the deceased relatives and acquaintances. According to the orthodox church, the lighting of a candle should always be accompanied by a prayer. For example, for the living, believers usually ask for God’s mercy and protection, while for the deceased, they can ask for God’s compassion and eternal salvation.

The Meaning of the Many Types of Candles

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  • Candles produced by virgin bees represent the human nature of Jesus Christ which came from the Holy Virgin Mary
  • The triple candle or also known as “trikirion” that the bishop holds represents the Holy Trinity
  • The dual candle or also known as ”dikirion” represents the dual nature of Jesus Christ
  • The candles used during baptism represent the spiritual light that is received by the newly baptised person
  • The candles at memorial services and funerals, as well as those placed on the tomb of a deceased, represent the light of Christ which we wish the deceased to receive
  • The chandelier in a church represents the triumphant Church in Heaven, and the candles or oil lamps on it, represent the saints.