The Meaning of Candles in the Greek Orthodox Church

by Mary Papoulias-Platis

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The lighted candle is very symbolic during many ceremonies within the Greek Orthodox church.  It represents the light of Christ according to Jesus’ own words, ” I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”. Candles are displayed everywhere, the front of the church as you enter, the narthex, around the front of the altar in the nave, and in the holy altar.

When you enter church, the narthex, you may light a candle, say a brief prayer, and place it among the icons. As you approach the inside doors you will see two nearby-icons hanging on either side of the nave walls that are facing you as you enter. Many do the sign of the cross and kiss the icon, before passing through the church doors. Once inside, the nave, you will see large size icons of Christ, Mary,and the other saints at the front holy alter.

There are many types of candles in the Greek church ceremonies, including special festive wedding candles for the bride and groom, decorated baptism candles for the couple’s infant, and candles for funerals to remember the deceased. During Easter week, the Anastasi service is the climax of the Orthodox year. Before midnight, the congregation gathers for the Resurrection of Christ ceremony.  Special red cupped candles are lit in church and special hymns are sang with anticipation of the arrival of midnight.

Just before midnight, the church is darkened symbolizing the tomb of Jesus. The only light comes from an oil candle at the holy altar brought out by the priest. At midnight the one lit candle is passed around to be shared among the people. The tomb is carried outside and the observers follow with their lit candles. The tomb is carried around the church three times, with the people following with their lit candles.

Candles can also be taken home after Good Friday Services still lit to bless your home! The light of the cross has three customs; to make a cross of smoke over the entryway of your home, to light the kendali at the home, and to light the candle at the dinner table. The light is believed to have miraculous powers of protection and to bring blessings for the entire year.

Blessing the home on Easter


Information from this post comes from : A guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America by Marilyn Rouvelas.

© 2012 – 2018, Mary Papoulias-Platis. All rights reserved.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Fran Aroney

Lovely page! Bless you!

2 Angela Poupart

What is a Greek Church is that where you worship Greek?

3 Mary Papoulias-Platis

Hi Angela,
I live in Southern California and attend the many Greek churches in the area!

4 Athena

May I politely correct something stated in your article . The candle on Holy Friday is not taken home to bless homes but the light from the resurrection from Holy Saturday is taken home to bless homes seeing that we bring the resurrection (life of Christ)to our homes and not death.

5 Mary Papoulias-Platis

Thank you Athena, for your enlightment on this traditional holiday!

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