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The Lamp

Updated: Feb 13

If one travels far from the lights of the city and ventures into the deep woods at night, one can clearly understand why, for most of mankind’s history, people feared the dark, and why it is such an easy literary tool used to describe evil. When one stands under the trees, or the clouds where not even the light of the stars can be seen, the darkness is overpowering, almost as if it were a presence, a great shadow of a bodiless being, engulfing you into its cloak to whisk you off to wherever pure fear and dread will take you. Every sound of every natural thing that lives there where God put it, might as well be an army of dark creatures slithering their way to you, to take you away into an abyss that one’s imagination cannot even begin to fathom.

So then it is no wonder why a faithful Christian would keep vigil before their prayer corner, with the lamp lit, shining the light of prayer and the love of Christ throughout their home. The gold, the paint, the candles, the decorative rushnyk (towel) and maybe some flowers; these would have been some of the most colorful and decorative things in a humble home, and thus the little icon corner would be a tiny heaven for the faithful. Amid the deep, dreadful dark outside, the home icon corner and what occurred there glowed with angelic fire, battled against the despair, and drove away the fear and the sinful things humanity would devise in the blackness.

What about our prayer corners? Are they lit constantly? Are they holy places? Are we frequently standing in vigil before them, placing our hope in God, making every attempt to have our homes be blessed as little churches? Do we see through the dark, and with the help of the light of the kandili, gaze upon the face of our Savior, His Mother and all the Saints who stand ready do help us do battle against “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph 6:2) ? Is there a spot worn on the floor in front of our icons from where our feet stood during many hours in prayer, or where our knees rubbed some of the flooring away due to our prostrations, begging the Lord for His mercy upon us, our children and the world? Are the pages of our prayer books worn and browned from the oil of our hands, or pocked with drops of wax from the candles, and when we approach the corner do we swear from the smell of the incense we constantly light that we were suddenly standing in Church among the “great cloud of witnesses”(Heb 12:1) ?

Or, can we honestly and with all humility say to ourselves that none of the former is true? That instead of a well-used prayer corner, ours is a hard place to locate in our homes, and if it is, it is covered in a layer of dust, and that all of our prayer books (rather, the one we own) cracks when we open the crispy, new, rarely touched pages, and the immaculate carpet has no ring of incense to it all? Do we even remember the last time we might have lit the now dust-covered lampada and do we even own a single proper candle for prayer? It’s okay to admit this. There should be no shame so long as when we admit this shortcoming we make a true and courageous attempt at changing things. This follows the teaching of St. John Chrysostom, “Pay attention carefully. After the sin comes the shame; courage follows repentance. Did you pay attention to what I said? Satan upsets the order; he gives the courage to sin and the shame to repentance.

Traditionally, the light of Christ (aka, the Holy Fire) given to all on the night of Pascha is taken home by the faithful and the recently-prepared icon corner’s lampada is re-lit with this flame.

The light of Christ then beckons one to come and stand before Him in humble love, and to speak to Him. It is in talking to Christ through prayer that, as St. John Chrysostom says, we find “the place of refuge for every worry, a foundation for cheerfulness, a source of constant happiness, a protection against sadness.” We keep this lamp lit as a vigil, and we tend to it constantly, making sure the flame isn’t too large or too small, and most certainly making sure that it never goes out.

When we check on the lamp, we say a small prayer such as “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner.” or we pray for a loved one, “Lord have mercy on my children.” or we make a humble entreaty such as “Lord, your will be done. Direct me to do what it is I should do, and may I never fall for the evil one’s tricks!” or even this beautiful prayer by Nikolai Velomirovic “O Son of life, fill the earth of my body and Soul with Your life, so that I may have something with which to appear among the living angels. Without Your life I would be unable to breathe the air that the angels breathe, or to eat the bread that angels eat. I would again be an exile outside the gates of the heavenly kingdom, before which gates even now I lie like a paralytic.” or “Lord, please have mercy on my priest (or spiritual father). Give him strength, faith, hope and love, and may He always strive to carry his cross and serve you with all of his heart.” or lastly, in the words of St. Theophan the Recluse “Lord! Thou knowest all things. Do with me as Thou willest!” Amen, amen, amen! Whatever you say before your icons, say with your heart in all love and sincerity.

Our prayer corners are, as it were, a reflection of our spiritual lives. In another sense, they are like the presence of God in our life: the corner has gone nowhere, it is we who have neglected it and in some cases rejected it; it is we who walked away. Thus it is also simple for us to return to, to make clean again, and renew our place before it.

Let us attend to our connection with God through prayer and attentiveness. To walk with Christ on the narrow path takes many steps, some large, some small. With His help, with the prayers of the Saints and our brothers and sisters in Christ on earth, we can little by little overcome those many spiritual, noetic things which weigh us down and very likely cause us to neglect our spiritual lives. The simple routine, the vigilant, prayerful attention given to our prayer corners will lighten the darkness of the world around us, it can take the place of spiritually harmful practices and allow us to follow the light of Christ along the narrow and difficult path. The more we gaze at the lit icons in a dark room the more we will see not judgment nor our own guilt in those faces, but rather we will see the eyes of mercy and love staring back at us.

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