Saturday 30 November 2013

ABCs: C is for Candles, and Chandeliers, and Candylia (Kandylia)

“ I am the Light of the World: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life”( John 8/12)

When a liturgy is performed, oil lamps burn in front of the icons. candles are lit, and most churches, even modest ones  will have at least one  glowing chandelier.
The profusion of light symbolizes the light of Christ, the light of the saints, the light of faith, and a reminder that Christians themselves must light the world with their faith, to remind the faithful to pray, to shine light into the darkness of evil, to remind us that earthly will should be burned and sacrificed for Grace, to symbolize the love of God. The list is even longer. One exhausted web site writer simply ended the list with etc.  Their meaning, like many Orthodox symbols, can be drawn out to a breathtaking degree, but the visual effect is simple: beautiful.

  Candylia (Κανδύλια) or Vigil Lamps  Kandylia come in two varieties, either hanging or  free standing. They are each filled with oil with a floating wick which, once lit, can stay lit pretty much until the oil runs out or the wick is entirely used up. This slow burning method explains why roadside shrines in amazingly inaccessible and deserted places seem to be lit up at night as if by magic. The truth is that often they were burning all day too but you just did not see the flame. - Eventually, of course, the wick does have to be trimmed and oil added… 

A hanging vigil lamp

And they are anywhere there is an icon – churches, homes, and roadside shrines. They either hang in front of icons or stand before them. Olive oil of the best quality is the preferred fuel. In country churches, on the feast day of the church, parishioners bring oil as an offering, so that the lamps will never run out. In many churches there is one lamp placed in front of the crucifix in the sanctuary that is supposed to stay lit; it is called the sleepless vigil.

Hanging lamps consist of a wall mounted bracket with three chains attached to a holder that holds the heat tempered glass bowl containing the oil. They are usually elaborate, with either silver or gold plate and highly decorated even in the plainest chapel.  The three chains are said to symbolize the Trinity. Often either four balls or twelve are hung from the chain to represent the evangelists or the twelve disciples respectively. Crosses may be pendant, enamel may be inlaid and on elaborate iconostases, the lamps might hang from the mouths of carved eagles.
 Standing vigil lamps are also used before icons on proskynitaria ( prayer stations), within the church, in homes, as well as in roadside shrines.
Using electric lamps to honour an icon  is a not considered correct, partly because of tradition, but mostly because the care and lighting of the lamps is supposed to be a daily sacrifice willingly made by the faithful. Flicking a light switch is just too easy.
 I did see the exception that proved  the rule once near Eghion.. It was at the 14th century monastery of the Blessed Leondios built before the newer Taxiarchon Monastery below. The upper monastery, now deserted, is carved into a sandstone cliff, some parts of it already melting into the abyss –and well over one kilometer straight up from Taxiarchon. A hard trek on a good day and a dirt road not passable in bad weather made lighting the small shrine marking its church problematic for the few elderly monks still at Taxiarchon.  So they placed a bare  40 watt bulb in the shrine front of the icon and  very long extension cord coiling down the hill ..

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