Light in the Darkness

14 11 2011

People often find the darkness inside an Orthodox church a bit disturbing. I have heard other Orthodox Christians mention various reasons as to why this is so: to help us focus, to distance ourselves from the distractions of the world and other reasons. To others it just seems to be a place of darkness and with the darkness it seems on the surface to be contrary to what we think it should. After all shouldn’t being in Church be a place of light?

As the Nativity fast is soon upon us, my thoughts were turning toward preparing my heart for the coming of the Nativity of our Lord God and Savior in the flesh. That wonderful time of year that is for Christians a time of reflecting and remembering the birth of Jesus – Christmas. The Nativity season doesn’t end “officially” in the church until Theophany also know as Epiphany. This season is known as the festival of lights.

As a child raised in a Lutheran Church, we, as a family looked forward to the Advent services and especially the Christmas Eve services. During each Advent service we would light one special candle on Sunday to again prepare our hearts. Then came the midnight Christmas Eve services which usually started around 11:00 in the evening and it would end on or a bit after midnight. During this service all the lights in the church were extinguished and then each of the Advent candles were lit with a special Scripture reading. Finally it came time to light the Christ candle. Upon the Christ candle being lit, the Pastor would take his own individual candle and light his candle from the Christ candle. The Pastor would then light one of the candles of one of the other members of the church, who in turn would pass the lighting on to another, until each one of us had our own individually lit candle. By the time everyone had their own candle lit, the room was no longer dark. We were no longer sitting or standing in darkness.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”  Isaiah 9:2, The Holy Bible, New King James Version

“Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people but the Lord will arise over you and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”  Isaiah 60:1-3, The Holy Bible, New King James Version

Jesus said of Himself that He was the Light of the World. The scriptures have numerous references to God and especially the God-man Jesus of being light and in Him is no darkness. As Christians we are exhorted to let the life of Christ, the light of Christ, shine out of our own hearts and lives.

We have many artistic renditions of the Nativity with some very common themes that illustrate the Nativity story in paintings, sculptures and in the Orthodox Church icons. It is the Nativity icon I find many expressions of darkness contrasting light. The cave in which Christ is born is pictured dark and out of the darkness the light of Christ is shining. It was dark in the sky until Angels appeared and lit up the sky. And let’s not forget the magnificent Star, the Magi from the east followed to where the baby Jesus lay.

In the services of the Orthodox Church there are many reminders to help teach us eternal truths. One of the reminders is a darkened church. There is light in the surroundings, but the lights are strategically placed in front of icons in the form of candles: in the memorial boxes and small oil lamps (lampadas). There is usually a big light such as a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. In the evening Vespers service the candles and lampadas are lit, but the overhead lighting is off, until a certain moment when we sing a song that begins with “O Gentle Light of the glorious…”

I am not an Orthodox “expert” by any means, so hear are my humble thoughts on these expressions of contrasting light and darkness. Jesus came into a dark world as the Light of the world. Each time a candle is lit in front of an icon we remember the particular saint or angel as one who has the light of Christ dwelling in them. The “halo” around various saints and angels reflects the glory of God shining from their faces and their lives.

So much more symbolism in the candles, the flames, oil burning in the lampadas, everything to remind us that although we are in a dark world, we have the light of Christ with us always. And just as the light from the Christ candle is One glorious light – it is still passed on person to person. So the next time you find yourself surrounded by darkness look for the light, perhaps bring a light to someone else in darkness. Where do we get this light? We receive the light from the Lord Jesus Christ himself who even the darkness, the darkness is light to Him.

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Good book on differences between Orthodoxy and other faiths

19 07 2011

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Are you an Orthodox Christian who wonders how to explain to your Baptist grandmother, your Buddhist neighbor, or the Jehovah s Witness at your door how your faith differs from theirs? Or are you a member of another faith who is curious what Orthodoxy is all about? This book will help you understand some of the differences.








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