“And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.” Rev. 8: 4
Of all the treasures that Orthodox worship has brought to my life, understanding God’s design of our senses in His heavenly worship is chief among them. This single concept, this reality, ushered me around the corner from understanding Christian theology as a reasoned set of precepts to follow, to Christianity as LIFE in Christ, active participants in the life-giving Trinity.
For years I have burned incense in my home. Sometimes the smell would annoy my husband and other times it would bring lively chuckles from my friends who liked to tease my ‘hippie’ inclinations. Even so, I liked the fragrance and the wafting smoke reminded me of times well spent by a campfire. Such is the powerful memory of scent.
From the first time I stepped into an Orthodox church, I smiled at the fragrance which seemed to cling to the atmosphere. This was no passing sweetness that you sometimes encounter when moving among people at the mall; incense moves slowly and hangs in the air like stars in the heavens on a dark winter night. It quickens your awareness and asks your stillness.
A friend of mine, who is not Orthodox, remarked that ‘incense induces one to prayer’. Revelation 8 tells us of heavenly worship and guess what? There will be incense in heaven! Can you imagine the divine fragrance of the Court of Christ?
When the magi visited the Christ-child, they brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, aromatic gums and resins with healing properties; gifts befitting a King. And isn’t it curious to note that this same balm, the myrrh, was applied to Jesus’ body when he was laid in the tomb? (St. John 19:9)
Blessings to you this Christmas season and may your prayer times be enriched with the sweet aroma of wafting incense.