Monday, June 9, 2008

Orthodox Incense Censer

Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.  Psalm 127:3 NIV

We have a regular feature in our bulletin that allows questions from the congregants to Fr. Scott via  short form enclosed in the bulletin.  Much to my surprise, a few weeks ago, I spied our 10 yr. old son sitting over on the edge of the pew with pen in hand, writing away.  Curious, I leaned closer as he asked, “How do you spell incense censer?”   Quietly, I spelled it for him and then asked what he was working on.  Never looking up from the form, he whispered, “I have a question about the censer...”

I sat back and smiled, enjoying the warmth of the moment.  It’s one of those times as a parent when you realize your child is maturing and savor the good feeling that produces.  His love of learning is one of the greatest joys in my life. 

His question read: “I’m an altar boy and I wondered what the bells on the censer represent.  I’ve also seen a censer without any bells.  How come?”

A couple of Sundays later, Fr. Scott's answer appeared in the bulletin:

“Today’s censers hang from three chains with a fourth chain attached to the lid.  The four chains together usually have four bells (one on each) or twelve bells (three on each) attached to them.  Four bells symbolize the four Gospel Writers, Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Our one censer has twelve bells which symbolize the twelve Apostles.

The second censer in our altar doesn’t have any bells.  We use this particular censer during Christmas Lent (Advent) and Great Lent/Holy Week.  These lenten seasons have a subdued spirit in that we are to celebrate less and concentrate on developing our spiritual life and repenting of our sins.  Therefore, the censer is “quiet” when in use.”

I’m so proud of Ben.  Not only because he took the initiative to find an answer to his question, but also because he knew those bells symbolized something.  He knows that in our worship, all that we see, hear, smell, taste and touch point to the Kingdom of Heaven.  And, not to mention that he probably helped to educate many of us that day! 

*Photograph was originally found within another religious blog; I *think* the image is originally to be found in the Monastery Icons catalogue.


Fr. Andrew said...

Believe it or not, this was not something we covered in seminary.

amy said...

Interesting. Well, as I tell my kids, the secret to staying young is always learning something new =-)

Lew said...

In the l980's and l990's I spent five periods on Mount Athos. I inquired of a number of monks the signifance of the bells on the censer. There were several thoughts but the one I received most often was that they represented the bells on Aaron's vestments as described in Exodus.

The censer used by many Buddhists also has bells on the chains.

amy said...

I am glad you stopped by. Thank you for sharing your experience and insights.

God Bless-

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