A Sermon on a Church Candle
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear brothers and sisters! Has the following ever happened to you? You are standing in church at a quiet evening service, when suddenly you feel from the bottom of your heart how dear this House of God is to you, how beautiful, noble, holy, mysterious and edifying everything in it is. Have you ever really felt the profound meaning and purpose of everything that happens at church services? Alas!, my dear friends, we often come to church, stand without any awareness of anything, without trying to enter into the meaning of the service, not even listening attentively to the reading and the singing. And all the time even the slightest detail can be very edifying.
Here is a small church candle. People come, take one and light it in front of an icon and it burns. People have made a little gift to strengthen their faith. What does it mean, this small, quiet candle flame which rises up to heaven?
First of all, a candle testifies to our love of God. People come to church and bring the present of their love. But does our soul burn like the fine flame of this little candle? Does the flame of our prayer rise up to heaven? Do we strive upwards with all our being, to the heavens, to holiness, to the beauty of a higher life which is dedicated to God?…But a candle does not only burn and shine, it also warms, giving off just a little warmth to those around it. What about us? Does our love warm those around us, those near and dear to us, those we live with and mix with? Or are we frozen in the ice of sin, of self-love, have we shut ourselves up and now lie there like a splint gone cold?
Comparing human life to a candle, St Seraphim said that the wax in the candle is faith, the light is hope and the fire is love. If there is no love, then life is empty, pointless and fruitless. Just as a bad candle gives off soot, splutters and then goes out altogether, so sometimes our life gives off not the light of goodness, but the stench of sin and iniquity. So which is our life? Does it burn or does it give off soot, and perhaps go out altogether?
Dear brothers and sisters, this little candle also tells us whether we live our short earthly lives badly or well. If we burn ourselves out very quickly, then what will be left of us? Will there still be even a tiny glimmer of good as a result of our actions? Will there still be even a tiny glimmer of warmth and happy memories of us?
A baby comes into the world crying. Holy Church gives him spiritual birth, washing him in Holy Baptism. A candle burns in the hands of the godparent, its tears of wax are like a living being crying before God for a new little person, his infirmity, his weakness and the many hardships he will face in life. But when a person grows up, he may stain his soul with sin in the storms of life. And then he comes to the holy sacrament of Repentance, lights a candle and puts it on the candlestand. This candle sheds burning tears for our sinfulness, our coldness and the darkness of our iniquitous life.
When our life is hallowed by union in marriage, the young couple hold lighted candles in their hands…the flames remind them of love in the family, of how family happiness does not last forever and ever, that it unexpectedly goes out, like this lighted candle…
When someone falls ill and turns to God, he receives unction, is anointed with holy oil, and next to him there burns a candle, as if raising his prayer up to heaven, interceding for him.
When someone is on their death bed, then a candle is placed at the head of the bed as a symbol of their immortality, testifying to the fact that their soul goes on and burns before God in eternity…When family come to the grave, they too light a candle as a sign of their love for the departed and their memory of them.
And so throughout life and even after death a candle burns with us, unnoticed and small. What faith we show when, in times of sorrow and difficulty, we light candles in front of the icons of the Saviour, the Mother of God or His saints, what consoling mercy our Heavenly Father shows our grieving souls, sending down His help to them. We light a candle and it seems to speak to us: I am burning and you, a soul that has gone out, light up, light up, do not fear life’s tempests, light up, even though the wind is making you waver, and burn, shine and warm. My dears, we can be especially happy that we are standing here and all praying together, that our little prayers and sighs merge into one general sigh, heading upwards, like a candle flame which reaches the heavens and the throne of God. The feeble light of our small, lonely prayer may not be strong enough to shine and warm, but the great flame of general prayer may blaze up and melt. Perhaps, unknown to us, there are people of prayer standing alongside us, those who are great spiritual people before the face of God. Together with their prayer, our feeble, cold prayer will also go up from earth to heaven, to the very throne of God. We should be all the happier that we are standing and praying in this holy place, warmed and hallowed by the feat of prayer of St Sergius, our great father in God. On this very spot there once stood a small wooden church, hallowed not by a candle, but by a simple splint. However, the hearts of the ascetics, those who gathered here, zealous for piety and salvation, attracted by the brightness of St Sergius’ virtues, shone brighter than any beacon.
And now he himself, like a great light, burns and does not go out, aflame with his prayer before the throne of the Holy Trinity, and this light illumines our lives, which at times are not easy and confused, warming our souls, which are cold, negligent and despondent…
Dear brothers and sisters, just light your little wax candles more often. They burn with the fire of a great and firm faith, as if reminding us of the widow’s mite. Let us remember that Church life is our life. A candle is our love of God and our neighbour. A Church candle is the strength that helps us in the difficult moments of life and death. Amen.