Why Do We Use Incense in the Greek Orthodox Church

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Walking into a Greek Orthodox Church and participating in one of the services is an experience that involves many senses. Besides the obvious visual appeal, with the iconography and unique architecture, the sense of smell is also activated. The perfumed aroma present at every church is unique and also not always present at churches of other Christian faiths.

The aroma is due to the incense that is used during a typical Orthodox Church service. Besides making the church small nice, there is also a religious significance to using it. Here’s a look at why we use incense in Orthodox Churches:

What is Incense?

Incense is a scented material derived from plants. The typical process of creating incense is to grind the organic material in a fine powder, such as an herb, flower, or resin. This material is mixed with a binding agent, such as powdered orris root, and then moistened with something wet, such as rosewater or distilled water. It is then rolled into cones or packed against an incense stick.

The incense is dried thoroughly before using, otherwise it won’t burn. Typically in the Orthodox Church, incense cones are used. In order to provide the heat needed to allow the cones to burn, a special type of charcoal is used. You also may burn resin, such as Frankincense or Myrrh, directly in an incense burner using charcoal without taking the extra step of mixing it with a binding agent.

Churches often get their incense and charcoal from special suppliers and maybe even monasteries where the monks or nuns make their own. Typical scents that are used include Frankincense, Myrrh, and Rose.

Why Do Orthodox Churches Use Incense?

Using incense is something that predated Christianity and was referenced in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 140, Verse 2 says, “Let my prayer be set forth before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Using it was also mentioned in the Old Testament book of Exodus.

Today, Orthodox Christians use incense throughout the church services. The priest “censes” certain areas at certain parts of the liturgy. The incense is placed inside a device known as a “censor”, which is fairly ornate in appearance and has bells on it so that we not only smell the fragrance, but hear the jingling sound as the priest uses it. This action is meant to remind us that are prayers are rising to the heavens to be heard by God.

Typically, censing occurs in several instances during the Divine Liturgy. For example, the priest censes the Holy Altar at certain places in the service. We also cense in front of icons in order to bless then. Sometimes, the priest will cense towards the congregation, which is also looked at as a way to give the congregation a blessing. Mostly, the act of censing is symbolic and is poised to remind us of God’s presence.

As you can see, incense is an important part of the Orthodox Christian service. It helps us engage more of our senses during the church service and also reminds us that God is listening to us and that our prayers are lifted up “as incense.”


Incense – OrthodoxWiki

The Religion section on GreekBoston.com was written by Greeks to help people understand some of the traditions of the Orthodox Christian religion, which is a religion practiced by people in countries such as Greece, Russia, United States, and other nations throughout the world. This article is not a substitute for information found in the Holy Bible or by our church fathers, priests, and other clergy members.

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