An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
The Unattended Vigil Lamp Likely little beyond the title need be said - except perhaps to admit that said vigil lamp resides in my living room. Ah, public confession is good for the soul.
Two common definitions of "vigil":
1. A watch kept during normal sleeping hours. 2. The act or a period of observing; surveillance.
I, personally, find it interesting that some form of open flame is popularly perceived to lend itself to any "period of observance", whether it be religious, political, or social. What is it about a small, still, steady, beacon of firelight in the darkness that stirs us? I've mentioned before that Vespers is "cooler" in the winter when it is dark and the Nave is illumined by an array of candles and vigil lamps, the latter of which illuminating Holy Images that would otherwise be invisible to our eyes. Of course it's not about being "cool" and the fact that it appeals to me is actually superfluous - though I do believe it wasn't solely for a lack of electricity that the practice of candles and vigil lamps evolved and was retained. Electric vigil lamps do indeed exist, but I find them to be exceptionally gucky (IMHO)
The Icon Corner in the home isn't all that different than the Nave of a Church - sure it lacks a true Altar, but it is a place similarly set aside for worship and typically has icons, incense, censor, holy water/oil, vigil lamps, candles, crosses, prayer and music books, and other miscellaneous items of religious importance to the community (i.e. family). I suppose one could say that the Home is an icon of the Church, and some would also say the Home is a little Church unto itself. Both are true to different degrees and for certain the Home Church is an ideal place for children to practice chanting psalms, crossing and bowing at appropriate times, and generally learning good church etiquette I think, but I am writing today not to rehash these notions but to bring news of repentance and renewal.
Any number of things may lead a person to finally dust off the Vigil Lamp and God's mysterious providence no doubt plays a role. Sometimes it is tragedy such as a death or sickness or suffering or persecution; sometimes it is blessing such as a wedding or a birth or special holiday. Along the road of my own life I can look back and see old landmarks that represent times when God has reached out and centered me back onto the path from which I had strayed to varying degrees. I do not pretend to know the mysterious providence of God and the connections between blessing and curses and the course laid out for us and our foolish actions at the tiller while upon the occasional or even often stormy seas.
The teachings and practice of the Church has always had a tendency to lead me toward inner reexamination. Sure, there is a time and place to be scholarly in our minds and uber-theological in our pondering, but I have too much of a tendency to focus on such things and perhaps mistake them for the work of tilling the soil of my heart - which is where the real work needs to be done. You know: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Anyway, I suspect now is such a time for me. I am dusting off the Vigil Lamp and repenting for my failures both as a man, as a father, and as the spiritual head of our family. Thus, the small, still, steady, beacon of firelight in the darkness has once again become to us a familiar acquaintance. A reminder for us to keep watch. God help us (me) to keep the Vigil.
Ah, vigil lamps. Back in March, I attended a retreat hosted by my parish, given by a Greek monastic. Wonderful, warm human being, Father Christodoulos. At one point, we got into vigil lamps, and he told each of us present to go home and light a "kandili" in our icon corners, and keep it lit day and night. "Never happen," I said, "my husband won't allow it." "Send him to me," said Father, with a smile. "His father is a retired New York firefighter," I explained. Father nodded, then said, "Then get an electric candle, and keep that lit day and night." So I did.
One day, saying prayers, I decided that the electric candle was a little bizarre, and lit a small votive candle I had in my icon corner. It was very interesting to me, how the flame from the candle reached upward to illuminate the icons, in a way that the electric candle cannot do. There's a *lot* to be said for vigil lamps and candles (real ones).
DH is not Orthodox, so at first he was a bit skeptical of candles being on 24/7. But one night, I had to sleep in the recliner (I had a cold, and the spare bed was occupied by our son), so I went into the living room, turned out the candle, and slept. In the morning, the first question out of dh was, "What happened to the candle?" When I explained, he said, "Better turn it back on. We have to keep the icons happy." And he wasn't being snarky -- "the icons" is his way of referring to the people represented in them.