When my husband and I became Orthodox Christians, we learned an entirely new way of life. We were used to white-walled churches with only a cross hung, so it was a bit of a shock when we attended our first Orthodox church adorned with an ornate iconostasis, beautiful icons, and bright with candles. I was immediately captivated. I loved (and still love) that all the senses are used in worshipping God, and even though I had no idea what it all meant, I knew that I wanted to find out. Once we became Orthodox, we found out about having a home prayer corner. I have heard the prayer corner described as “the heart of the home” and it is a constant reminder to be vigilant of our souls and diligent in praying to God. It is a place of peace and joy to stand in front of, and it is a blessing to get to pray not just at church, but in our homes lifting our prayers to God through akathists, morning and evening prayers, lighting candles, and censing our home daily. I’m not going to go much more in depth about what everything means (I highly recommend talking with an Orthodox priest or spiritual father), but I wanted to share some of the things I learned about that are necessary.
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Icons: Your Prayer Corner’s Foundation
We got our first icons and crosses from our priest, friends, and fellow parishioners at our local church we attended. Overtime, we have learned that you can absolutely never go wrong with buying an Orthodox person an icon (and in fact it is one of the most meaningful gifts you can give if you are Orthodox). Icons are something that you acquire overtime so it’s not necessary to rush to buy all the saints you love all at once. I’ve learned that each of the saints who I love and want to venerate end up walking into my life at the perfect time that I need them. Being surrounded by a cloud of witness both at church and in my home has been my constant comfort.
Vigil Lamp: the Center of Your Icon Corner
A vigil lamp is another central part of the prayer corner. This lamp burns with olive oil (light, not extra virgin is better for burning) on a regular basis, so in other words, we try not to ever have it run out because it represents Christ as the Light of the World. It also reminds me of the ten virgins who five always had their oil lamps lit. In the same way, I want to always be vigilant for Christ’s coming and of my own daily repentance and prayer. The vigil lamp reminds me of this and I really love being able to walk out into my living room and see the vigil lamp flame illuminating the surrounding icons. We got our vigil lamp from our local Greek Orthodox book store, but there are some beautiful ones you can buy online as well. Here is a gorgeous bronze hanging vigil lamp, and here is a gold hanging vigil lamp that I LOVE with the stand you hang it on. Personally we use a a red glass vigil lamp that looks similar to this one, you can buy vigil lamps like this style or like this one.
Beeswax Candles: The Light of Your Prayer Corner
When I went to Greece in 2016, we visited a beautiful monastery called Saint Stephen’s in the mountains of Meteora. I was captivated by absolute everything, even though I had no idea what it all meant. Upon entering a small church adorned with giant frescoes, I was told that I could light a candle and stick it in the sand as a prayer to God before walking into the church. As a clueless Protestant to any Orthodox traditions, I remember thinking to myself, “wow I wish I could light candles to worship God every day. Whatever they’re doing here, they’re doing it right because this is so beautiful.” Providentially, years later when we actually became Orthodox, I was so grateful to look back on that experience so fondly. I can’t wait to go there again.
Since that experience and as time has passed, I find myself needing to light candles more and more to pray for particular people, my godchildren, my husband, and my family. I like to have a variety of types of candles on hand, such as taper candles in brass stands, oil lamp candles with wicks and wax from Jersualem like these or beeswax floating wicks, and smaller beeswax votive candles.
Incense Burner and Incense: Your Icon Corner’s “Prayer”
I always loved hearing about the Greek yia yia’s who walk around their houses every afternoon and cense their house while praying. We really love doing this as much as we can as well. This practice has been done even dating back to the nation of Israel and has has continued even until now. During Saturday night Vespers, we pray, “Let my prayer arise, in Thy sight as incense, and the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.” We use incense constantly during worship in the Orthodox Church, as the Hebrews did before us (Exodus 30:1-10). So when I light the incense at home, not only does it engage my sense of smell and sight with the incredible incense and smoke, but I am able to engage in prayer with God using physical means. I really love this gold hand censer, as well as this one. You’ll also need charcoal and incense as well, but I would recommend buy them from an Orthodox bookstore like Ancient Faith.
Holy Objects: Your Prayer Corner’s Gems
Holy objects are really only things you can accumulate with time. Examples include holy water that you receive form house blessings and after Theophany, holy relics from a saint, holy oil or myrrh that you may get from a saint’s relics or a special holy place, blessed prayer bracelets, Pascha candles or baptismal candles, or marriage crowns. They are huge blessings to have and should be given extreme care.
Prayer Books and the Scriptures
Of course, a prayer corner has to have prayer books. We have a few different ones that we have acquired overtime and use constantly like this one. Likewise, the Gospels and the New Testament Epistles, as well as other festal books like the Festal Menaion and Synaxarion are wonderful to learn about the liturgical feast days and lives of the saints. The prayer rule that we were given from our spiritual father and is a common practice in the Church is to do morning prayers as well as small compline for evening prayers, and then an akathist during the day if you can. I love the Akathist to the Mother of God, but another Akathist I particularly love is the Akathist of Thanksgiving glory to God for all Things. If you haven’t read it, it is an absolute joy to pray and I highly recommend it whether or not you are Orthodox.
Of course, your prayer corner needs you! To pray, to keep vigil, and to ask God and the saints for all things unto life and salvation. May God bless you on your journey of prayer and repentance. Glory to God for all things.