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Incense is a product of aromatic plant matter, often with an oil or resin as a base. In the Orthodox Christian practice, incense is an important liturgical implement which is often considered distinctive to the Faith as well.

History and practice

Incense is burned in a gold censer and ignited by burning charcoal. Customarily, the censer is suspended by chains and swung; however, a hand censer can be used when necessary. The censer is employed only by the priest and/or deacon to venerate all four sides of the altar, the Holy Gifts, the clergy, the congregation, icons, and the church structure itself.

In accordance with Old Testament tradition, incense is used in every Church service. It is burned as an offering to God even as it was in the days of the First and Second Jewish temples. Normally, the resin of the Boswellia thurifera plant (frankincense) is used as a base for incense manufacturing; however, resin from fir trees has also been used. The resin is often infused with a floral oil, producing a fragrant scent when burned. In the Athonite tradition, incense is often sprinkled liberally with clay dust to prevent granules from clumping.

Theological significance

Incense represents prayers of the saints lifting up into the heavens before God (Psalm 141:2 (Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice...)1 Revelations 5:8, Revelations 8:4). Incense is also described as being used in heavenly worship, offering the faithful a foretaste of what is to come.

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