Create A Quiet Place for Prayer

Home altarThe first thing an Orthodox Christian should do when moving into a new apartment or house is determine a place for prayer. Some say this should be a conspicuous place where everyone can see it. Some say in needs to be in a corner. What is most important is that it provides a place where you can be in private for personal prayer.

To determine this place may require some creativity depending on the living you situation you find yourself in. In a large home you can designate a spare room. In a smaller home you you can create a space in one of the closets. In a small apartment a corner in the bedroom or the living room may be the best you can do. In a dorm room you will probably need to use your desk. I some cases you may have to locate a quite space outside of your living area such as a nearby chapel. You can also make good use of a self standing screen to create a private space. A creative use of a bookcase can also help to create a private nook. It is something that requires serious thought as this space becomes a sacred space in the midst of your living space.

Once you have determined the space, then you can create the home altar or icon stand as it is often called. It is best to have a small table to hold a cross, prayer books, a hand censer, blessed items such as the palms from Palms Sunday or a flower from the Epitaphio on holy Friday, holy water from Theophany, and other religious items.

Home altarIcons can be placed on the wall above your altar table or if this is not possible place them on stands on the table. The tradition is the your icon stand or corner should be on an Eastern wall so you are facing east when you pray just like you do in Church. But, this may not be possible. East is preferred when praying because that is the direction of sunrise. Sunrise is seen as an "icon in nature" of the resurrection. Also, when Christ returns for the Second Coming He will appear in the east. But if you've have a space that would be perfect for a prayer space, but doesn't face east, I wouldn't worry too much. What is important that you create a space that is conducive to your prayer during the times you pray...more on why we pray facing east.

With regard to placement of icons, there is no set rule but you can follow the general order seen on your church iconostasis (Christ to the immediate right, the Theotokos to the immediate left, and other saints in decreasing rank). If, however, you have one icon in the center, Christ or the Cross is naturally going to be place pre-eminently there. Take care in arranging them. An assemblage of icons hung without a sense of symmetry, without a well thought-out arrangement, evokes a constant sense of dissatisfaction with the arrangement. Try to remember the principle of hierarchy: for example, do not put an icon of a locally venerated saint above the icon of the Holy Trinity, the Savior, the Mother of God, or the Apostles...more on using icons in prayerHome altar

In front of the icons an oil lamp should perpetually burn. Some families burn wax votive candles before the icons; however, the tradition is to burn olive oil. Electric lights are not appropriate for use as the light to burn before icons. The traditional oil lamps require an amount of attention which electricity does not, thereby directing our physical services and thoughts to God several times a day when we are required to trim the wick and refill the lamp with oil. It is an important and very old tradition to burn beeswax candles and olive oil lamps for God and the saints!! Be sure to take cautions to avoid a fire danger to your residence.

There are a number of different kinds of utensils designed for burning oil before icons. A very common one is the wick-float which utilizes cork to keep the wick and flame floating on the oil.

The burning of oil before icons, its care and practice is described below:
1. The Glass. Any low, wide-mouth glass may be used for the lamp. In Greece, most of the lamps are of clear glass, but colors such as red, blue or milk-colored are also used. [It is advisable to use a large enough glass so that the oil will last at least 10 to 12 hours.]
2. The Oil. The use of olive oil for the lamps is a tradition which we have received even from the time of our father Moses. The olive oil will burn best if left open and allowed to age (or even become rancid).
Candle3. The Wick. To make a wick, use cotton string about one foot in length. Do not use coated or waxed string. Cotton string of about 6 ply will be thick enough. If the wick is soaked in vinegar it will burn brighter and cleaner. If this is done, the wick should be allowed to dry thoroughly before being used.
4. The Flame. The fathers of the Holy Mountain [Athos] have taught us to use a very low flame which they call apathes, passionless. The flame should burn steadily, not flickering. The lamp will burn six to twelve hours, depending mainly on the oil, but also on the size of the flame, the weather, etc. Before relighting the lamp, remove the excess carbon from the wick and twist the string slightly to shape the wick into a point.
5. Cleaning. The glass should be washed periodically, and the oil replaced anew.