THE FRAGRANCE OF HEAVEN
“Now it happened that it came the turn for Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist), being a priest, to serve in the Lord’s inner sanctuary, there to offer incense to the Lord. During this hour of incense, the worshipers gathered for prayers outside the inner sanctuary. Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense.” – Luke 1:8-11
The writer of the Revelation writes, “Next I saw seven trumpets being given to seven angels, who stand in the Presence of God. Another angel, who held a golden censer, came and stood by the altar. A large quantity of incense was given to the angel to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that stood in front of the throne; and so from the angel’s hand the smoke of the incense went up in the Presence of God and with it the prayers of the saints.” – Revelation 8:2-4
During this two week pilgrimage into Orthodox spirituality here at Saint Gregory Palamas monastery, I have experienced many aspects of worship that are quite different from my Methodist plain country church upbringing. One of these new experiences is incorporation of fragrant incense into the time of worship. Yesterday, Brother Ambrose of the Spirit asked me to assist him with the preparation of the incense, even allowing me to take a few practice swings with the golden censer that is suspended by four golden chains. I must confess … as I was doing this holy work I felt that somehow I had been transported to Xanadu or Shangri-La! Yet, as Brother Ambrose taught me of the meaning of the incense – (remember that magi’s gift of frankincense?), bringing to my memory the long history of using incense in worship from the dawn of our Judeo-Christian tradition up through the vision in the Revelation of John, I grew more and more comfortable with the idea, and began to appreciate the solemn reverence involved in the burning of the incense and in the swaying of the censer. At the heart of it, the fragrant smoke of the incense symbolizes our prayers rising with the smoke up into the realms of heaven. (Revelation 8:2-4)
I do not believe I have ever used incense in my Methodist ministry. Oh, there was the fragrance of the altars flowers and, on occasion, as I preached I could smell the fragrance of the after-church meal being prepared in the church kitchen … and, of course, those ladies who tend to go a little overboard with the perfume … but incense smoking from a censer … no, never did that. But, now that I contemplate on the matter … I wonder why?
In my churches, my sight was blessed with the beauty of stained-glass windows, my hearing was blessed by the Church music, my touch was inspired by the feel of the wood of the cross and the rust of the nails, my taste was touched by the bread and the wine … but, as to my God-given given sense of “smell” … somehow it went neglected. I wonder why … when our God-given gift of sensing fragrance was so powerfully set within our being. I have read that our sense of smell is our most finely tuned of all our senses!
So during a quiet hour this morning … I tried to bring to mind the scent memories that reside in my soul….it took awhile, but eventually I did bring them back to life …
I recalled the fragrance of fresh bread being baked in the oven by my Grandmother … and how that scent always brought to me the warmth of home.
I recalled the fragrance of the mountain pines when I would retreat into the hills for time alone with God … and how that scent now always brings to mind the wonder of loftier places.
I recalled the fragrance of smoky leaf piles burning in the Canadian October air … and how that scent still brings to me a gentle peace with the relentless passing of time.
I recalled the fragrance of the baby powder after giving my infant sons their baths … and how that scent reminds me that purity and innocence can still be among us.
And I recalled the fragrance of my wife’s long, curly hair, that faint scent of apple blossoms when we dance cheek to cheek … and how that scent reminds me how much I am in love.
And then I wonder … praying that on the breeze the fragrance of heaven might waft my way … and it had the fragrance of waterfalls and oak fires in the fireplace and cups of orange spice tea on cold December nights and glasses of sugary-tart lemonade on hot August days …
So, my Loved Ones, take a long, slow whiff some night when you sit quietly in a candlelight time of prayer … and imagine the heavenly realms that are far, far closer than we tend to think …
The Lord bless thee,
Brother Anthony of the Cross
— For the latest installment of the ongoing story, The Mystic Realms of Shadow Fox, just click … https://greyfriarsabbey.wordpress.com/the-mystic-reams-of-shadow-fox/ … The installments are separated by ********* with the latest being at the end (obviously).