Author Topic: Lighting incense  (Read 6520 times)

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Offline Super Apostolic Bros.

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Lighting incense
« on: December 19, 2010, 10:26:58 PM »
For my home, not the priest's censer!


I bought an incense holder, a roll of "quick lighting charcoal" and some incense. How do I light the charcoal effectively and keep it burning for more than three minutes?

Offline Anastasios

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2010, 10:29:50 PM »
Something I struggled with in the early days! Good question!

Hold a lighter to the charcoal for 20-30 seconds. When it starts sparking, stop the flame, and shake the charcoal to speed up the sparking.  Let the sparks consume the whole charcoal before setting in the censor or container. Leave the censor OPEN or else the lack of oxygen will kill the charcoal quickly. If you follow these directions, you should have 20-30 minutes of good burning experience.
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Offline Super Apostolic Bros.

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2010, 11:29:06 PM »
I assume you mean hold the flame in the charcoal with the charcoal INSIDE. If I had a pair of heat resistant forceps I imagine lighting the charcoal would be easier.

Offline Anastasios

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2010, 11:36:50 PM »
I assume you mean hold the flame in the charcoal with the charcoal INSIDE. If I had a pair of heat resistant forceps I imagine lighting the charcoal would be easier.

Oh, I assumed you had the forceps or tweezers. If you are trying to light it inside the censor, I don't see how it would ever take. I've had the best success by lighting it outside with forceps, so the oxygen can make the whole thing spark, then putting it inside the censor.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2010, 11:37:30 PM by Fr. Anastasios »
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Offline dcommini

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2010, 11:47:57 PM »
When does one use incense in the home? (like during what prayers and when?)
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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2010, 01:54:45 AM »
I use an old steel fork to light my charcoal. I put the charcoal on the fork and hold it over the stove burner until fully lit. Then I place it in the censor and let it redden (or grey) before I put the incense on it. Of course with the fork technique, you do need steady hands. I do wish it would last a little bit longer, but I guess I just need to get used  the idea that I'm gonna have to buy lots of charcoal.

I burn stick incense all the time, just for the aroma. But on certain holy occasions, or when I feel the need to do so, I will burn the frankincense or other "liturgical" incense.


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Offline Xenia

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #6 on: December 20, 2010, 02:07:46 AM »
I usually burn a little incense for morning and evening prayers.  It helps keep me focused.

Here's what I do:  I break the charcoal into quarters and only light one small chunk. (Cheaper.)  I light a candle and hold the charcoal over it with a pair of sugar tongs until it sparks.  Then I wave it around a bit* until it's got a good bit of orange showing.  Then I set it on a little metal dish and put one globule of incense on it,  which I replenish as needed.

*Be careful when waving a piece of lit charcoal around as pieces might fly off and catch your house on fire as almost happened to me once.

I once had a proper censor but I could never get it to work.  If I shut the lid the embers died out from lack of oxygen and if I left the lid open the whole thing would tip over.  So I use whatever little metal dish is handy.  A jar lid works just fine.

Offline LBK

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2010, 04:16:39 AM »
In all my years, I have never used tongs or any other holding device for the charcoal, nor have any altar servers or priests I've known. Fingers only. Play a flame against the edge of the coal, drop it into the censer once it starts to fizz, then wait until it has sparked all over before adding the incense. A very experienced altar server once told me to place the incense pieces beside the coal (touching it, of course), rather than on top of it, so that the incense burns for longer. But putting the incense on top is still OK.

And keep the lid of the censer open! The little holes in the lid are too small to let the coal breathe if the lid is shut. The lid should be shut to snuff out the coal.
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Offline Anastasios

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2010, 09:34:16 AM »
It's interesting to see how practices differ; I can say I don't remember ever seeing an altar server or priest use his fingers to pick up the charcoal! Well, I did see one try it, but he burnt his finger  :P  Does everyone use the quick-light charcoal (I get mine from Greece) that sparks up faster, or do some ignite slower? Because the brand I use is sparking across the whole thing almost instantly, although it takes about 5-6 seconds for the "full spark" to travel across the charcoal. In my experience, if you kind of shake the charcoal a bit with the tongs it spreads the spark faster (I have seen the spark actually go out when one of my altar servers took the flame off too early and didn't shake it), and if you wait until it's almost fully ignited to place in the censor, it seems to fully burn, whereas I have seen a prematurely-placed charcoal be gray on the top and black on the bottom within 5 minutes, not fully using its potential. Again I wonder if this owes to the different brands of charcoal, etc.

If the priests and altar servers you have seen touch that thing while it is sparking, they must have really serious callouses on their fingers!
« Last Edit: December 20, 2010, 12:08:08 PM by Fr. Anastasios »
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Offline Tikhon.of.Colorado

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #9 on: December 20, 2010, 11:28:03 AM »
how are "old school" coals supposed to be lighted and kept lit?  I'm speaking of the ones that are just coals.  they actually catch fire a bit, and they hardly stay lit without someone blowing on them every minute or so.  we had to use these at summer camp, and only once in the camp services did I manage to get it to stay lit, and the priest was able to have actual smoke come out oof his censor. 

at my Church, we use the quick-light coals with gunpowder.  I'm a huge fan of those.  (next time, I'm going to buy a pack and take it to camp to use).

Offline tuesdayschild

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #10 on: December 20, 2010, 11:37:36 AM »
I've used Three Kings. When it ignites, it's too loud and smokey. I prefer Self-Lite. It ignites quietly, burns more evenly and lasts longer, provided one does not smother the coal with incense. Placing the piece of incense to the side of or on the edge of the coal is the important. This way, a coal can last a long time. If you do it right, then later in the service you can brush aside the top layer of ash to reveal the red ember underneath. I have rarely had to use more than one coal, except on Pascha, unless a newbie acolyte was feeding the censer.

I have had some older pieces of charcoal shatter under the pressure of holding it with serving tongs. Test tube tongs are better because they require pressure to open rather than close.

Offline quietmorning

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #11 on: December 20, 2010, 03:32:09 PM »
I used to use the quick light charcoal and was afraid I'd burn the house down with all the sparks that the bricks would throw off.  I now use the Athonite Charcoal Powder - and I love it.  It doesn't spark or smoke.  It lights in ten seconds (I use a fire place lighter to light my vigil lamps and my charcoal.)  I light the vigil lamps before I put any incense into the coals - and it burns beautifully and completely each time.  I do not have an incense cover on my burner as it is a pottery piece.   

The first opening of the powdered charcoal is very messy - suggest opening it over a sink, tapping the container to get the charcoal to settle then cleaning the outside and lid of the container.  This was the only time I dealt with any mess. 

I burn incense in the morning when I pray - do not burn at the noon office and burn again in the evening.  So. . .sun up and sun down?  I let the incense burn on the prayer corner table without disturbing it. 
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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2010, 03:37:52 PM »
I use an old steel fork to light my charcoal. I put the charcoal on the fork and hold it over the stove burner until fully lit. Then I place it in the censor and let it redden (or grey) before I put the incense on it. Of course with the fork technique, you do need steady hands.

You can hold the charcoal between the two forks.

how are "old school" coals supposed to be lighted and kept lit?  I'm speaking of the ones that are just coals.  they actually catch fire a bit, and they hardly stay lit without someone blowing on them every minute or so.

Light a candle (lighter won't do the job), put a charcoal in the flame until is goes red, blow, repeat these to steps until about the half of the piece goes red and put it in the censer. Finally put a bit of incense on it.
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Offline Tikhon.of.Colorado

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #13 on: December 20, 2010, 03:45:32 PM »
I use an old steel fork to light my charcoal. I put the charcoal on the fork and hold it over the stove burner until fully lit. Then I place it in the censor and let it redden (or grey) before I put the incense on it. Of course with the fork technique, you do need steady hands.

You can hold the charcoal between the two forks.

how are "old school" coals supposed to be lighted and kept lit?  I'm speaking of the ones that are just coals.  they actually catch fire a bit, and they hardly stay lit without someone blowing on them every minute or so.

Light a candle (lighter won't do the job), put a charcoal in the flame until is goes red, blow, repeat these to steps until about the half of the piece goes red and put it in the censer. Finally put a bit of incense on it.
they had me using my fingers and a small box of matches  >:(  now I know.  next summer, I'm bringing my own coals and tongs!

another question:  at my Church, we use incense that are like little uneven stones (francincense).  at camp, they gave me these little rectancular pieces of incense that look like they are covered in chalk.  what exactly are those?

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #14 on: December 20, 2010, 03:52:52 PM »
I use an old steel fork to light my charcoal. I put the charcoal on the fork and hold it over the stove burner until fully lit. Then I place it in the censor and let it redden (or grey) before I put the incense on it. Of course with the fork technique, you do need steady hands.

You can hold the charcoal between the two forks.

how are "old school" coals supposed to be lighted and kept lit?  I'm speaking of the ones that are just coals.  they actually catch fire a bit, and they hardly stay lit without someone blowing on them every minute or so.

Light a candle (lighter won't do the job), put a charcoal in the flame until is goes red, blow, repeat these to steps until about the half of the piece goes red and put it in the censer. Finally put a bit of incense on it.
they had me using my fingers and a small box of matches  >:(  now I know.  next summer, I'm bringing my own coals and tongs!

Frankly blowing it's more important than holding in the flame (but the latter is important too).

Quote
another question:  at my Church, we use incense that are like little uneven stones (francincense).  at camp, they gave me these little rectancular pieces of incense that look like they are covered in chalk.  what exactly are those?

And we use that rectangular pieces and something that looks like tiny coral pieces.
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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #15 on: December 20, 2010, 04:01:58 PM »
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Offline Orthodox11

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #16 on: December 31, 2010, 10:38:00 AM »
After lighting the charcoal, don't put it right in the centre of the incense burner. Instead, place it slightly to the side (not so that it could fall out, of course) so that it's at a slight angle, allowing you to put the incense on the side of the charcoal without it falling off when you start swinging it around. When you do that, the incense burns more slowly and you won't get that burnt smell straight away.

I can say I don't remember ever seeing an altar server or priest use his fingers to pick up the charcoal! Well, I did see one try it, but he burnt his finger  :P

I've had to sacrifice my fingerprints on quite a few occasions to save careless deacons burning holes in the church carpet. If you're quick, though, it can be done without any problem :D

Offline Russell

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #17 on: January 02, 2011, 12:46:26 AM »
Put me down for blowing on the charcoal to get it to light better/faster.   I have one of those little electric fans for my asmatic days.

Placing the chracoal on ashes instead of metal seems to help it to keep burning longer.
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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #18 on: January 02, 2011, 02:24:39 AM »
how are "old school" coals supposed to be lighted and kept lit?  I'm speaking of the ones that are just coals.  they actually catch fire a bit, and they hardly stay lit without someone blowing on them every minute or so.  we had to use these at summer camp, and only once in the camp services did I manage to get it to stay lit, and the priest was able to have actual smoke come out oof his censor.  

at my Church, we use the quick-light coals with gunpowder.  I'm a huge fan of those.  (next time, I'm going to buy a pack and take it to camp to use).

I do believe you may find your answer here (skip to 0:30): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvaPxiDm98g
Once lit (doesn't have to be very lit, just slightly glowing), practice your thurifer skillz. Loop-the-loop, figure of eight, are good starting tricks; 'rock the baby' might be a little too ambitious (even for the most zealous Anglo-Cath)

In seriousness though, just give the thurible a good set of swings to bring the oxygen to the coal.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2011, 02:25:18 AM by Dewi Sant »
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Offline mildert

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #19 on: January 24, 2011, 07:41:25 AM »
Dear Fr Anastasios,

At Church, we have used a brand of Greek quick lighting charcoal - it was good when you needed charcoal quickly but it gave a lot of acrid smoke to begin with and was quite explosive.  Normally we use "relatively" quick lighting charcoals which I can pick up with my fingers to light one corner at the beginning of the Proskomede and it is glowing by the time that we have to cover the gifts.  I have also experienced charcoals which have nothing added to help them light which take much more effort to get going, but they tend to last a lot longer.

Deacon Philip


It's interesting to see how practices differ; I can say I don't remember ever seeing an altar server or priest use his fingers to pick up the charcoal! Well, I did see one try it, but he burnt his finger  :P  Does everyone use the quick-light charcoal (I get mine from Greece) that sparks up faster, or do some ignite slower? Because the brand I use is sparking across the whole thing almost instantly, although it takes about 5-6 seconds for the "full spark" to travel across the charcoal. In my experience, if you kind of shake the charcoal a bit with the tongs it spreads the spark faster (I have seen the spark actually go out when one of my altar servers took the flame off too early and didn't shake it), and if you wait until it's almost fully ignited to place in the censor, it seems to fully burn, whereas I have seen a prematurely-placed charcoal be gray on the top and black on the bottom within 5 minutes, not fully using its potential. Again I wonder if this owes to the different brands of charcoal, etc.

If the priests and altar servers you have seen touch that thing while it is sparking, they must have really serious callouses on their fingers!
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Offline mildert

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #20 on: January 24, 2011, 07:45:55 AM »
The thurifer forgot to genuflect at the beginning of the procession...  ;)

I've also seen figure of eight in procession (you need wide aisles), as well as looping while kneeling (you need long arms and to be careful of steps, other servers etc)...  anything to increase the amount of oxygen....



I do believe you may find your answer here (skip to 0:30): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvaPxiDm98g
Once lit (doesn't have to be very lit, just slightly glowing), practice your thurifer skillz. Loop-the-loop, figure of eight, are good starting tricks; 'rock the baby' might be a little too ambitious (even for the most zealous Anglo-Cath)

In seriousness though, just give the thurible a good set of swings to bring the oxygen to the coal.
In XC,

Deacon Philip

Offline Benjamin the Red

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #21 on: January 24, 2011, 10:55:19 AM »
The thurifer forgot to genuflect at the beginning of the procession...  ;)

I've also seen figure of eight in procession (you need wide aisles), as well as looping while kneeling (you need long arms and to be careful of steps, other servers etc)...  anything to increase the amount of oxygen....



I do believe you may find your answer here (skip to 0:30): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvaPxiDm98g
Once lit (doesn't have to be very lit, just slightly glowing), practice your thurifer skillz. Loop-the-loop, figure of eight, are good starting tricks; 'rock the baby' might be a little too ambitious (even for the most zealous Anglo-Cath)

In seriousness though, just give the thurible a good set of swings to bring the oxygen to the coal.

This reminds me of the senior altar server at my parish. His favorite way to "save a dying coal" is to close or nearly-close the censer and rapidly swing it round-and-round, in a full circle. The force keeps the coal in place, and the rapid movement of oxygen brings it back wonderfully! I don't see him do this often, but the parish usually gets a demonstration of the practice each year at Theophany when we drive from the church to the lake for the Great Blessing.

Some non-Orthodox onlookers are also usually surprised by the men in shiny white dresses swinging metal objects.  ::)
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Offline StGeorge

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #22 on: February 01, 2011, 02:11:15 PM »
For my home, not the priest's censer!


I bought an incense holder, a roll of "quick lighting charcoal" and some incense. How do I light the charcoal effectively and keep it burning for more than three minutes?

I usually use a candle/grill lighter to light a thin beeswax candle.  I then hold the candle to the charcoal for a good 15 seconds or so.  By using a candle instead of a lighter, I save lighter fluid.  I wait until I see some red and then withdrawal it.  

Some charcoal types turns red hot without any further assistance, but the charcoal I use now (powder charcoal) requires circulating air or gentle breaths to fan the heat.  Something I notice is that if I close the censer lid, the charcoal quickly dies down and becomes extinguished, so I keep the lid open.  

With self-lighting charcoal briquettes, I often put some sand below it in the censer.  This seems to prevent the melted charcoal-incense from becoming plaque inside the censer.  It also seems to better expose the charcoal to circulating air.  You have to be careful not to raise the briquette too high, though, since it may fall out of the censer.  
« Last Edit: February 01, 2011, 02:26:23 PM by StGeorge »

Offline StGeorge

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #23 on: February 01, 2011, 02:20:58 PM »
It's interesting to see how practices differ; I can say I don't remember ever seeing an altar server or priest use his fingers to pick up the charcoal! Well, I did see one try it, but he burnt his finger  :P  Does everyone use the quick-light charcoal (I get mine from Greece) that sparks up faster, or do some ignite slower? Because the brand I use is sparking across the whole thing almost instantly, although it takes about 5-6 seconds for the "full spark" to travel across the charcoal. In my experience, if you kind of shake the charcoal a bit with the tongs it spreads the spark faster (I have seen the spark actually go out when one of my altar servers took the flame off too early and didn't shake it), and if you wait until it's almost fully ignited to place in the censor, it seems to fully burn, whereas I have seen a prematurely-placed charcoal be gray on the top and black on the bottom within 5 minutes, not fully using its potential. Again I wonder if this owes to the different brands of charcoal, etc.

If the priests and altar servers you have seen touch that thing while it is sparking, they must have really serious callouses on their fingers!

I started with the quick-lighting Greek charcoal.  Problem I had was less with the lighting than with the amount of smoke it created, even when I used only a portion of a briquette.  I used Japanese Shoyeido charcoal for a while, but it took forever to get hot and required lots of breathing.  I now use grape-vine Athonite powder charcoal and am pleased with it for private use, although I do not think it would be useful for a thurible.  It does not remain hot as long as the self-lighting charcoal and I would think is more liable to flying around being powder.  I did use some American-made charcoal briquettes for a while, and they produced much less smoke than the Greek ones.  I liked it, but the overall cost per use was higher than the powder charcoal I now use.  I can't remember the name of this charcoal though. 
« Last Edit: February 01, 2011, 02:28:02 PM by StGeorge »

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Re: Lighting incense
« Reply #24 on: February 01, 2011, 08:58:30 PM »
We use what hippies would call "smudge sticks." Native incense is made from dried plants. We dry the material, pack them together, tie it with natural cording, light and then fan the embers. Cedar and sage are my favorites.