My wife and I are about to get our first Vigil Lamp, and have a question that seems obvious to most. I know Olive Oil is recommended....but is it blended with anything else? Is there a reason that standard lamp oil isn't used? Does it burn poorly causing buildup perhaps on Icons, etc.? Any response is appreciated.I use regular olive oil most often, but recently I've been experimenting with infusing my own olive oil with herbs, spices and fruits. I have about 2 more weeks until this next batch is ready. It does give it a bit of a more pleasant smell. However, I don't know about using any other oils as olive oil is the only kind I have used in my lampada.
I use olive oil only as it is the standard. It costs more, therefore there is a degree more sacrifice or giving in using it rather than cheaper oils. A little essential oil e.g. rose can add to the aroma, but I think the smell of burning olive oil is very nice. The following is from http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/xc_home.aspx#oil
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.
The use of pure olive oil may be objected to because of its high cost; however, God is beneficent to those who think first of spiritual matters and then of themselves. A family with which I am familiar had a multitude of problems, one of which was not enough money to purchase food. The head of the family placed the household under the protection of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. As an offering of faith and love, the family's head promised that the lamp in the icon corner would burn only pure olive oil and that it would be allowed to go out only after there was no more food on the table and no money to buy either olive oil or food. Because of the strong faith shown by the family head, the Theotokos has miraculously provided the family with enough money to purchase both olive oil and food for months on end.
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. Once used for this, however, the glass should not be reused for any other purpose. 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).
3. 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. [Candle wax may be used to make a firm point for ease in "threading" the wick. It should be trimmed off before lighting.]
5. Cleaning. The napkin or tissue used to wipe the carbon and oil from the fingers should be burned in a separate place (the home censer is the best place) and not just thrown into the garbage. Be careful not to drip or spill the oil when lighting the lamp (St. Theodore of Studion imposed a canon of thirty prostrations on the church ecclesiarch who spills oil from the icon lamps). The glass should be washed periodically, and the oil replaced anew. The water in which the lamp is washed, as well as the old oil from the icon lamp, should not be poured down the drain. It is best, rather, to pour it under plants or trees, or an area that is not walked upon.
Pious Orthodox faithful take oil frequently from the lamp and bless themselves, making the sign of the Cross on their foreheads.