Updated: May 3, 2020
You’ve probably grown up with a vigil lamp (καντήλι) in your home, but may not have asked why we use it. It's more than just an aesthetic accessory for your kitchen shelf - it serves a dual purpose.
The humble vigil lamp is a symbol and an offering of our prayer. The burning light of the flame reminds us that Christ is the light of the World (John 8:12). In the same way that a flame drives away physical darkness, Christ drives away spiritual darkness.
We use olive oil as fuel for the lamp because it symbolises the endless mercy of God. Why, you may ask? The Greek word for oil (έλαιον) is connected to the word mercy (ελέησον). We know what you're thinking - "Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek."
An electric lamp only requires a switch to be flicked - there's no effort involved. On the other hand, lighting an oil lamp is a process. It takes time, effort and attention. It requires us to trim the wick, pour in the oil and tend to the flame. It is the effort and energy that we put into our lamp that is an offering to God during our prayer.
The hope is that the physical vigil lamp helps us turn our hearts into spiritual vigil lamps.