Lighting an oil lamp is one of the most ancient Christian practices. From the time of Christ until today Christians have traditionally lit an oil lamp as a way of preparing themselves to meet Christ.
An oil lamp is also called a vigil lamp. The word vigil is defined as a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray.
In the Bible Jesus tells the story of ten virgins who took oil lamps and went out to wait for a very special person, The Bridegroom. Five of them brought enough oil with them to make it through the long night. When The Bridegroom arrived their lamps were lit and they went into a banquet to celebrate.
The story of The Bridegroom is told in the 25th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, verses 1-13. We read this story at the start of Holy Week and with it we sing a special hymn and process a special icon called The Bridegroom. The words of the hymn are rather powerful: Behold The Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, unworthy is the one whom He shall find heedless beware therefore O my soul and be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given over to death and shut out of the kingdom, wherefore arose thyself and cry, holy, holy, holy art Thou O our God, through the intercessions of the Theotokos, Savior save us.
The word in Greek for olive oil is “eleon” and the word for mercy in Greek is “eleos.” When we think about the parable of the Ten Virgins and The Bridegroom, an obvious connection should be made between these two words. The parable is asking us to consider whether or not our vigil lamps will make it through the night. Will we be ready to meet Christ at the end of our lives and will our lamps be filled with oil?
How do we fill our lamps? Filling our lamps is not an easy task and it doesn’t happen all at once. Instead we fill our lamps, drop by drop, by one act of mercy and love at a time.
The Eleos Project is an opportunity to prepare ourselves this Great Lent to meet The Bridegroom. Here is how it works, place a vigil lamp in your family prayer corner or in a central place for your home like the dinner table. Beside it have a reservoir of olive oil. As a family or on your own fill and light your lamp and throughout Great Lent by practicing acts of mercy and love keep it and the lamp lit. Day by day as your vigil lamp remains lit you prepare yourself to meet The Bridegroom. As Great Lent comes to its close and Holy Week begins we hope that