My little boy likes to scurry over to the isle as the priest walks by with the censor at the beginning of the service so he can deeply inhale the incesne. He was very upset this past week when there were too many people in our aisle for him to get by in time. We'll have to remember to stand closer to the end by the isle next time!
The Orthodox Church service always uses incense in our worship. The Orthodox Church Liturgy addresses all of the senses and incense, of course, calls upon the sense of smell. Physical symbols are an important part of worship and incense is one physical reminder of the special purpose at hand while we are present within the church [other physical reminders include water in Baptism, kneeling, etc.] and symbolizes our prayers ascending to God in His heavenly kingdom.
The bible refers to the use of incense in worship. The first mention is in Exodus 25:6, where God listed it among the offerings He desired from the people of Israel. God also included incense in His detailed directions to Moses for the building of the altar in the tabernacle. And later, God became angry with Israel when they offered incense to foreign gods. In Psalm 142:2, David says, "Let my prayer arise before you as incense." In the New Testament, Zacharias was offering incense in the temple when the angel appeared to him and the wise men who came to worship Christ offered gifts of "gold, frankincense, and myrrh". Incense is also mentioned several times in the Book of Revelation indicating that it is present in heaven.
Incense, however, was not commonly used by the Church during the first three centuries. This, unfortunately, was due to the the Romans practice of asking Christians to renounce their faith and accept pagan worship and having the person offer incense to the image of the Roman emperor as a test to their renunciation. When this terrible era of persecutions ended, the Church was able to reintroduce incense into worship in its proper way.
Many Orthodox Christians use incense in their homes, the domestic church, as a physical and symbolic reminder (one of many). For when we use incense in worship the way we do, it doesn't matter where we are or what we are doing, we are reminded of the Kingdom of God.
LORD, I Have Cried Out Unto You: hear me! Hear me, O Lord!
Lord, I Have Cried Out Unto You: hear me!
Receive the voice of my prayer!
When I call upon You, hear me, O Lord!
Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense,
And let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.
Hear me, O Lord!