Altar tour, continued: the censer. Known in the west as a thurible (from the Greek thuos, meaning “burnt offering”), the censer is utilized at most of our worship services, swung toward something or someone to bless them, so the smoke travels in their direction. When we have a deacon (God-willing) he’ll do most of the censing, but priests still do quite a bit of it; servers and minor clergy hold, but never swing, the censer. We do greater and lesser censings; the former is exactly what it sounds like - pretty much everything in the whole temple, including a trip around it, as you see toward the end of the 6th Hour before the Divine Liturgy; the rest of the censings are “lesser,” and don’t include walking all around the whole temple - just behind and in front of the iconostasis. But what’s it all mean? If you’ve been attending and paying close attention to the Presanctified Liturgy, you’ve heard sung, “let my prayers arise like incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands like an evening sacrifice” - pretty neat, huh?
Some have suggested that as the womb of the Theotokos held the Divine Fire, so does the censer contain the burning coal of faith. The form itself is similarly symbolic - the bells represent each of the twelve Disciples proclaiming the Gospels throughout all the lands, on four chains, each of which represents a Gospel writer. The three outer chains that hold the base represent the Holy Trinity, and the single lifting chain (attached to the lid) represents the oneness of God.