. . . but not for those who are allergic to it. My godson’s wife is allergic to incense, and cannot participate in our worship services because of it.
Such situations calls for some creative adjustments. Our parish priest comes to their home and hears her confession and administers the awesome mystery of the divine Eucharist, Christ’s body and blood, to her, personally. She greatly misses worshiping in Church, though.
Now I’m not suggesting that we stop using incense in our services, but if the bishops of the Greek Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America can give their blessings for special monthly liturgies for people with developmental disabilities, perhaps there could also be special liturgies crafted for persons who cannot tolerate incense as well? Here’s a profile of the Challenge Liturgy Ministry: Ministry Profile: Challenge Liturgy
I did talk by phone to the priest at this Church and incense has not been an issue for them.
Perhaps incense-free services- even occasional ones- would cross a line. I don’t know. One could not have Orthodox worship without icons- this has been spelled out in the seventh ecumenical council- but I’m not aware of similar Church canons concerning the use of incense.
Icons visually demonstrate that Christ was truly incarnate in the flesh. Since our Church proclaims the fullness of the Faith, our worship is correspondingly full, involving all five senses- hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell. “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” This is normative.
But as St. Paul says, “to the weak I became weak . . .”
Christ’s saying, “The Sabbath is for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” also comes to mind, but the analogy falls short, for Divine Liturgy may be for man from God’s standpoint, but from our standpoint, the Divine Liturgy- the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”) – is directed toward God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And the heavenly worship described in the book of Revelation does involve incense.
Here is a discussion on OrthodoxChristianity.net and in regard to incense and allergies:
Here is another discussion on the Ancient Way- Eastern Orthodox section of Christian forums entitled the Allergic to Incense. One of the respondents writes,
. . . . I knew an Orthodox Priest who recently passed away who would not use incense (with permission from his Hierarch) due to his allergy and heart problems. . . . He was of the [Russian] Patriarchial Orthodox Church (MP).
If an allowance can be made for a priest who is allergic to incense, wouldn’t it follow that an allowance could be made for occasional incense-free liturgy- four times a year on a Saturday, perhaps- for lay people who are also allergic? But that is a decision for our God-loving bishops to make. Source: http://www.christianforums.com/t2162503/
Personally, I would miss the incense if it were not there. But this is not about me.
There are icons for the blind and sign language being used in Orthodox Churches in various places, but this is addition, not subtraction. See http://rt.com/news/church-deaf-blind-moscow/ & http://incendiarious.wordpress.com/2009/06/26/icons-for-the-blind/
I asked a Parish Priest I know if this post would be acceptable, given what is being suggested. He thought it would be acceptable, and added a word of his own:
Incense, it seems to me, is part and parcel of our liturgical tradition and cannot simply be dispensed with. Nevertheless, exceptions can be periodically made for pastoral needs, as in the case of this woman.
I should also add this: Remember that many churches are now live-streaming the Liturgy. (I know St. Mary’s Church in Cambridge, MA, does so. The Liturgy celebrated there is exceptional, with equally exceptional preaching by Fr. Anthony Hughes.) This woman could regularly avail herself of this mode of liturgical participation (no incense problem there!) and receive the Eucharist regularly from her priest, as she is apparently already doing. The occasional incense-less Saturday Liturgy would be a complement to this set-up.
Here is the website for St. Mary’s live-streamed services:
Now, to the benefits of incense: