<<Would anyone care to comment on which oil they find highest quality but most cost efficient for use in the lampada? We find the best one is Bertoli Virgin Olive Oil, sold in 5-liter bottles in Costco and Sam's Club.
We also use Bertolli from Sam's at $19 for 5 liters It burns fairly cleanly unlike some much more expensive extra virgin oils. It is dual purpose for us too as extra virgin oils are just too strong tasting for the kids. Bertolli is a mild tasting oil and since the turnover at Sam's is so large it is always fresh as well.
Fresh _may_ not be best for burning however. There seems to be some anecdotal evidence that older oil burns better than newer of the same batch. But new Bertolli has never been a problem, and the shreds of evidence along these lines (I have gathered personally) come from pomace oils, so maybe it is just the residue falling out over time that improves them.
<<A much less expensive type of olive oil is Pomace Oil, made from a mixture of oil pressed from the fruit and that pressed from the ground olive pits. It burns well, but leaves more of a residue in the glass.
This is highly variable. Some brands such as Hermes burned clean most of the time, but some lots would build up carbon on the wick so badly that a lamp would burn (poorly) only 2-3 hours at a time without trimming (appropriate burning time is 6-8 hours minimum). In a college town in Indiana there were a half dozen competing stores that sold olive oils and these pomace oils could be real bargains, but here in the homogenized white milk center of evangelical protestantism, such staples are considered ethnic and a premium is attached to the price due to extremely slow turnover. A quart is also considered to be a large amount among those who don't burn it, so large cans are more rare.
The cost of the oil should not be too big of a concern. We buy the best we can reasonably afford (and last fall/winter after the crop failure when Bertolli was up to $29 - we couldn't afford to continuously burn multiple lamps).
We are instructed to bring the best offering and this is how we should consider the burning of a Vigil lamp. It is for this
reason that we only use olive oil just as we only use 100% beeswax candles. Some consider this instruction to be of no significance. Aside from fidelity to Church Tradition (dating back at least as far as to our father the God-Seer Moses), the reasons for burning olive oil, as Fr David Cownie says in his book "A Guide to Orthodox Life", are related to the idea of sacrifice. Vigilance is a personal sacrifice - an offering to God wherein we try to remain sober-minded and come eventually to an awareness of the concepts of deep repentance and humility found in the prayers and lives of the saints. It is a voluntary putting aside of mundane and petty concerns about personal choices and inconvenience of the Orthodox lifestyle.
Of course there is also a problem we have noticed lately with the widespread lack of understanding of the meaning of vigil - perhaps because so few actually observe it liturgically, let alone in their private _social_ lives. Saturday night after Vigil, (if not every day as we are reminded by our own offering of a well-trimmed continuously burning vigil lamp in our homes) is not a time for going out to eat in some raucous restaurant. Our bishop instructs us to go home and eat "a little" (if we need to) after the Vigil, but otherwise to continue preparation for Communion by reading the Prayers and canons for preparation, and other edifying fare prior to retiring and, of course, making sure to light the Vigil lamp on this evening if on none other.
Fr Michael Henning in "Marriage and the Christian Home" says "traditional oil lamps require an amount of attention...directing our physical services and thoughts to God several times a day when we are required to trim the wick..." Some few will suggest that a cheaper oil, even mineral oil which requires no trimming (in fact trimming at all causes it to perform more poorly), is appropriate and acceptable. It is not! (imo) Fr Michael continues regarding this sort of practice: "God is beneficent to those who think first of spiritual matters and then of themselves." How does one follow the pious practice of anointing oneself with the oil from the vigil lamp when it is not the oil of sacrifice, the oil of mercy (eleos/elaias) but a form of burning pitch (albeit refined). Pious constant diligence will not go unrewarded.
Use the best you can afford. "A family with which I am familiar had a multitude of problems, one of which was not enough money to purchase food. The head of the family placed the household under the protection of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. As an offering of faith and love, the family's head promised that the lamp in the icon corner would burn only pure olive oil and that it would be allowed to go out only after there was no more food on the table and no money to buy either olive oil or food. Because of the strong faith shown by the family head, the Theotokos has miraculously provided the family with enough money to purchase both olive oil and food for months on end."
The point is the same in what Fr David Cownie has to say: "men and women are no longer being encouraged to bring their best before God, but rather are led to believe that they are [even!] doing God a service by sauntering up to the Chalice." "They have at times been openly encouraged by their modernist hierarchs [and even where this is not the case by a distorted spiritless common opinion] and by self-styled 'experts' to look upon receiving the Mysteries as a privilege or even a right... lulled into carelessness by glib statements about how Christ loves us and how we are all sinners before God (both of course true, but neither has any application to the reception of Holy Communion.)" > >Mixing oils does not work well, and if string is used for the wick, it >should not be polished string.
Good string is hard to come by - or maybe I simply haven't figured out where to buy. Mother Anna in St Louis has a roll of triple ply long fibre v. soft cotton thread that is ideal. It is usually recommended that you soak new thread in vinegar to wash out impurities, but this pure white string works fine as is. One ply fits perfectly into the common Athonite float. (If you buy your beeswax candles from her, ask for some string next time you order).
Good strong heat proof glasses are indispensable. Mt Sinai Church Suppliers in Cedar Rapids carries these (and also sells beeswax candles for a very inexpensive price). We still primarily use an old quilted glass (with red trim/rim) wine glass that came from someone at Holy Transfiguration Monastery. It holds enough oil to safely burn for several days unattended (a practice we came to follow every time we went to Church on our week-end commutes for the last decade or so). It is the experience with this lamp that taught me many things about myself. No matter what quality of oil etc., if I am back- sliding the lamp will not stay lit for more than a couple of hours. Under the same physical conditions however it would burn for up to 4 days over a long festal week-end if I were attending to "the one thing needful." I'm sure the insurance man would have not been pleased if he knew that we trust an open flame for four days absence! (and no, I didn't use water in the bottom, since the splattering of fuming hot - even flaming drops - when the lamp burns dry and the water boils is extremely dangerous. (This boiling of water does not happen in a smaller glass and _is_ highly recommended in such a case).
(From a Post to the Orthodox Christianity Mailing list, Sat, 30 Aug 1997, by Fr Mark Gilstrap)
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