Lighting candles has always been a holy practice for the Jewish people. Each week, we usher in Shabbat by lighting two candles as we gather around and say a blessing. On each night of Hanukkah, we light our Hanukkiah as we celebrate the miracle of light that lasted for eight days. Shoresh has always sought to honour these traditional practices by sharing beautiful, sustainable, and healthy beeswax candles with our community.
The practice of lighting candles is sacred in other religions as well, and is something that unites us all. For the past three years, Shoresh has partnered with the sisters at Holy Theotokos Convent in Stouffville, Ontario to create our 100 per cent pure Beeswax Chanukah Candles.
For over 20 years, Mother Irene and the sisters at Holy Theotokos Convent have been making these candles as a way of supporting themselves through handicrafts. Mother Irene and the sisters at Holy Theotokos Convent are our Hive Heroes: awesome folks in our community who educate, inspire, and empower us to be Shomrei Adamah, Protectors of the Earth, and Shomrei Devorim, Protectors of the Bees. We are so inspired by the radical work that they do and feel a deep connection to their mission.
Mother Irene with freshly made beeswax candles. Photo by Allie Shier on behalf of Shoresh.
Mother Irene welcomed me into the convent and their beeswax candle shop, Joyous Light Beeswax Candles, to show me how the beeswax candles are made and to share her deep connection to the holy work of candle making.
She then sat down with me to tell me about the traditional Orthodox Christian practise of candle making, what inspires her to do this work, and her love of bees and our pollinator friends.
Can you please tell me about how you/Holy Theotokos Convent started working with beeswax?
Traditionally, candles have always been important in our daily lives. We knew people would always need candles attending services and saying their prayers, so we thought that would be the best way to be self-supporting, more so because of the connection candles have with our faith and how they have been traditionally used. In the Old Testament, Aaron was in charge of taking care of the altar with the candle sticks and we believe that we offer pure candles knowing people will be using it as a pure offering to God as they say their prayers. It means a lot to us that we can help individuals connect and get closer to God in that way.
The conveyor system that dips frames of organic cotton wicks into hot beeswax, making candles. Photo by Allie Shier on behalf of Shoresh.
For Shoresh, Jewish teachings and spiritual connection are integral to the work that we do, as well as the products we create and share with our community. Can you please share with us the spiritual dimension of your work and how Orthodox Christian values guide you in your beautiful beeswax creations?
Working with something that is so natural to our environment and knowing that we are able to provide that for people as a pure offering to God is fulfilling to us. In the old days, work started when the sun went up and stopped when the sun went down, but this has changed because of electricity. Lighting a candle brings us back to the old days. We do our services by candlelight as we don’t have electricity in the church. It is a sombre feeling, and it makes your connection to God more vivid and bright. You have clarity and no interruptions as you are able to just focus.
It is important to us that we can help people make a connection with God by providing these candles for them to light as an offering.
Mother Irene with a frame of wicks and candles-in-the-making. Photo by Allie Shier on behalf of Shoresh.
What do you think is the most amazing, radical thing about the bee, and what can they teach us? And what do you feel is our responsibility to the bee/pollinators in our environment?
The most radical thing for me is the fact that they pollinate!
Beeswax is very important. I read that the world could only live without bees for three years. Our responsibility is to take care of them, even planting some extra flowers for the bees and pollinators, and respecting them, keeping them safe. As they respect us, we need to respect them and ensure that they are still around. Whether that’s abstaining from using pesticides and what not. The beekeepers we are dealing with are finding that their crops are getting better, so people are being more conscientious about that. Just having something that bees can go to and gather their nectar from is very important. Bees need water too, so I read that people are starting little water wells for bees!
A collection of beautiful beeswax candles in the workshop, made using silicone molds. To the right there are bundles of fire starter kits using recycled scraps of wicks and wax—everything gets reused and recycled! Photo by Allie Shier on behalf of Shoresh.
What do you think are some other ways that faith groups can come together to protect our environment and help lead a more widespread shift in people’s relationship with the natural world?
I think even what Shoresh is doing, letting people know how important having bees around are—whether it is through literature, or having some courses. For ourselves, we try to educate ourselves so we can educate other people, even to help spread the word through social media to protect the bees. It’s a win-win for everybody if we can raise awareness. We get beeswax and honey from bees, and they do so much in such a short time. If we can be as industrious in our daily lives as they are in their short life, that would be an accomplishment for all of us.
Mother Irene and Mother Magdalene (background) finishing up some pillar beeswax candles! Photo by Allie Shier on behalf of Shoresh.
An earlier version of this interview first appeared in Shoresh’s The Beet in 2020.
Header image design by Orly Zebak.
Allie Shier is the Co-Director of Operations of Shoresh. Shier is a social and eco-justice advocate and at Shoresh, she combines her passion for social justice and environmental advocacy to help participants see how sustainability is a core to Jewish identity and environmental engagement is central to Jewish life.