How to Set Up a Prayer Corner

Many Orthodox Christians seek to develop a deeper, more personal life of prayer. As they should, since prayer is an integral part of the Orthodox Faith and our relationship and communion with God. One of the best ways to strengthen your personal prayer life (and sustain it long-term) is to set a special place aside in your home for prayer. Having that holy place established in your home encourages you to go to it each day to pray and deepen your relationship with God. In this post, we show you how to set up a prayer corner in your home, step by step.

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

What is a prayer corner?

In Orthodox Christian homes, the prayer corner is the physical place reserved for personal and family prayer. In Orthodox countries, the faithful call it the front corner, the beautiful corner, the holy corner, the icon corner, God’s place, or the kiot. Whatever its name, this place is the spiritual heart of the home. It should serve as a constant reminder to pray. It should be a sanctuary for you and your loved ones, a place where you can rest and renew yourselves as you live in this world. And perhaps most importantly, it should connect you with your spouse, children, and the even greater family of Saints who have gone before you, who all stand with you in worship of God.

Selecting a prayer space

The first thing you should do when setting up an icon corner is select an ideal space in your house or apartment. Your prayer corner can be anywhere in your home, but ideally, it should be somewhere easily accessible, quiet, and oriented eastward. Depending on your situation, this might present a challenge. But just do the best you can!

First, find an accessible place, so that you feel encouraged to actually go to it and pray. Second, make sure the space is quiet. If someone in the family wants to go to the corner to pray alone, they should be able to do so without distractions. That means not having the prayer corner in a high-traffic area of the home, like the living room or dining area. Lastly, if possible, you should orient your prayer corner toward the East, just like our churches. In a way, our homes are little churches, and the prayer corner is our altar. So it makes sense that we would we try to model our little churches after the larger church.

Options for small living spaces

Not everyone has a spare room they can use for prayer, or even a closet, for that matter. If you find yourself in a small living space with limited options, here are some suggestions for where you can set up your prayer corner:

  • Set up some hanging shelves in the corner of your bedroom or living area
  • Use a privacy screen or collapsible room divider to create a separate space
  • Lean icons against the wall and use your desk, dresser, or bedside table as the altar table
  • Use a bookcase or wall nook

Whatever you can do within your circumstances will be acceptable to God. In even rarer cases, you might not have any room at all. In that case, you may need to locate a quiet space outside that you can go to pray. Perhaps you can visit a nearby Orthodox church. You could also consider taking your prayer materials with you outside to a secluded place, like a hiking path at the local park.

Getting icons for your prayer corner

Now that you have chosen a space, the next step to setting up your prayer corner is getting the necessary materials, from holy icons and prayer books to incense and vigil lamps. Each of these items serves a particular purpose in prayer, so take care when selecting them and adding them to your sacred space. First, let’s focus on holy icons.

1. Selecting icons

For Orthodox Christians, an icon is not just a picture. It is a sacred image, outside the realm of ordinary reality. It serves as a window from our world into the world above, God’s revelation in depicted form and color. Icons are not simply family relics we pass on from generation to generation, but holy things that unite the family during communal prayer, which can only be achieved through mutual forgiveness and love. We should not confuse icons with ordinary daily life, because they are intended only for prayer and communion with God. Therefore, we should take great care when selecting icons for our prayer corner.

But what kinds of icons should you get? Are there certain ones you are required to have? And beyond that, what other ones should you consider? (Note that you don’t need to get every single icon in your space before you can start using the space for prayer. As long as you have an icon of Christ to begin, you can obtain the others one at a time as your budget and space allows.)

Essential icons

The following are “must have’s” for every Orthodox prayer corner, because they bear witness to the Incarnation of God and the salvation of mankind:

  • An icon of the Lord Jesus Christ, always to the right of the center
  • A cross – handheld, mounting, or standing – in the center
  • An icon of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, always to the left of the center
Example of an Orthodox prayer corner

The exact placement of the icons and the cross in the prayer corner varies among Orthodox Christians and their preferences. So long as the cross occupies the central position, and the icons of Christ and the Theotokos are to the right and left respectively: that is what is most important.

Additional icons

If you have room (and available funds) for more icons in your prayer corner, you can add as many to your space as you like. We recommend only choosing icons that are special to you. Having more icons does not make you more holy! Quality rather than quantity is the goal. If you are looking to obtain more icons, here are some suggestions:

  • Icons of patron saints.  At baptism, each Orthodox Christian receives a saint’s name and maintains a special relationship with that saint throughout his life. We call this saint a patron. Because we ask our patron saints to intercede for us regularly, it makes sense to have them in our icon corners. If you have a spouse or children, consider having icons of their patron saints as well. Not sure who yours is? Check out our article on how to choose a patron saint.

  • Icons of the feast days. Throughout the Church year, we celebrate many glorious feast days, which commemorate major events in the lives of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Holy Mother. These make a beautiful addition to any prayer space, as they keep the feast and its significance on your mind as you pray.

  • Icons of local saints. Ask your priest about local saints or saints that are special within your diocese. For example, if you attend a Russian Orthodox church, an icon of Saint Nicholas might be perfect for your prayer space, because he is especially beloved in that tradition. Alternatively, if you attend an Antiochian parish, you may consider an icon of Saint Ignatius or Saint Raphael of Brooklyn.

Ultimately, selecting icons is up to the individual. If you find yourself at a loss, speak with your priest! He would be more than happy to talk with you and help you decide which icons would best help you cultivate a strong prayer life.

2. Purchasing icons

When you’re looking to purchase an icon, the first place you should look is your local Orthodox parish. They may have a bookstore (like we do at St. John’s) that sells some icons and other prayer corner materials. If your parish does not have a bookstore, there are many reputable online shops that sell Orthodox icons.

3. Having icons blessed

Once you receive your icons, ask your priest to bless them for you before you put them into your prayer corner. He will say special prayers over the icons and bless them with holy water. Some priests will also set the icons on the altar for the duration of the Divine Liturgy, allowing the icons to participate in the worship with the faithful and stand in the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ.

When taking your icons home, remember to face the icons inward rather than stacking them on top of one another. This helps prevent damage to the faces of the icons.

4. Arranging your icons

Now that your icons have been blessed and taken home, the next step is to arrange them. In personal prayer corners, we only have a couple guidelines you should follow when deciding how to set up your icons in your prayer space:

  1. Christ on the right, Mary on the left. As we mentioned earlier, make sure Christ’s icon sits on the right side of the arrangement. Then, place the Virgin Mary’s icon opposite His, on the left side. If you can, place a cross between them.

  2. Remember the principle of hierarchy. Take care not to place an icon of a local saint or patron saint in a more prominent place than the icon of Christ, the Theotokos, the Apostles, or the Holy Trinity. If you have questions about how to do this with limited space, speak with your priest.
A small Orthodox prayer corner
An Eastern Orthodox icon corner. Note the symmetry of the icon placement, and the presence of other holy objects (i.e. candles and vigil lamps, prayer ropes, blessed palm branches).
  1. Keep everything symmetrical. This may sound silly, but is actually quite intuitive. When icons are hung without a sense of symmetry or well-thought-out arrangement, you focus more on the asymmetry. You desire to change the arrangement again and again, because something just doesn’t look right. And this distracts you from prayer.

Other items for your prayer corner

Once you arrange your icons, you have just one more step to set up your own prayer corner. You need items for your “altar table”. Following the liturgical practices of the ancient Christian Church, we make use of the following in prayer:

A source of light

In front of the icons, a source of light should perpetually burn. Or at the very least, it should burn whenever you are present in the space to pray. This light represents Christ, who is the Light of the world.

Some families use beeswax candles that burn in a small bowl filled with sand. Others use small votive candles or a vigil lamp. Traditionally, most Orthodox Christians burn an olive oil lamp before the icons in their prayer corner. These traditional oil lamps require a significant amount of attention, which directs our thoughts to God several times a day when we must trim the wick and refill the lamp with oil.

Vigil lamp in an Orthodox icon orner
Standing vigil lamp in an Orthodox prayer corner

Sometimes, due to a lease or rental agreement, you may not be legally allowed to burn candles or oil lamps in your home. If this is the case, speak with your priest. Generally, in rare circumstances like these, it is okay to use an electric light or fake candle.

Using an oil lamp

You can find Orthodox oil lamps for icon corners in many places online, including Amazon. Some can stand on their own, while others can be mounted onto the wall. Choose whatever makes sense for your home and your family. Should you choose to use an oil lamp in your prayer corner, here are a few tips:

  • Choose a large enough glass to allow the oil to last you at least 10-12 hours.
  • Leave your olive oil out in the open and allow it to age. Aged / rancid oil burns best in the lamps.
  • Put some red wine in the bottom of the oil reservoir before adding the oil, and before lighting. This allows the wick to snuff itself after the oil burns out.
  • You can purchase premade wicks, but if you choose to make your own, use plain cotton string (not coated or waxed) 1 foot long of about 6 ply. For a brighter, cleaner flame, soak the string in vinegar and allow it to thoroughly dry before lighting.
  • The flame should burn steadily, not flickering. The Fathers of Mount Athos call this low flame apathes, which means passionless.
  • Before relighting your lamp, remove excess carbon from the wick with a cloth or towel. Then twist the string to shape the wick into a point.
  • Clean your glass periodically (at least once or twice a month), and replace the oil every couple weeks.


During Vespers, we pray, “Let my prayer arise, in Thy sight as incense, and the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.” We use incense constantly during worship in the Orthodox Church, as the Hebrews did before us (Exodus 30:1-10). Therefore, we also use it for private prayer with our family. Soon enough, you will begin to associate the smell of the incense with the Church and with the practice of prayer. And that beautiful smell will call you back to that liturgical world of praise and worship.

You can purchase incense and a censer from most parish bookstores, from Ancient Faith, or from Amazon. Some smoke detectors may not cooperate very well with incense. So do take care when burning incense for the first time in your home. If the smoke detector proves to be an issue, there are smokeless incense burners you can purchase online.

Lighting your incense burner

Most incense burners are made of brass. Before doing anything with your charcoal or incense, first put a small amount of sand or fine dirt inside the censer. This helps create insulation. Next, you will need a small piece of charcoal. If you have the standard larger sized Church charcoal, you can break the tablet into quarters and only light one piece. This type of charcoal has a very lively starter, so simply holding a lit match or butane lighter to the side of the piece is usually sufficient. We recommend lighting your charcoal outside and remaining there until the starter chemical burns off. The smell is rather acrid, and can interfere with the pleasant smell of the incense.

Once the charcoal is red hot and ashy (this only takes a couple minutes), you can then put in one grain of incense. If you use too many grains at a time, you could produce too much smoke and set off your smoke detector!

Be careful not to burn yourself. The censer will get hot. If you want to pick up the censer and move about the house, you should get a censer that has a wooden handle. Alternatively, you can use a hot pad or wrap the handle with twine or something that will insulate it.

After the charcoal completely burns down to ash, it is not necessary to clean the censer. Simply tamp the ash down and the censer will be ready to use again. Remove some of the old ash when the censer is completely full. (Throw it into the garden—since it was used in prayer, it is, by definition, “blessed.”)

Prayer books and lists

Additionally, you should have prayer books and prayer lists in your corner. These aid us in knowing what to say and who to pray for. Many prayer books include daily prayers (morning, midday, and evening), as well as prayers for certain circumstances, like sickness, expecting a child, preparing for Holy Communion, etc. There are also prayer books for specific prayers, such as the Akathist Hymn, and prayers written by various saints, which can add beautiful depth to your prayer life. You should also keep your Orthodox Study Bible in your corner, so you can read Scripture together in your worship space.

Some other devotional materials you should consider keeping in this space are:

Holy objects

Whenever you receive anything that has been blessed in the Church, keep these things in your prayer corner. Some holy objects you might put here:

  • Palm crosses and pussy willow branches
  • Holy water
  • Holy Oil
  • Fresh flowers
  • Blessed candles, flour, etc.
  • Paschal eggs
  • A piece of the Vasilopita (feast of St. Basil)
  • Your marriage crowns and candles
  • Baptismal candles

If you choose to keep any perishable items in your icon corner, you should either eat them, distribute them to the birds, or burn them once you need to dispose of them.

Side note: Disposing of old or damaged icons

If one or more of your icons have deteriorated with age or have become damaged to the point that they are no longer able to fulfill their purpose in prayer, you must take care to dispose of them in the proper manner. Under no circumstances should any icon or other holy object simply be thrown away. We should always treat holy items with veneration and reverence.

To properly dispose of an icon, take it to your church to have it burned in the church furnace. If your parish does not have a furnace, ask the priest if he, or another trusted member of the parish, could burn it for you. If you are able to burn it yourself, take care to bury the ashes in a place they will not be disturbed, like a cemetery or under a tree in the garden.

Get started!

Congratulations! You now know how to set up your own prayer corner. First, you need to choose a space. Next, get an icon of Christ (at least), the Theotokos, and other beloved saints and feast days. Then, gather some candles, incense, prayer books, and a few other items to enrich your prayer space. What better time than now to revitalize the prayer life in your home?

Read More: Keeping the Orthodox Faith Alive at Home

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13 Responses

  1. When orienting icons to the East, does that mean placing them on an east wall so that I face East when I pray?
    I have recently moved, and I want to create my prayer space reverently.

    1. Robyn,

      Christ is in our midst! Yes, you would ideally place the icons on an east wall. If a wall is not directly facing East due to the orientation of your home, try to find a corner that does, or to position a bookshelf, table, or desk upon which you should stand your icons for prayer. If this is not possible, facing another direction is perfectly acceptable, as we explain in the article. Sometimes circumstance necessitates that we adapt. Blessings to you in your move! We hope all goes well for you and that you find great edification in your prayer space there.

      God bless!

  2. My Parents do Not Allow me to Burn candles or oil lamp because they are worried that i would hurt myself. Can i use an electric candle in this condition too or do i need to use a normal candle/oil lamp?

    God Bless!

    1. Nico,

      If you are not old enough to burn candles or use an oil lamp on your own, you can absolutely use an electric candle as a substitute. Blessings to you!

  3. My parents are strictly roman catholic and don’t allow me to have any orthodox related stuff. Including crosses, icons, ect.
    I’m on a journey of converting to russian orthodoxy. And I have two questions
    1. How can I be able to keep my icons, eventhough my parents dont allow me?
    2. How can I explain to my parents that I want to convert?. Because the first time i told them they locked me in the house and punished me.

    God bless!

    1. Jayden,

      Christ is in our midst. We are so saddened by this news and will pray that the Lord softens their hearts. If you are under 18, we strongly suggest abiding by the rules of your parents and submitting to them; for it is in the 10 Commandments that we honor our father and our mother, and in the Scriptures that we submit to our parents and to one another in love. This is not easy, but it is the path the Lord calls us to until we have autonomy on our own apart from our parents. If you feel better with an icon nearby, a small icon card (even something just on printer paper) could suffice. You can keep these small icons inside a journal or wallet, to give you strength and aid you in prayer. If that is not possible, do not despair. Some of the greatest Saints did not have icons with them and yet were able to attain holiness through struggle and prayer.

      We would counsel you to wait until you turn 18 to bring up the topic of your baptism into the Orthodox Faith, as this will preserve harmony in your home until it is time for you to depart. If you are already over 18, you can most certainly attempt to have the conversation again. Since we do not know your parents, unfortunately we cannot give specific advice. However, the best way to explain it to them is to extend an offer for them to come to a service with you. If they refuse it, that is okay. Over time, they may see the transformation taking place in you and the Spirit may move them to try to understand where that change is coming from.

      Should you have any other questions, please feel free to use our private contact form, or to contact a priest in an Orthodox parish near you. May God bless you, child, and may He protect you as you search for the Truth.

      1. So recently I did something I shouldn’t have been doing (vaping, weed, alcohol) and I got in alot of trouble, prior to that, my mom took orthodoxy away from me for good.
        During the argument after my mom caught me vaping, I started to cry my eyes out, and explained to her that I lost my true self without orthodoxy, that’s why I started doing all of these horrible things. She ended up thinking I was going to harm myself.

        Now, I quit vaping and weed.
        Now my mom comes to me to a orthodox parish, she’s still learning the basics, hopefully soon I will become a Catechumen…

        I plan on making a very nice icon corner. My prayers were answered. Thank you!

        1. Jayden,

          Christ is in our midst. What a heartrending testimony. Thank you for your bravery in sharing this. We are glad you have found Orthodoxy again and that your mother is attending with you. We will continue to pray for you both in the coming months and years. May God continue to bless you!

          1. God bless you unto the ages!

            I will keep coming back here to ask questions, I also ask my priest questions. I do have a couple questions too

            How do i get an official patron saint? I’ve already picked one, which is St. Gabriel Urgebazde of Georgia.

            And what are some things i should get for my altar table? Because I’m going to get a table to put underneath my icon corner.

            God bless!! And thank you!

          2. Jayden,

            If Saint Gabriel of Georgia is a Saint whom you have a particular connection with, then he can be your “official” patron. Just speak with your sponsor (who will stand with you at your baptism and chrismation) and also speak with your priest so everyone is on the same page there.

            As far as your altar table in your icon corner, we recommend starting with a candle. If you are not allowed real candles, a fake one is also acceptable. After a light source, an incense burner is also important. Again, if you cannot have incense burning because of your smoke detector, you can use a smokeless burner. Next, have important spiritual books – like the Bible, your prayer book(s), and a Psalter. And if you happen to have any other holy objects, like prayer ropes, holy water and/or oil, palm crosses or pussy willow branches from Palm Sunday, your baptismal candle, etc. you can place those on your table as well. God bless!

    2. As a Roman Catholic, I love Orthodox icons and art. The Catholic Church does not forbid Catholics from having Orthodox icons. Nor using them for prayer as the chances of these icons going against Catholic teaching is slim. We have more in common than not. And again, I’m fascinated by these icons and am building my altar in this fashion. Good luck my brother.

  4. Thank you for this article, it’s so helpful!

    I am setting up a prayer area for the first time. Before I only had a small icon of Christ on my nightstand. Anyway, since my apartment is rather small the best place to put my icons is in the same room as my TV. When praying I can put the TV in the cupboard (and turn it off, of course) but I was wondering, is it disrespectful to be watching a TV in the same room that has my icons even if I’m not at that moment praying?

    1. Brigid,

      Christ is in our midst. We are edified to hear that this was helpful to you! As faithful Orthodox Christians, we should have at least one icon in every room as a way to sanctify our home (our little church). So in that sense, it is not necessarily disrespectful to have the TV on in a room with an icon. Now if you are watching content that is inappropriate, then that would definitely reach into the realm of disrespect. But otherwise, we do not see a problem with this. Ideally, your prayer area should be somewhere with minimal distractions, but if the living room is the only suitable place in your home at this time, that is okay! We hope this helps – God bless!

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