Thank you for expressing interest in learning more about the Orthodox Christian Faith. We welcome everyone, including our own members, to grow in knowledge of the Church teachings and traditions.
A catechumen (Greek: κατηχούμενος) is one who is preparing for baptism in the Church. In the ancient Church, the catechumenate, or time during which one is a catechumen, often lasted for as much as three years and included not only participation in the divine services but also catechesis, formal instruction from a teacher, often the bishop or appointed catechist.
Catechumens are understood to be Christians upon beginning their catechumenate, and should they die before baptism, they are traditionally given an Orthodox funeral.
Catechetical instruction in Orthodoxy in America does not typically last the three years which was common in the time of St. John Chrysostom. In our parish, depending on the spiritual maturity of the catechumen, this period world normally be for at least one year (one complete liturgical cycle).
Participating in a learning program does not obligate you to join the Church.
If you have decided to enter into the process of preparation, the following is an outline of the process—its guidelines and requirements.
1. Prayer“Pray without ceasing In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1st Thess. 5:17-18). It is important to have a personal rule. At a minimum you should have a Bible and an Orthodox Prayer Book which includes daily prayers and other prayers as appropriate. Daily readings would also include readings from the Bible, the Fathers of the Church and Lives of the Saints. Work with your Spiritual Guide to develop a daily prayer routine. Part of the discussion with your spiritual guide will include such questions as: When and where you will pray each day? What you will pray? Family Prayers?
2. Regular Church Attendance- Worship of God is at the center of Orthodox life and spirituality. Worship is not only an experience of learning but a way that God’s mystical grace comes to us, touches us and changes us. A catechumen is expected to attend Sunday Divine Liturgy each week as well as other services throughout the year. Being a small mission, at this time our only other regularly scheduled service is Vespers held in our church on Wednesday evenings at 6:00 PM. Church attendance is a true barometer of your dedication to Christ and will ensure you keep close to Him!
3. Instructional Class Attendance- Orthodoxy means “right doctrine” or “true worship.” In other words, the Orthodox Church has specific teachings and traditions regarding the nature of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church; as well as what it means to be a follower of Christ and how to live as a Christian. A catechumen is expected to attend the Instructional Classes. You should make arrangements with our pastor.
4. Spiritual Guidance- In the Orthodox Church, one does not determine and follow their own spiritual path without the advice and guidance of spiritual fathers and mothers. Personal accountability is essential to growth in Christ along with intellectual knowledge and church attendance. In a spirit of love, the spiritual guide watches over the growth and progress of the spiritual child. The priest is at least initially your spiritual guide. He will help the catechumen in a spiritual self-examination to prepare for Holy Confession. The priest will also help deal with personal questions, issues, problems that arise before and after joining the Orthodox Faith. The catechumen is expected to participate in spiritual guidance and counseling with the priest of the community.
5. Fasting: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do”. (Matthew 6:16). Orthodox Christians obey the ancient commandment to fast. You should discuss this with your guide to confirm your understanding of the Church’s standards for fasting, and to agree on the appropriate fasting rules for you.
6. Confession: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Orthodox Christians confess regularly with the priest as witness. You will make your first confession just before baptism “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” (Matt. 3:6). Discuss this as well with your Guide. Monthly confessions are the norm. At a minimum you must come to confession whenever you commit a sin that bothers your conscience or during the four major fasts.
7. Almsgiving and Service. As an Orthodox Christian, you will be a member of a parish in the care of a bishop. You would be expected to make regular offerings of your Time, Talents and Treasure. We adhere to the biblical concept of tithing.
Frequently Asked Questions-
o If I was baptized in another Faith/Denomination, do I need to be re-baptized? The practice is to not baptize converts as long as you can document a Trinitarian baptism (done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) done in another Faith. Rather, the Sacrament of Chrismation, which is the bestowing of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, is believed to fulfill and complete the Grace given in Baptism.
o How long does it take to become a member of the Orthodox Faith? Usually, it is a year-long process. However, the priest always uses discretion to determine the readiness of a catechumen. Becoming a member is not just learning about the Faith but growing in Faith--a personal transformation must be evident. Often, this takes time and is dependent on the level of commitment of the catechumen.
o If my fiancee and I wish to be married, does the non-Orthodox spouse need to join the Church? No, the Church does not require or force a person to join the Church. The Church will marry someone who is Orthodox with someone who is non-Orthodox. That non-Orthodox person however, must be a Christian.
o When can I start receiving Holy Communion and other Sacraments? Holy Communion and the other Sacraments (except Marriage, see above) are offered only to those persons who are baptized and chrismated in the Orthodox Church. Becoming a catechumen is the process of preparing for Baptism and/or Chrismation. After you are baptized/chrismated, you should first participate in the Sacrament of Holy Confession and then, under the guidance of the priest, you may receive Holy Communion and other Sacraments.
o Do I need to change my name? Legally, no. Spiritually, one who is converting to Orthodoxy through baptism or chrismation is encouraged to take on a Christian or Saint’s name. The reason is two-fold. First, the saint becomes a personal example to the catechumen of how to live the Christian life. Second, the saint becomes the patron of the newly converted, praying and interceding to God on their behalf. This new name would be used when participating in the sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Some catechumens may already have a saint's name, some might choose a name that sounds similar to their name, some may choose a name based on admiration for a particular saint.
o Do I need a Godparent? Yes, everyone who is converting to the Orthodox Faith needs a godparent (aka sponsor). The sponsor must be an Orthodox Christian in good standing with the Church. He/she should be a model and example of faithfulness and take quite seriously the role of godparent. A female catechumen is encouraged to choose a female godparent and likewise male for male. If the godparent is from another parish, a letter of verification of membership in good standing from his/her parish priest is required.