Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!
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” is defined as “one receiving instruction in the basic doctrines of Christianity before admission to communicant membership in the Church.” You may have already decided to join the Orthodox Church. However, participating in a learning program does not obligate you to join the Church.
If you desire to enter into the process of preparation, the following is an outline of the process, its guidelines and expectations. See the checklist at the end.
1. 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 special services throughout the year. Some examples of the other services are: Great Lent – Presanctified Liturgy on Wednesday and Friday evenings,; Holy Week- Bridegroom Services (Sun-Tue evenings), Holy Unction on Wed. evening, Holy Friday services and Pascha midnight services; Great Feasts of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14th), Christmas (Dec. 25th), Theophany (Jan. 6th), Pentecost and Dormition of Theotokos (Aug. 15th). NOTE: Failure to attend church services, (including the feasts and special Lenten services, as well as the Saturday Vigil and Sunday Liturgy by a catechumen is a deal breaker. There is no way to become Orthodox apart from regular participation in prayer and worship. Why join the Church and then rarely attend its services?
2. Instructional Classes – Orthodoxy means “correct 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 He shapes our life as a Christian. A catechumen is expected to attend the occasional Instructional Classes and Bible Studies. They are offered on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for a period of 5 weeks and are announced in the Sunday bulletin.
3. Spiritual Guidance – After you have been received as a catechumen, the Preist working with you will assign a parishioner to act as Godparent on the day you are received. Do not ask anyone yourself. If you have someone in mind, be sure that the priest approves and clears this person before you speak to them about becoming your Godparent. In the Orthodox Church, one does not determine and follow their own spiritual path without the advice and guidance of spiritual fathers and mothers. Our personal accountability is essential to growth in Christ along with intellectual knowledge and church attendance. The priest will help the catechumen in a spiritual self-examination to prepare for Holy Confession. The priest will also help deal with personal questions & issues that arise before and after joining the Orthodox Faith.
4. Frequently Asked Questions:
How long does it take to become a member of the Orthodox Faith?
Usually, it is a nine month to 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.
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 baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, and they must agree in advance that any children they beget will be baptized and raised in the Orthodox Church.
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 participate in the Sacrament of Holy Confession and then, under the guidance of the priest receive Holy Communion and other Sacraments.
If I was baptized in another Faith/Denomination, do I need to be re-baptized?
The practice of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Church of Russia, the Orthodox Church in America and most Orthodox Churches that “confess One baptism,” is to not re-baptize converts. Rather, the Sacrament of Chrismation, which is the bestowing of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, is believed to fulfill and complete the Grace that is lacking in the Baptism received outside of the Orthodox Church. A potential convert should provide proof of his/her Trinitarian baptism (done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in another Faith.
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 SaintÕs 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 name would be used when participating in the sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Some catechumens may already have a saint's name, in which case it should not be changed. This is done in consultation with the priest.
Do I need a Godparent?
Yes, everyone who is converting to the Orthodox Faith needs a Sponsor (aka godparent). The sponsor must be an Orthodox Christian in good standing with the Church and approved by the Priest *before* being asked. He/she should be a model and example of faithful church attendence and take seriously the role of sponsor. A female catechumen needs a female sponsor and likewise male for male. If the sponsor is from another parish, a letter of verification of membership in good standing from his/her parish priest is required.
Undoubtedly, you will have more questions and I hope we can answer them for you and provide a positive, edifying experience of learning and growth.
Fr. Archimandrite Christopher Calin
JOIN AND BECOME ACTIVE IN THE LOCAL ORTHODOX CHURCH
ATTEND VARIOUS WORSHIP SERVICES
Failure to attend Divine Services except for illness or travel will hinder and delay your reception into the Church.
ATTEND CATECHISM AND OTHERS CLASSES AS OFFERED
ESTABLISH RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PRIEST AND PARISHIONERS
The following is a letter that the late English Orthodox nun Mother Thekla (d. 2011) wrote to an imaginary convert in 2009:
I understand that you are on the way to becoming Orthodox. I know nothing about you, beyond the fact that you are English.
Before we go any further, there is one point I should make clear. I have not been told why you are about to convert, but I assure you there is no point whatsoever if it is for negative reasons. You will find as much “wrong” (if not more) in Orthodoxy as in the Anglican or Roman Churches.
So – the first point is, are you prepared to face lies, hypocrisy, evil and all the rest, just as much in Orthodoxy as in any other religion or denomination?
Are you expecting a kind of earthly paradise with plenty of incense and the right kind of music?
Do you expect to go straight to heaven if you cross yourself slowly, pompously and in the correct form from the right side?
Have you a cookery book with all the authentic Russian recipes for Easter festivities?
Are you an expert in kissing three times on every possible or improper occasion?
Can you prostrate elegantly without dropping a variety of stationery out of your pockets?
Have you read the Gospels?
Have you faced Christ crucified? In the spirit have you attended the Last Supper -- the meaning of Holy Communion?
Are you prepared, in all humility, to understand that you will never, in this life, know beyond Faith; that Faith means accepting the Truth without proof. Faith and knowledge are the ultimate contradiction - and the ultimate absorption into each other.
Living Orthodoxy is based on paradox, which is carried on into worship - private or public.
We know because we believe and we believe because we know.
Above all, are you prepared to accept all things as from God?
If we are meant, always, to be “happy", why the Crucifixion? Are you prepared, whatever happens, to believe that somewhere, somehow, it must make sense? That does not mean passive endurance, but it means constant vigilance, listening, for what is demanded; and above all, Love.
Poor, old, sick, to our last breath, we can love. Not sentimental nonsense so often confused with love, but the love of sacrifice - inner crucifixion of greed, envy, pride.
And never confuse love with sentimentality.
And never confuse worship with affectation.
Be humble -- love, even when it is difficult. Not sentimental so called love - And do not treat church worship as a theatrical performance!
I hope that some of this makes sense,
With my best wishes,
(sometime Abbess of the Monastery of the Assumption, Normanby)
...“America,” as every other nation, world, culture, society, is a great search and a great confusion, a great hope and a great tragedy, a thirst and a hunger. And, as every other nation or culture, it desperately needs Truth and Redemption. This means – and I write these words knowing how foolish they sound – that it needs Orthodoxy. If only Orthodoxy is what we believe and confess it to be, all men need it whether they know it or not, or else our confession and the very word Orthodoxy mean nothing.
And if my words sound as an impossible foolishness, it is only because of us, Orthodox. It is our betrayal of Orthodoxy, our reduction of it to our own petty and selfish “national identities,” “cultural values,” “parochial interests” that make it look like another “denomination” with limited scope and doubtful relevance. It is looking at us, Orthodox, that America cannot see Orthodoxy and discern any Truth and Redemption. And yet it is clear to every one who wants to see that there are today around us thousands of ears ready to listen, thousands of hearts ready to open themselves – not to us, not to our human words and human explanations, not to the “splendors” of Byzantium or Russia, but to that alone which makes Orthodoxy, which transcends all cultures, all ages, all societies, and which makes us sing at the end of each Liturgy: “We have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true Faith...” And if only we could understand this and take it to our hearts and our will, day after day, there would be no problem of Orthodoxy, but only a mission of Orthodoxy in America.
+Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1965)