Starting Down the Path
IWe use the term “inquirer” for any non-Orthodox person visiting with us regularly. The assumption is that such inquirers are seeking to learn more about Orthodox Christianity, and are open to the possibly of becoming Orthodox Christians themselves. A person may remain an inquirer for an indefinite period of time, but most will commonly move from this informal stage of inquiry to the more formal stage of catechumenate after a few months of regular attendance at Holy Trinity.
Catechumen refers to a person who has entered into an intentional relationship with the Church in preparation for formal reception in the Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation, and first Holy Communion; the catechumenate is the period of learning and preparation for reception into the Church. Both terms are closely related to the word catechesis, which is the instruction given to impart the basics of the Christian faith, but may also refer be any formal instruction given to the Christian people for the deepening of their understanding of the faith.
When an inquirer believes they are ready to become a catechumen, the first step is to discuss that desire with the pastor.
The second step is to identify, with the pastor’s help and blessing, a sponsor from among the parishioners. The sponsor (godparent) will be a companion along the way, both praying for the catechumen and offering encouragement as needed.
The third step is to set a date to be received into the catechumenate. This involves a simple prayer by the priest over the individual, standing at the doors of the nave, which is usually done at Orthros on Sundays, just after the Great Doxology, just prior to the beginning of Divine Liturgy.
It is our practice at Holy Trinity, during Divine Liturgy, to invite all catechumens forward shortly after the homily for the brief Litany for the Catechumens. One of the great blessings of entry into the catechumenate is to be formally included in the intercession of the Church in this manner.
The foremost expectation for someone in the catechumenate is faithful attendance at the divine services of the Church, especially the services of the Lord’s Day (Sunday). Orthodox Christianity is learned principally through living the life of the Church.
Nevertheless, a certain amount of basic ‘book learning’ has a rightful place, so there should also be consistent attendance at the class for inquirers and catechumens as well as viewing/listening/reading of any assigned materials.
In the ancient Church, the catechumenate often lasted several years as adults who had lived their entire lives as pagans passed through stages of conversion. Today, the exact timing is worked out on a person-by-person or family-by-family basis in ongoing personal consultation with the pastor.
Sacraments of Initiation
The Sacraments of Initiation are Baptism, Chrismation, and first Holy Communion. These three are administered together in immediate succession both for infants, children, and adults. Following the tradition of the ancient Church, whenever possible, we receive converts at the Vesperal Divine Liturgy which is served on Holy Saturday morning. However, there is not firm rule about this, and the pastor may choose to receive a particular person or family at some other time of year, with preference being give to great feast days.
Although the norm is to be first Baptized, then Chrismated, and then receive Holy Communion for the first time, many adults come to the Orthodox Church having already been baptized in another Christian tradition. It is the long-standing practice of the Orthodox Church to approach such previous baptisms, assuming certain conditions were met, by a principle known as economia, in which case the baptism is not repeated, but is completed by the ‘seal’ of Chrismation.
The Antiochian Archdiocese has long maintained a list of non-Orthodox Christian bodies whose baptisms are normally deemed completable by the ‘seal’ of Chrismation. The most recent version of that list can be found in the front matter of this PDF. It should be noted that the document also gives a list of Christian bodies whose actual practices may need to be approached with greater caution when determining if the form of baptism was sufficient to be completable in this sense. And certainly, if there is any doubt in any case, caution advises at least a conditional baptism. These things should, of course, be discussed in detail with the priest as one prepares to be received into the Orthodox Church.