Becoming Orthodox and the Catechumate
Everyone is ultimately in their essence Orthodox. Everyone is created in God’s image after His likeness (Gen 1:26) and Orthodoxy is about the ascetical pursuit of God and restoring the divine image in us that is marred by sin. The Church is for everyone.
Because the Orthodox Church as a matter of historicity is the Early Church and truth does not change, how one became a Christian in the first centuries is the same today. The difference is in the cultural application. Generally speaking North Americas are not pagans as most of the first few centuries of Christians were, with the identity and nature of Christ.
Early in the church there was a structured system for preparing one for baptism. This system arose organically. It was a period of hearing and being exhorted in the Word of God, receiving doctrinal teachings, moral testing, and being prayed for. Receiving new members into the church is a significant element of the liturgical life of the Church. During every Liturgy prayers are said for the “learners”, i.e. catechumens and there are liturgical seasons for receiving new Orthodox.
According to the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome (215AD) those who desired to be catechumens had to meet certain moral criteria before being enrolled. They had to have a sponsor who validated their lifestyle and purity of intentions. People of certain trades and professions could not be enrolled. There was quality control in the Early Church, and there still is today. The church is not about quantity, but quality.
Enrollment into the Catechumate When one desires to become Orthodox they should meet with priest privately. If there are no impediments the priest will read the prayers for the reception into the catechumate in the back of the church. The catechumate is like being engaged/betrothed to be married. It is a period of both preparation and testing. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride! During this time catechumens are on the same level as members of the church. For example, if during this time they die for their faith the church would bury them.
How Long is the Catechumate? In the Early Church the catechumate was often three years. Today the period often is shorter because we, to some extent, are a Christian society. The average Orthodox convert has some pre-Orthodox biblical and theological training and have been committed Christians. Many people come to the Church through a long journey that was often self-directed. Using the guidance of his bishop and the traditions of the Church the readiness of the candidate is judged by the Spiritual Father of the community. There are many variables in discerning when one is “ready” and it is handled on an individual basis. Not only does the priest look for intellectual commitment to the Orthodox way of life, but also the heart. There is an understanding that Orthodoxy is the last stop.
When one is Baptized/Chrismated, the Church is simply acknowledging what they are: Orthodox Christians. If you have any further questions please see the priest or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He would love to talk to you.
To learn more about the Orthodox faith we strongly recommend your visiting our website Discover the Early Church.