“The process of becoming an Orthodox Christian can be compared very closely to the process of becoming a married person for it involves the same basic movements of courtship, engagement and marriage. When a person first becomes interested in the Orthodox Church a series of initial interactions take place. Perhaps one visits for a liturgy, researches Orthodoxy on-line, or engages in a conversation with a friend who is Orthodox. If these initial interactions are blessed, a more studied process of inquiry follows which can be compared to the process of courtship. One who launches into this dance with the Church is called by the Church an inquirer or a seeker.” From Starting Down the Royal Path: How to Become an Orthodox Christian By Archpriest Josiah Trenham, Ph.D.
After launching into the “dance” as an inquirer and determining with their priest that it is appropriate for them, one can then become a catechumen and begin formal preparation for being received into the Orthodox Christian Church.
A catechumen (Greek: κατηχούμενος) is one who is preparing for baptism in the Church. In modern usage, catechumen can also refer to one who is preparing for chrismation (or another form of reception) to be received from a heterodox Christian communion.
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. Exorcists often performed the catechetical role, as well, following their initial prayers of exorcism over the one being made a catechumen, which is the traditional manner of receiving a catechumen into the community of the Church.
Catechumens are understood to be Christians upon beginning their catechumenate, and should they die before baptism, they are traditionally given an Orthodox funeral.
As the Church eventually became the majority religion of the lands in which it sojourned, the catechumenate as an institution gradually died out in many places, as most Christians were being baptized shortly after birth. As Orthodoxy has moved into the West and Far East and begun gaining converts to the faith, the catechumenate has been significantly rejuvenated.
Catechetical instruction in Orthodoxy in America does not typically last the three years which was common in the time of St. John Chrysostom, but typically can last from six months to a year, depending on the practice of the bishop, his jurisdiction, and the level of spiritual maturity of the catechumen. Local parish priests typically oversee the catechesis of those preparing to be received into the Church.
The Orthodox Church has no formal catechism, a single body of work that details the specifics of its faith. This is one difference between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, who does have a specific catechism.
Catechumens are required to attend a series of classes prior to recieving Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation. Attendance at all classes is mandatory. A single unexcused absence may prevent reception at Holy Pascha.
Classes will be held throughout the Advent and Great Lent fasting seasons and will be communicated to the catechumens - and the whole parish - by the Priest.
Required Reading for Catechumens
Catechumens are required to read a series of books prior to Baptism/Chrismation. All of the books are available online either through the publisher or on Amazon.
- On the Priesthood (1984) by St. John Chrysostom
- The Faith: An Orthodox Catechism (1997) by Clark Carlton or Entering the Orthodox Church or The Mind of the Church by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos
- For the Life of the World (1998) by Fr. Alexander Schmemann
- Great Lent (2001) by Fr. Alexander Schmemann
- The Way of the Ascetics (1985) by Tito Colliander
- The Beginnings of a Life of Prayer (1985) by Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg)
- The Way or The Truth (1997, 1999) by Clark Carlton
- The Orthodox Way (1998) by Bishop Kallistos Ware
- The Way of a Pilgrim (many editions)
- The Religion of the Apostles by Fr. Stepehn DeYoung
- Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (2021) by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
List of Activities to Complete Prior to Baptism and Chrismation
- If the new catechumen was registered on the membership role of another religious body, the catechumen must upon being enrolled as a catechumen write to this body and ask to be removed from their previous membership roster. This is exceedingly important should the catechumen die during catechism so that the Orthodox burial may take place unhindered.
- Attend Sunday Liturgies and Feast Day Liturgies, and other weekly services as possible (Liturgies, Vespers, etc.) for at least a year before being received.
- Present yourself for the Catechumen Litany in the weekly Sunday service and follow the Catechist out of the temple to receive weekly instruction.
- Attend Lenten Services – these are your primary preparation.
- Present yourself for Catechumen Litany in Presanctified Liturgies during Great Lent - Wednesdays 6PM. These are very important and cannot be missed without permission of the Priest.
ALL OF THE REQUIREMENTS BELOW MUST BE MET BY THE SECOND SATURDAY OF GREAT LENT if a catechumen plans to be received on the coming Holy Saturday. The only thing that should be remaining to be done by this date is attendance at the Saturday Lenten classes.
The requirements must be reported to Fr. Mykel (forms turned in, book reading reported to coordinator, church visits reported, etc.) Fr. Mykel will keep a checklist of progress for each catechumen (see checklist in this document). He will also review your progress and make his final decision on who will be received soon after the second week of Great Lent.
- Fill out all of the required forms and return them to Fr. Mykel (return the Personal Information form right away; the others as they are completed). The Prayer Rule should be filled out as soon as possible and approved by Fr. Mykel so that this Orthodox practice can be formed as part of preparation for being received.
- Prepare and make a life confession during Great Lent – the sooner the better. Establish regular confession practice (at least monthly).
- Visit at least two other Orthodox Churches during catechumenate and provide this information to Fr. Mykel.
- Turn in pledge cards (Financial, Time, and Talent), ideally upon becoming a catechumen. Once pledges are established, a new pledge card should be submitted every year during the pledge drive.
- Read and follow the guidance in Starting Down the Royal Path: How to Become Orthodox – this should be done upon becoming a catechumen.
- Read all of the assigned books and inform Fr. Mykel upon their completion.
- Fill out the baptismal certificate information form and return to Fr. Mykel with a $10 check made out to “Antiochian Archdiocese” for your baptism/chrismation certificate.
- You will need to find a Godparent/Sponsor. You must discuss your choice with the Priest prior to asking the potential Sponsor. The Sponsor will need to be approved by the Priest.
Preparing to be Received at Holy Pascha
- You will need a baptismal cross, baptismal candle, and a white towel.
- Black clothing for Baptism must be obtained. It should be loose and modest. Men can wear a large black T-shirt and long shorts. Women should wear a black one-piece bathing suit covered by a large black T-shirt or other loose garment that falls below the hips with long black shorts or leggings.
- Note: If you are only being Chrismated, you will not need a towel or black clothing.
- White clothing for Baptism must be obtained. It should be church appropriate with no logos. White-colared shirt plus slacks for men and dresses for women, for instance.
- You need to make sure you have an icon of your Patron Saint. If it has not been blessed, you will want to bring it to the Baptism so it can be blessed.
- Review the Baptism/Chrismation service once a week during Great Lent: Baptism and Chrismation Service for Catechumens
- Will you or your Godparent/Sponsor purchase these things? You should discuss this with your Sponsor.
- People being received should spend time selecting a cross. If you want a costly cross, you may want to tell the Godparent/Sponsor that you are making this purchase. If your Sponsor is planning to purchase your cross, you need to discuss how it is to be selected, as some Sponsors feel that they will choose one and present it to you. It is good to work these things out in advance.
- The candle should be 15-18” long and bees wax. They are decorated for the occasion. You want to plan for getting your candle early enough to find and purchase one. It can take time to find the candle of your choice.
Additional information and instructions for Baptism and Chrismation will be provided throughout everyone's Catechumenate as Pascha draws near.