How to Become an Orthodox Christian
“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.).
What is a Catechumen?
A Catechumen is, formally, someone who has been blessed and consecrated in preparation for the Mysteries of Initiation: Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion. Everyone who will be baptized is eventually made a Catechumen. However, from the moment a person is made a Catechumen, they are considered Christians. Therefore, should death occur before receiving the Mysteries of Initiation, a Catechumen is typically granted the privilege of an Orthodox funeral.
Informally, Catechumens also include inquirers who are exploring the Holy Church. This includes, principally, attendance at the Divine Services and participation in the educational and catechetical offerings of the parish.
While the Catechumenate (the process for preparation for the Mysteries of Initiation) historically lasted three years, today we anticipate that the normal catechetical process will last about 12 months.
Requirements for Catechumens
Becoming a Catechumen is a significant, life-altering, life-giving decision. It is not to be taken lightly. For this reason, the expectations for those enrolled in the Catechumenate are significant as well.
It is expected that Catechumens will attend every Sunday Divine Liturgy and Great Feast Day. Outside of unanticipated illness (or that of family members), Catechumens should make this their top priority. The Orthodox faith is lived and prayed, not principally studied. Missing Liturgy for sporting events, travel, etc. is not acceptable and will result in Catechumens not moving (by their own choice) toward the Mysteries of Initiation.
It is also expected that Catechumens will attend Vigil on Saturdays at least three times each month. Since Catechumens typically meet for instruction on the first and third Saturdays of the month, this should not create an added burden on family life. Regardless, however, the Christian Sabbath begins on Saturday with Vigil. Since God commands the Sabbath to be observed (Exodus 20:8-11; 4th Commandment), it is also expected to be observed by all people preparing for Holy Illumination. It is appropriate, however, for families with young children to leave Vigil following the Gospel reading at Matins.
Finally, during Great Lent, it is expected that Catechumens, in the immediate time before Holy Illumination, will also attend the Friday evening Pre-Sanctified Liturgies.
Repentance means a "change" and, thus, the Catechumen, desiring a life of repentance, must begin his or her change from the very first moment. If any of these liturgical expectations are difficult to keep or need clarification, please speak with the Rector, who is the Spiritual Father of the parish's faithful.
Prior to Holy Illumination
Prayer - It is expected that all Catechumens will speak with the Rector of the parish about an appropriate prayer rule, fitting to the Catechumen's state in life.
Spiritual Check-Ins - All Catechumens should plan to meet with the Rector of the parish at least once each month prior to Holy Illumination. If Catechumens are married, these can often be conducted together.
Godparent - It is expected that all Catechumens will discuss possible Godparents with the Rector of the parish, as he bears ultimate responsibility for facilitating this relationship. Every person received into the church is given a Godparent. The church requires one Godparent of the same sex, who will stand as sponsor at baptism. An additional Godparent of the opposite sex is not required, but may be allowed if the Rector deems fit. The role of the Godparent is extremely serious, and not every Orthodox Christian is qualified to serve in this capacity. This is why the decision rests, ultimately, with the Rector of the parish. The bond formed between the Godparent and the baptized in the Mystery of Baptism is deep, mystical, and eternal. A spiritual bond even deeper than a biological bond is established. That is to say, baptismal water is thicker than blood.
Giving - It is understood that every God-loving and God-fearing Orthodox Christian, from the moment of his or her entry into the Catechumenate, will begin to follow the Lord's command and give toward the life of the parish. In time, the expectation is that all Orthodox Christians give a tithe (10%) of their income, which is clearly attested to in the Scriptures. If this is impossible at first, the Catechumen should work with the Rector to develop a plan, as this is an integral aspect of the Christian life.
Prepare for Confession - The evening before the Catechumen is received into the Church through the Mysteries of Initiation, he or she will make a life confession before Christ. Already at the beginning of one's journey in the Catechumenate, the Catechumen should begin making a list of those things that have broken or damaged their relationship with God and others.
The Day of Holy Illumination
The parish gladly supplies the Catechumen's baptismal robe, baptismal cross, and candle. These, however, are not fancy. If a Catechumen would like something special for this day, they are encouraged to work with their Godparent (and vice versa!) to find something that they will cherish forever.
Men, women, and children should wear dark clothing for baptism. This clothing must be loose and modest. Men and boys may wear shorts and a t-shirt. Women and girls may wear a one-piece bathing suit, but it must be covered by a dark cover-up or long t-shirt that goes below the waist. Women and girls should also wear shorts or leggings. Following baptism, the newly Illumined will be given a few minutes to change into church clothes, over which the white baptismal robe will be placed.
- The Orthodoxy Study Bible - The Orthodox Study Bible (archive.org).
Though this online version can be a bit clumsy to navigate, it is free and can be accessed quickly.
- Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to the Teaching and Spirituality of the Orthodox Church.
This is the primary text used to supplement the catechetical instruction provided by the Rector of the parish.
- "The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church" - THE-BASIS-OF-THE-SOCIAL-CONCEPT.pdf (mospatusa.com).
This is the official explication of the social teaching of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Though not exhaustive, it covers issues such as bioethics, participation in civil causes, etc.
- Fr. Seraphim Rose, "Advice for Converts" - Converts - Chapter 88 from Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works (orthodoxinfo.com).
This is helpful advice (and warning!) for all potential converts to Holy Orthodoxy. It is a must read!
- "Fountain of Immortality" - FOUNTAIN OF IMMORTALITY - Meditation on the Orthodox Divine Liturgy - YouTube.
This is a wonderful, visual presentation of the theology of the Divine Liturgy, produced by the Russian Orthodox Church.