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.
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 learnin’’ 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. At Holy Trinity the combined time of inquiry and formal catechumenate typically lasts about a year, sometimes less, sometimes more.
Sacraments of Initiation
The Sacraments of Initiation are Baptism, Chrismation, and first Holy Communion. These three are administred together in immediate succession both for infants, children, and adults. Following the traditon of the ancient Church, whenever possible, we receive converts at the Vesepral 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 to 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 when administered, by a principle known as economia, in which case the baptism is not repeated, but is completed by the ‘seal’ of Chrismation.