Since the founding of the Christ’s Holy Church there has always been a process of conversion. In the book of Acts, Peter preached one of the first catechetical sermons, the people who had ears to hear were cut to the heart and then they were baptized (Acts 2).
In the Early Church a structured system organically arose for preparing one for reception into the Church by baptism. There has always been 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. In fact, during every Divine Liturgy prayers are said for the “learners”, i.e. catechumens and there are specific seasons for receiving new converts.
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. There was quality control in the Early Church, and there still is today. The Orthodox Christian Church is not about quantity, but quality.
Enrollment into the Catechumenate
At St. Innocent we have different levels of classes. For those interested in simply learning more there is an inquirers class which covers the basics of the Orthodox faith in general terms. For those who are more serious and possibly even desire to convert there are catechism classes. When one desires to inquire further into the Orthodox faith they should meet with the priest. If there are no impediments the priest will read the prayers for the reception into the catechumenate. The catechumenate is like being engaged 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 some level members of the church. For example if during this time they would die for their faith the Church would bury them.
How long is the Catechumenate?
In the Early Church the catechumenate was often three years. Today the period of time is often shorter because many come from a Roman Catholic or denominational Christian background. There are many variables in discerning when one is “ready” and it is handled on a person-to-person basis. Catechism is an important part of this process; it gives everyone time to get to know each other so an organic transition can be made.
A fruitful catechumenate culminates in Baptism/Chrismation. In our modern times many hop from denomination to denomination. However, when one is Baptized or Chrismated into the Orthodox Church it is understood to be the last and final stop.
If you have any further question about the process of becoming an Orthodox Christian please contact Fr. Theophan. He would love to talk to you.
Suggested further reading on become a Christian in the Early Church: From Darkness to Light by Ann Field, Conciliar Press, 1997.
Prayer for the Reception into the Catechumenate
Priest: Let us pray to the Lord.
People: Lord have mercy.
Priest: In Thy name, O Lord of truth, and in the Name of Thine Only-begotten Son, and of Thy Holy Spirit, I lay my hand upon Thy servant, ________ who has been found worthy to flee unto Thy Holy Name, and to take refuge under the shelter of Thy wings. Remove far from him/her his/her former delusion, and fill him/her with the faith, hope and love which are in Thee; that he/she may know that Thou art the only true God, with Thine Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and Thy Holy Spirit. Enable him/her to walk in all Thy commandments, and to fulfill those things which are well-pleasing unto Thee; for if a man do those things, he shall find life in them. Inscribe him/her in Thy Book of Life, and unite him/her to the flock of Thine inheritance. And may Thy Holy Name be glorified in him/her, together with Thy beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ and of Thy life-creating Spirit. Let Thine eyes ever regard him/her with mercy, and let Thine ears attend unto the voice of his/her supplication. Make him/her to rejoice in the works of his/her hands, and in all his/her generation; that he/she may render praises unto Thee, may sing, worship and glorify Thy great and exulted Name always, all the days of his/her life. For all the powers of Heaven sing praises unto Thee, and Thine is the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.