1. The Period of Inquiry
When someone is first introduced to the Orthodox Church, it usually is through research on the internet or from the invitation of a friend to attend a service. Much like the initial phase of dating, the relationship is not at the point where a serious commitment is made nor expected. This is a time where the inquirer is getting to know the ways of the Orthodox Church while becoming familiar with a particular parish. Should the relationship continue and becoming serious where a commitment is desired, the inquirer can ask to be received as a catechumen.
2. The Catechumenate
After beginning the "dance" as an inquirer and then 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" is one who is preparing for baptism in the Church. The catechumenate, or time during which one is a catechumen, includes not only frequent, prayerful attendance at the divine services but also catechesis, or the formal instruction from a teacher (bishop, priest, or catechist). While classes are good, attendance at as many divine services as possible is the primary objective of the catechumen. Learning to prioritize the life of Christ and His Church places the catechumen in the divine services to be "taught by God", hearing the hymns of the divine services and gently replacing the earthly with the heavenly.
Local parish priests typically oversee catechesis. If one is joining the Orthodox Church from another Christian confession, this period of time is also important to allow for discernment regarding those beliefs which are and are not part of the Ancient Faith. Before being received into the Church, the catechumen participates in the Mystery of Repentance by making a life confession, offering all those sins that separate them from Communion with God.
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.) The primary instruction during the time of the catechumenate comes from the Holy Spirit through frequent attendance at the divine services.
Catechumens are understood to be Christians upon beginning their catechumenate, and should they die before they are baptized, they are traditionally given an Orthodox funeral.
Entering into the Mystical Life in Christ
"Then Peter said unto them, 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"
- The Book of Acts, 2:38
The Mystery Of Baptism
Christian Baptism is the mystery of starting anew, of dying to an old way of life and being born again into a new way of life, in Christ. In the Orthodox Church, baptism is "for the remission of sins" and for entrance into the Church; the person being baptized is cleansed of all sins and is united to Christ; through the waters of baptism he or she is mysteriously crucified and buried with Christ, and is raised with him to newness of life, having "put on" Christ (that is, having been clothed in Christ). The cleansing of sins includes the washing away of the ancestral sin.
The Mystery Of Chrismation
Chrismation is the holy mystery by which a baptized person is granted the gift of the Holy Spirit through anointing with oil. As baptism is a personal participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ, so chrismation is a personal participation in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The Acts of the Apostles show us that a sort of confirmation was going on even in the early Church. As the Christian community expanded both numerically and geographically into many locations both within and outside of the Jewish world, the Apostles were soon not the only ones preaching the Gospel and Baptizing people into Christ. As Christianity began to grow, it was impossible for the Apostles to be everywhere to perform the Sacrament by laying on their hands, so they gave the authority to their successors to administer the Sacrament by anointing the baptized with Chrism.
The Mystery Of Communion
Immediately after being baptized and chrismated into the Church, during the Divine Liturgy, the newly illumined Christian receives Communion for the first time.
Upon reception into the Church, the newly-illumined Christian continues and works to increase their participation in the Church through the Mystical Life in Christ.
Becoming An Orthodox Christian
If you think you may be interested in joining the Orthodox Church, glory to God! We recommend attending a service or two and then arranging a time to speak with our Priest.