What is a Catechumen?
A catechumen 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 non-Orthodox 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.
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.
Before becoming a catechumen you will be expected to attend Liturgy for at least a few weeks until you and the priest are confident about your decision. You will then will be received as a catechumen by anointing and prayers at the end of Matins on a Sunday morning. During your catechumenate you will be expected to attend Liturgy regularly. As a catechumen you are a part of the community, “by intention” and should begin to participate in the various activities and disciplines of the Church.
If you are interested in becoming a catechumen at St. Stephen’s please see Dn. Michael to begin the process. You will be expected to attend a series of teachings and to read several books under the direction of the priest.
Some of the topics covered in the teaching series are:
- Church History, an overview
- Holy Tradition and Scripture
- The Nicene Creed
- The Life of the Holy Virgin
- Salvation and the meaning of life
- The Church
- Holy Worship
- A life of Prayer and a personal Prayer Rule
- The Holy Mysteries: a sacramental life
- Marriage and Monastic Life
You may also be asked to do some reading although each catechumen is guided according to their own personal needs, among the books that you may read are:
- Carlton, Clark (1997), The Faith: An Orthodox Catechism
- Hilarion Alfeyev, Online Catechism http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/10/1.aspx
- Bp. Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way
- Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church
- Schmemann, Fr. Alexander, For the Life of the World
- Colliander, Tito,The Way of the Ascetics
- Kyriacos C. Markides, The Mountain of Silence
Before you are baptized or chrismated several things will happen:
- Arrange with the Priest to make a life confession
- You will be assigned a Godparent by the Priest
- You will suggest a Christian name for your Patron unless you already possess an appropriate name. The Priest will make the final decision based on your request.
- Provide a baptismal certificate from your former Christian communion
- Fill out a prayer rule form
- Provide $10 to the Archdiocese for your certificate