Joy of All Who Sorrow

How to become an Orthodox Christian

Through the mercy of God, more and more people are finding out about Orthodox Christianity and are seeking to be received into the Church. To help give you some idea of what the process of becoming an Orthodox Christian practically involves here is a detailed overview.

At our parish in Mettingham, there are three distinct stages to becoming an Orthodox Christian: the Inquirer stage, the Catechumenate and Candidacy for Baptism.

Stage 1: Inquirer Stage

This stage can commence a long time before someone actually steps foot inside an Orthodox Church. It might start from a ‘chance’ conversation with an Orthodox person, listening to a podcast or watching a YouTube video.

However exactly it might come about, at this stage the person is likely filled with a desire and curiosity to understand what exactly the Orthodox Church is all about and to see whether this is a faith that they could share and hold. During this period, the person will seek to make a visit to an Orthodox Church near to them and experience Orthodox worship for the first time.

Normally during this stage, the Inquirer will have a lot of questions and possibly conflicting impressions to work through about what they have seen, experienced and read. Particularly because of the enormous growth of materials on-line about Orthodox Christianity it is also especially important that the inquirer does go on to make actual contact with an Orthodox parish and an Orthodox priest and move from on-line Orthodoxy to real-world Orthodoxy.

At the Joy of All Who Sorrow Church in Mettingham, all visitors who are interested in learning more about the Orthodox Faith are warmly encouraged to contact our priest, Fr Mark Tattum-Smith, in order to arrange a face-to-face discussion. Fr Mark will then normally arrange to meet the new inquirer on a few other occasions, either after church in the White House or at a local coffee shop to understand more about the individual’s spiritual journey as well as to try to answer some of their initial questions.

During this period, Fr Mark will normally recommend that the Inquirer read the first Part of Fr Meletios Webber’s book, Bread, Water, Wine and Oil: An Orthodox Experience of God which will become the focus of further meetings together. It would also be expected that the inquirer will be attending the Divine Liturgy on a regular basis and attending as many other church services as often as possible. This period will typically last anywhere from two to six months.

After these initial meetings with Fr Mark as well as regular attendance of divine services and the beginnings of an Orthodox prayer life, if the inquirer wishes to formally embark on the journey of being received into the Orthodox Church they will seek to become a catechumen.

Stage 2: Catechumenate

The word catechumen comes from the Greek: κατηχούμενος and means ‘one being instructed’. In order to be made a catechumen, the inquirer will need to agree upon their Patron Saint, whose name they shall bear. If the inquirer has a Christian first or middle name, then we would normally look to find a Patron Saint of that name, though there can and often are exceptions to this.

It has often been said that it is not so much we who find the saints, but the saints who find us. In the vast majority of cases, the inquirer will recognize something in the life of their name saint which will resonate with them in some mystical way. Once the name is agreed with Fr Mark, then the rite of the making of a catechumen is normally celebrated immediately after the Hours at a Sunday or festal Divine Liturgy.

From this Liturgy onwards, the catechumen should come forward at the Litany of the Catechumen and stand in the middle of the Temple so that everyone in the church can pray for them and their spiritual formation. When the deacon dismisses the catechumen, they should then turn and bow to the congregation and remain in the narthex for the rest of the Liturgy coming forward at the end of the service to kiss the cross and receive the antidoran.

During the catechumenate, Fr Mark will meet with the catechumen on a regular basis. The core text for the catechumenate is the Longer Catechism of St Philaret of Moscow which Fr Mark supplements with different patristic and contemporary theological texts including excerpts from some of the classic catechetical manuals of the Church such as the 4th century Catechetical Lectures of St Cyril of Jerusalem.

Over the course of the catechumenate, it will be essential that the catechumen is attending church services regularly and trying to immerse themselves in Orthodox and parish life as much as possible. If they haven’t started already, they should also be fasting with the church calendar and maintaining a basic rule of prayer in front an ikon corner which they should ideally seek to establish somewhere within their home.

Another important thing to do is to choose a sponsor or godparent who will support them at their baptism and accompany them throughout the rest of their Orthodox life. In order to complete the catechetical course, the catechumenate will normally last at least one full liturgical year with very few exceptions.

Stage 3: Candidacy for Baptism

In the early church, the traditional time for a catechumen to be received was on Holy Saturday at the end of Holy Week. Following this ancient pattern, around the beginning of Great Lent, Fr Mark will normally confirm whether the candidate is ready to be received at the end of the Fast. This is usually determined at an informal joint meeting with the catechumen’s sponsor in which they will be asked questions about their decision to become Orthodox, clarity on the beliefs they have left behind as well as confirming that they have an adequate grasp of the core doctrines of the Faith.

If it is agreed that the catechumen is ready, then the catechumen comes to the third and final stage of their journey into the Church – candidacy for baptism. There is a special intensity to these final weeks of spiritual preparation, as the catechumen prepares for their baptism into the Church.

From the middle of Great Lent onwards, a litany for those preparing for Illumination directly follows the Litany of the Catechumens at the Presanctified Liturgy as well as the Sunday Liturgies for the remaining Sundays of Great Lent. During these final weeks of preparation, it is imperative that the catechumen awaiting illumination attends as many of the Lenten services as possible.

Towards the beginning of Holy Week, and after preparation, Fr Mark will normally hear the life confession of the candidate so that they are able to approach their baptism in peace with themselves and their fellow man. If the candidate is to be baptized, which is the primary and normal mode of reception into the Orthodox Church*, then the candidate will also need to ensure they have the following items in coordination with their sponsor and Fr Mark:

  • White Baptismal Gown;
  • Baptismal neck cross;
  • An ikon of their patron saint;
  • Baptismal Candle;
  • Black clothing – for a man: black tee shirt and long black shorts with sandles / for a woman: large black tee shirt and black one-piece bathing suit worn with long shorts/leggings and sandles.

In the weeks leading up to the Baptism Fr Mark will ensure that they are prepared for the great Mystery they are about to receive which will ensure that they can fully participate in the service. After the service of Baptism on Holy Saturday, the newly illumined Orthodox Christian will wear their baptismal robe at all services starting with Paschal Midnight Office, Matins and Liturgy where they will receive Holy Communion for the very first time before all the people.

Following this Liturgy, the newly Baptised candidate will be encouraged to attend further liturgies in Bright Week where they will still wear their Baptismal Gown up to and including Thomas Sunday.

* Whilst Baptism is the normal route of reception, with the explicit permission of the Diocesan Bishop, a blessing may be given for the candidate to be received through Chrismation alone if certain conditions are met.

After Baptism

In the Ancient Church, it was only after their baptism that the candidate learned about the Sacramental Mysteries of the Church, in what was called the Mystagogical Catechesis. In the weeks after their baptism, therefore, Fr Mark will continue to provide catechesis on further services and feasts within the Church year, answer questions that have arisen and above all help the newly baptized Christian to continue and persevere in their new Orthodox Faith.


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