My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True Lord, God, and Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (4th century) wrote down for those being “ILLUMINED” –that is, those who were already coming to Baptism–and also those present who were baptized, he gives the following warning: “This instruction for those who are being illumined is offered to be read by those who are coming to Baptism and by the faithful who have already received Baptism; but by no means give it either to the catechumens or to anyone else who has not yet become a Christian, otherwise you will have to give an answer to the Lord.
This strictness with regard to the REVELATION of the Christian Mysteries (Sacraments) is no longer preserved to such a degree in the Orthodox Church. The exclamation “Catechumens depart!” before the Liturgy of the Faithful is still proclaimed, it is true, but hardly anywhere in the Orthodox world are catechumens or the non-Orthodox actually told to leave the church at this time. (In some churches they are only asked to stand in the back part of the church , the Narthex, but can still observe the service.) The full point of such an action has been lost in our times, when all the “secrets” of the Christian Mysteries (Sacraments) are readily available to anyone who can read, and the text of Saint Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures has been published in many languages and editions. However, the great reverence which the ancient Church showed for the Christian Mysteries (Sacraments)–carefully preserving them from the gaze of those who WERE MERELY CURIOUS OR WHO, BEING OUTSIDE THE CHURCH AND UNCOMMITTED TO CHRISTIANITY, MIGHT EASILY MISUNDERSTAND OR DISTRUST THEM–it still kept by Orthodox Christians today who are serious about their faith. Even today we are not to “CAST OUR PEARLS BEFORE WINE” –to speak much of the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Orthodox Faith to those who are merely curious about them but do not seek to join themselves to the Church.
In the ancient Church, the catechumens, in other words, those under instruction, lasted for as much as three years and included not only participation in the divine services but also catechesis (formal religious instruction) from a teacher, often the bishop or appointed catechist. A catechumen (Gk. κατήχουμενος) is one who is preparing for Baptism in the Church. In contemporary usage, catechumen can also refer to one who is preparing to enter the Church through the Mystery (Sacrament) of Holy Chrismation from a heterodox Christian communion. Catechetical instruction in Orthodoxy in the US does not typically last the three years as was in the ancient Church. It may, however, be as long as a year or more.
Much of the instruction in ancient times dealt with “moral instruction” in other words, with instruction on how to conduct oneself. Instruction on the fundamental tenets of the faith were offered following their baptism. The intent of this was that catechumens needed spiritual formation before they were ready to receive doctrinal instruction. There was, however, more than catechesis offered to the new convert. Above all else, it is the practice of the faith. the faith in Christ. Simultaneously with the faith is life in Christ.
The Orthodox Christian, however, continues learning and growing in Christ as long as he lives. It is God the Holy Spirit Who becomes our Catechist, our Divine Inspirer, and Who guides all of us toward theosis (deification). The One Who leads us to salvation and His heavenly Kingdom. Orthodox Christians, as servants of Christ and fellow man, always strive for union with Him and with one another. “It is Christ we serve in the person of those who need our help in this world. Our Lord Christ has identified himself with them.” “Life and death come to us from our neighbor for if we win our brothers we win God, and contrariwise, if we destroy our brother we sin against Christ.”
Saint Symeon the New Theologian goes on to says, “The man who treats his neighbor as himself is not content to have more than his neighbor. But if he does have more and does not give with abundance so that he himself becomes poor and so resembles his neighbors, that man has not fulfilled the Master’s command.” Obviously, we need not interpret Saint Symeon as pleading for a universal equality in poverty…”All must come to the realization that they are poor in themselves, which is to say that each man (person) needs the help of the others in order to live and grow in their unity with God.” Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mid. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” [Matthew 22:37-39].
For all those under instruction, the catechumens, there is only one True Teacher, the Christ. “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you, AN EXAMPLE, THAT YOU SHOULD DO AS I HAVE DONE TO YOU” [John 13:13-15). A good teacher teaches his pupils by example not just in theory. Jesus teaches and explains to His disciples that He performed this supreme act of humility so that they would imitate Him and do the same to others. As one can clearly see and understand that since the Lord is the Teacher, then His disciples were the first catechumens because they were His pupils, His students, [Gk. μαθηταί] and therefore under His instruction.
The foot-washing is an act of agape (love) and humble service. That Jesus is God in the flesh renders His humility all the more profound. A hymn on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee emphasizes this event: “The Savior and Master, ever leading us to divine exaltation, in His actions revealed to us THE HUMILITY THAT RAISES US ON HIGH. FOR WITH HIS OWN HANDS, HE WASHED THE FEET OF THE DISCIPLES.”
Prayers for the
[St. John Chrysostom, Divine Liturgy]
Letu us, the faithful, pray for the
That the Lord will have mercy on them.
That He will teach the word of
That He will reveal to them the gospel
That He will unite them to His holy
catholic, and apostolic Church.
Save them, have mercy on them, help
them, and protect them, O God, by Thy
Lord our God, Who dwells on high and watches over
the humble, Thou sent forth Thine Only-begotten Son
and God, our Lord Jesus Christ, for the salvation of
the human race. Look down upon Thy servants, the
catechumens, who have inclined their necks to Thee,
and grant them at a proper time the baptism of rebirth,
the remission of sins, and the garment of incorruption.
Unite them to Thy Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,
and number them among Thy chosen flock.
So that with us they also may glorify Thy most Honorable.
and Majestic Name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.