Joining the Orthodox Church
BECOMING AN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN IN THE PARISH OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL IN CROSSINGVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA
Because the people in our community are so friendly, and because Orthodox worship is so compelling and so beautiful, folks often ask “how do I join?”
“As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.” Galatians 3:27
We’ll begin by saying ‘thank you’—after all, if you are even reading this article then that means you are at least interested in becoming an Orthodox Christian and a member of our parish, and we want you to know that we are grateful for your interest. But we also want you to know right up front that Orthodox Christianity is a big commitment: it not only involves a new way of life, it also involves living that new way of life in a specific community of particular people. Becoming an Orthodox Christian is also a lengthy and time-consuming process: it generally takes close to a couple of years. We are not trying to discourage you in any way—far from it! We just want you to be absolutely clear as to what you might be getting into—even if you are just at the stage of beginning to think about Orthodox Christianity. So what this article is designed to do is spell out the process by which a person can become Orthodox and also join the parish of Saints Peter and Paul.
STEP 1: BECOME AN INQUIRER
An Inquirer is simply someone who is inquiring about Orthodox Christianity. In fact, by reading this brochure, you may have already decided that you have an interest in the Orthodox Church. But it is absolutely critical that you investigate even more. So we want to encourage you to worship with us and attend any of the classes that we offer. We have a lot of information on our website. We have an excellent lending library and small bookstore located in our parish hall and it offers a fairly wide range of materials which can help you explore Orthodox Christianity. Also, almost every Sunday of the year, following our fellowship, we offer an adult study/discovery and Q&A. This program is designed to provide lots of basic information about The Holy Orthodox Faith, and an opportunity to ask questions.
But as we have already mentioned, becoming an Orthodox Christian isn’t just a matter of adopting a new set of beliefs; it is also about learning how to pray these beliefs by joining a parish, a living organic community of other Orthodox Christians. So, it is just as important for you to get to know the people at Saints Peter and Paul’s. If you’re not especially outgoing, that may sound difficult, but the folks in our community are friendly, and we have a number of events each week that are specifically designed to help people get to know each other better: for example, after each Sunday morning service, there’s fellowship hour, a time for refreshments and visiting. We also have special events at the parish on a quarterly basis; these events usually include food and they provide still another way for people to get to know each other better. But, at Saints Peter and Paul we also like to get together just to have fun, so when you’re checking out the website calendar, be on the look-out for events like our Annual Open House Festival, Pascha Picnic, Patronal Feast Day Picnic, Harvest Party, St. Nicholas Day Party, Nativity Holy Supper and Candle Lighting Vigil, New Years Eve Party, and other special events. We sponsor these events just because we enjoy being together as a parish, and you’re welcome to join us because you can tell a lot about people by the way they pray and play together.
We want you to know we are also a parish that is sensitive to children and adults with special needs; three of our members are special needs children. We also have little children and babies who we appreciate their participation in the divine services as well. We welcome everyone!
Visiting with our pastor is also a great way to learn more about our community. Father Daniel enjoys meeting people, and his schedule is flexible enough that he can accommodate just about any appointment. Visiting with him can also give you the opportunity to talk over any personal concerns or issues you may have in regards to Orthodox Christianity. You can contact Father Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-734-3801.
But just how long does one stay an Inquirer? That really depends. Some folks spend months or even years working through this step—they just have a lot of questions, or they like to proceed at a slow and steady pace. Other people like what they see right away, and it doesn’t take them very long at all before they decide that they want to officially begin the process of becoming an Orthodox Christian. However, time is really not the issue; what is important is that you understand what Orthodox Christianity is all about as you begin a life of prayer, and that you are sure that you want to be received into the Church in this particular parish. But here’s a good rule of thumb: If all of your initial questions have been answered, and you feel that you have enough information to proceed, you can be certain that you are ready to move on to the next step if there is someone in the parish that you know well enough to ask them to be your sponsor or godparent. A sponsor or godparent is someone (of the same sex) who acts as your spiritual friend; it is someone that you can confide in; it is someone that you feel comfortable going to for advice. When you get to the point where you know at least one person in the parish on that level, then you are ready to take the next step in the process of becoming an Orthodox Christian in the parish of Saints Peter and Paul.
STEP 2: BECOME A CATECHUMEN
A catechumen is someone who has officially been received into the Church as an “Orthodox-Christian-in-training.” Catechumens do not yet participate in the Holy Mysteries—the sacraments of the Church—but they are prayed for at each of the services of the Church, and they are blessed during each Divine Liturgy. When you feel that you are ready to become a catechumen, just notify Father Daniel; he will get together with you to talk about this step and, if you haven’t already, he will help you select a sponsor or godparent. Father Daniel will also walk you through the service for becoming a catechumen.
The service receiving you as a catechumen takes place right before the Divine Liturgy. You will meet Father Daniel out in the narthex—the lobby—of the temple. The service itself consists of a prayer of blessing, several prayers of exorcism, and a series of brief questions and answers; at the end of the service, everyone recites the creed together, and there is another prayer of blessing. Father Daniel will then take you back into the temple with him, and, at the very end of the liturgy, he will officially introduce you to everyone in the parish. Folks will then greet you and introduce themselves, but, by this time, you will already be familiar with most of the people in the community.
The catechumen step is a time of formal preparation and study. The exact amount of time varies from person to person. In the early centuries of the Church, it was not uncommon for people to be catechumens for upwards to five years. That is no longer the case, but it is not because we have lowered our standards; it is simply that nowadays folks have more time to study, and we have more resources at our disposal, and so the process goes by much more quickly. But there are specific tasks which we ask catechumens to accomplish. Here is a list of those tasks:
- We expect catechumens to meet with Fr. Daniel a minimum of three times for review of expectations and report on progress (he will give you a short syllabus to follow).
- Attendance at all adult discovery atrium sessions on Sundays following Fellowship hour.
- We expect catechumens to attend the services for 8 out of the 12 great feasts during the liturgical year.
- We expect catechumens to understand the beliefs of the Orthodox Church, and how to live the Orthodox Christian life.
- We expect catechumens to complete training determined by you and Father Daniel.
- We expect catechumens to participate in the services of the Church on a regular basis.
- We expect catechumens to contribute to the life of the parish through gifts of time, talents, and money.
These tasks can be modified to fit a person’s particular situation: for example, due to work or a family commitment, some people cannot attend on Sunday, so these folks read additional books or are assigned other tasks appropriate for them. These sorts of modifications are very common, but the tasks themselves are an absolute requirement.
One of the special things about the Orthodox Church is her emphasis on spiritual fatherhood, so as you begin this journey focus on taking your thoughts and intentions to Father Daniel who will be your spiritual guide and mentor. He will help you find answers or questions that you need, and prepare you as you begin your spiritual journey in the One Holy Orthodox Church.
STEP 3: RECEPTION INTO THE CHURCH
For most people, the catechumen process lasts a little over a year. However, the decision to be received into the Church will be made only after all of the catechumen tasks have been accomplished and after both you and Father Daniel have determined that it is time to take this important step. Reception into the Church takes place in two different ways:
If you have never been baptized in a canonical Orthodox Church then you will be received by baptism and chrismation. In Holy Orthodoxy, baptism signifies the forgiveness of sins, and the person who is being baptized is immersed—the person actually goes under the water—three times. Chrismation is a short service that takes place after the baptism; in this service, you will be anointed with a special oil sealing your illumination; this anointing signifies the anointing of the Holy Spirit, expressed in noetic (unceasing) prayer.
If you have already been baptized in the Orthodox Church you will be received through the mystery of holy confession. A letter of transfer is preferred if it is available. After talking with you about your religious background, Father Daniel will decide the timing to be received into the Church, and he will walk you through the appropriate services.
Before you are received into the Church, you will also make what is called a ‘life confession’. As part of this important step, you will need to set aside some time to take a good, long look back at your life, and you will need to make an inventory of the sins and bad habits and destructive behavior patterns that have been a part of your life. A day or so before your baptism and chrismation, you will discuss the inventory with Father Daniel, and then you will present the inventory to Christ Jesus as part of your first confession. Many times people are nervous about discussing their sins with a priest, but it is important that you understand that Orthodox priests are hardly ever shocked or scandalized, and that they can never under any circumstances reveal what has been said to them during confession.
The day you are received into the Church will be an especially joyous occasion. You will share in the eucharist for the first time, your godparent or sponsor will present you with some special gifts, and the whole parish will be present to welcome you. Because being received into the Church is such an exciting event, it is usually scheduled on one of the twelve great feasts. You will work out all the details with Father Daniel and there will be plenty of time to let family and friends know so that they can also be present, you may also be baptized with others as well, as many are finding this ancient beautiful holy faith.
STEP 4: THE FIRST YEAR
After you are received into the Church, we will continue to provide you with formal guidance throughout the year, because there are still a great many things to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask your godparent or Father Daniel if you have any questions about the liturgical calendar, fasting, the Holy Mysteries, or life in the community. Also, in addition to doing all the things that other members of the parish do—things like attending services and volunteering and contributing time, energy, and money— we require that those who are in their first year continue to keep a regular rule of daily prayer, attend Divine Liturgy and the adult discovery, and to get involved in one of our parish ministries: parish choir, education, missions and outreach team, hospitality, men’s fellowship, ladies altar society, or cemetery, and to also do their best to participate in the Nativity and Lenten devotional book reads.
Once we are received into the Church, we don’t stop learning and growing; once we are received into the Church, we continue to learn and grow, and this is best expressed in our parish’s prayer life. It is here where we primarily learn and understand the faith, because as St. Gregory the Theologian says, “one who prays is a theologian, and one who is a theologian is one who prays.” The goal of this prayer is to “put off the old nature…and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God,” until we have “the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge”, until we are “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 4.22,18-19).
We hope this brochure has been helpful. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at email@example.com or 814-734-3801. We want you to have as much information as you need. As you can tell, becoming an Orthodox Christian in the parish of Saints Peter and Paul is a major undertaking! Nevertheless, it is also a great blessing, and we hope that, when the time is just right, we can share that blessing with you.