So you want to become Orthodox. You have experienced the captivating beauty of the ancient Church Jesus Christ established and yearn to be a part of the Body of Christ, a member of His Church. But how does one go about becoming an Orthodox Christian? And what does “becoming Orthodox” really mean?
Becoming Orthodox is a journey, not a destination
Father Josiah Trenham writes that becoming Orthodox is similar to becoming a married person, “…for it involves the same basic movements of courtship, engagement and marriage.” Marriage is a journey, one that merely begins with our having become married.
In the same way, becoming an Orthodox Christian is a lifelong journey of faith, love, and service, not a one-time event as many like to think. Yes, there is that finite moment in time when you officially become a member of the Church. However, that moment is merely the beginning. Upon reception in the Church, you will then set off on a challenging, yet joyful, well-worn path toward salvation.
And this all begins with a sincere desire to know God and to follow Jesus Christ.
Step 1: Accept the Gospel
One cannot hope to become a member of the Body of Christ without first accepting that which is the cornerstone of that Body: Christ and His Gospel (“Good News”). That Good News, enumerated for us in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, is this: Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day. And because of His death on the cross, we now can attain salvation.
In order to become an Orthodox Christian (or any type of Christian for that matter), one must believe this. And this is not a one-and-done declaration. Every single day, we must confirm our belief in this Truth, this Gospel, if we desire to be saved. That is what conversion means!
Step 2: Become an Enquirer
Before making a formal decision and initiating the process of becoming a member of the Orthodox Church, you should experience Orthodoxy for yourself. This means spending several weeks or months attending services in a local Orthodox parish. It means speaking with real Orthodox Christians and learning what it truly means to live your life as an Orthodox Christian. This enquiring time is crucial, because it will expand your knowledge of the Church while at the same time dispelling any misconceptions you may have held about Orthodox Christianity.
Read More: Are All Orthodox Churches the Same?
If you are interested in visiting an Orthodox Church, we recommend committing to visiting for at least three to four weeks before making any decisions about your faith journey. There is such depth to Orthodoxy that no one can possibly hope to grasp it all in just one visit! So commit to a few, and whenever you visit, seek out the priest with any questions you may have.
Here are some additional things to keep in mind as you consider becoming an Orthodox Christian:
- Orthodoxy is a sacramental faith. This means we believe God’s grace is communicated to us through the sacraments, such as Baptism, Chrismation, the Eucharist, and Holy Confession.
- Orthodoxy is a liturgical faith. This means we believe worship is central to our relationship with God. We worship God through the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, as well as other services such as Vespers and Matins.
- Orthodoxy is a Christocentric faith. This means we believe Jesus Christ is the center of our faith. We follow Jesus Christ by learning about His life, death, and resurrection, and by trying to live our lives in accordance with His teachings.
Step 3: Become a Catechumen
After becoming an enquirer and learning the basics of the Orthodox Faith, you will then enter what we call the Catechumenate. This is a period of formal preparation and learning under the guidance of a priest or deacon. During this instruction, the priest/deacon will help you adapt to an Orthodox way of life. He will also help you internalize the Church’s teachings and practices and grow into closer union with the Holy Trinity through participation in prayer, the services, the church feasts and fasts, etc.
Unlike the Roman Catholic church, the Orthodox Church does not have a formal catechism, or single body of work that details the specifics of its Faith. In many Orthodox parishes, the priest will offer classes or individual conferences for those in the catechumenate. The length and scope of instruction typically reflects your previous knowledge of the Christian Faith, along with your particular needs and concerns (stumbling blocks). Classes can last anywhere between 6 months to a year or two.
It may not feel like it, but this time is a great blessing! You’ll not only have the chance to learn more about the Orthodox Faith. But you’ll also have the chance to immerse yourself fully into the Orthodox way of life. You may get impatient (many of us did!) for your entrance into the Church. But make no mistake. In no time, your catechumenate will have come to an end, and you’ll be a member of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
What is a catechumen?
In the ancient Church, the catechumenate often lasted for as much as three years. It included participation in the divine services along with catechesis, formal instruction from a teacher, often the bishop or appointed catechist. Exorcists often performed the catechetical role, as well, following their initial prayers of exorcism over the one being made a catechumen, which is the traditional manner of receiving a catechumen into the Church.
Catechumens are understood to be Christians upon beginning their catechumenate. Should they die before baptism, they are traditionally given an Orthodox funeral.
Step 4: Entrance into the Church
When the time is right, you will be united to the Church. You will become a member of the Body of Christ. The usual method for receiving catechumens into the Church is by the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist. However, this varies depending on your background and how close your previous spiritual home is to the Orthodox Church. During your time as a catechumen, you will discuss this with your priest.
After your reception into the Church, you will officially begin your life as an Orthodox Christian. Now you will begin to fast, pray, tithe, give alms, and put love into action in every part of your life. In your new life as a disciple of Christ, you will learn to be spiritually watchful, applying the words of Scripture to your spiritual life under the guidance of your priest. You’ll learn to recognize the glimmers of temptation and reject them. The Bible will come alive as you sing and pray the words of Scripture during the services. And your experience of true worship will surge into your new life as a powerful experience of heaven on earth.
Anyone can become Orthodox, even you!
The Orthodox Church is catholic – universal. She does not restrict membership to people of a particular culture, race, class, or nation. Though we are diverse in cultures, languages, traditions, and histories, we share the unity of the Faith and the love of Christ that transcends all artificial barriers.
That means you can become Orthodox, too, just like anyone else! If you are thinking about becoming Orthodox, speak with priests in parishes close to you. Get to know the people and the community. Your parish should provide you with opportunities to grow closer to God and to serve others in love.
May the blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, brethren. Amen!
Keep Reading: Suggested Books for Orthodox Enquirers and Catechumens