So, you’re exploring the idea of joining the Orthodox Church?
Relax! It is a joyful and well worn path, with many souls who have made this journey before you, and many more will come after you.
Therefore, let’s start with the basics.
Step One: Conversion to Christ
St. Paul himself tells us what this Gospel – which means ‘Good News’ – consists of:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
That is the Gospel.What is so ‘Good’ about it? This is the Good News preached to all nations. Is it really Good News? Let’s have another look at what the Gospel actually is;
That Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He arose on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and appeared to many.
Christ died for our sins. We have freedom in the Living God if we accept Him! We become inheritors of Eternal Life! What could be easier! Acceptance of the Gospel of Christ is what we call conversion. It seems elementary, but sometimes we forget what the Gospel is, and why we convert. Conversion means belief and acceptance in Jesus Christ, the God-man, as the Savior of the world. Orthodox Christians believe you must be converted every day- every day – and everyone must start with this step if they desire to make spiritual progress and be saved.
Step Two: Repentance
There is no salvation without repentance. One must repent of our sins, both voluntary and involuntary, of word, deed, and even thought! Repentance is the gateway to forgiveness and the Kingdom of heaven. After this, one must find a local Orthodox Church. There is an ancient Christian saying;
One Christian is no Christian.
To become a member of the Body of Christ means connection with other believers. Without this vital connection, Christianity becomes an interesting study or personality cult. We believe that Christianity is a living faith, and therefore must be received from living persons. St. Paul says as much;
And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. (2 Corinthians 8:5)
Your introduction to the local clergy and community will enrich you and benefit you in many ways. It will be a time of learning how the Church does Scripture reading, prayer, fasting, tithing, almsgiving, charity, interior life and evangelism.
You will make new friends, acquire new disciplines and skills that will make you a better and more loving Christian.
Step Three: The Catechumenate
When one desires to become a member of the Body of Christ, a period of instruction is necessary. From the earliest days of the Church, this was called the Catechumenate, and those wishing to join were called catechumens. One must know the Gospel (see above). One must know what the Church is, and isn’t; what membership in the Church means, responsibilities and expectations for members, benefits of membership, and what discipleship means to believers in Christ Jesus. Sometimes a local Church has a New Members Class, sometimes they have a series of classes for inquirers like yourself.
Your situation is not unique. You may be making this journey of faith alone. You may be coming with your family, or with friends. You may be a clergyman, leading your flock to the Safe Haven. You may be part of a large group yearning for inclusion in the Church. Whatever your situation is, you can be assured that many of come that way before you.
The time you spend as a catechumen is time well spent. You’ll not only have the chance to learn more about the Orthodox faith, but you’ll also have the chance to immerse yourself 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 once and for all!