What is a catechumen?
The Symbol of Faith
A question for all Christians who believe in the Bible and the Holy Trinity
Monday Mar 22, April 4 2016á 4th Monday of Great Lent
Dear in Christ ____:
I do not have much time this beautiful Spring afternoon, so I will only write a little more. (Note, now, it is a cool Spring Monday morning. The best laid plans ...) I plan to see you at 11 this Wednesday.á I will try to have all your questions of your sister answered by then. Here is one.
Catechumen studies. "I am not sure what you mean by "catechumen studies". Is this a type of Bible study?" The short answer is: this is much more than just a Bible study.
A "catechumen" is a "learner".á A person who become a catechumen does so in a formal service, where, during the exorcisms (a topic that needs a more detailed explanation, but for now, we will say that we pray for the catechumen that he be protected against the influence of the demons. Yes, demons are very real, and very evil) he declares his rejection of "Satan, and all of his works, and all of his service, and all of his pride", and then his allegiance to Christ, and then he states his faith by saying the Symbol of Faith, also known as the Nicene Creed, 3 times.
The symbol of Faith is very ancient and was created when there was no controversy about where the church was or was not - there were no "Roman Catholics", or "Protestants", as it was in the 4th century). The entire church sent bishops to a council in Nicea, in 325, and later, also in Constantinople (381), and those things which were being attacked and were always believed by the church (but not written down formally) were delineated in the Symbol of Faith.
The only controversiesá were fundamental things that for the most part (with a glaring exception being the procession of the Holy Spirit)á seem to be well decided now, such as Who Jesus Christ is (is He God, or man, created, or uncreated,á what is His relation to the Father and the Holy Spirit, etc), and His ministry (did He die on the cross, was He resurrected), and the Holy Spirit, and various other issues, such as the nature of baptism, and the resurrection from the dead.á It may seem strange to us moderns, but there were times in the church's history where heretics argued about the nature of Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Except for fringe groups that have only a slight identification with Christianity, such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, everybody pretty much agrees on the words in the symbol about Christ (below), but it was not always this way.
Our controversies now are more aboutá (this is not a complete list!) the priesthood, the authority of bishops, where the church is, the Eucharist, the procession of the Holy Spirit, the intersession of the Saints, how we are to view the Virgin Mary, and ecumenism and syncretism, the latter two issues involving a significant gulf in expression of the Christian world view and purpose.á When the symbol of Faith was written by the church none of these things was controversial, except for issues regarding the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, if God wills, these controversies will seem as odd to later Christians as controversies about the nature of Christ seem to us now.
Below, is the beginning of the creed, which for those who keep track of such things, contains two "articles", or subjects, the first being about God the Father, and the other being an extensive listing of dogmas regarding God the Son.á Pretty much everyone, such asá Roman Catholics,á Baptists,á Lutherans, Church of Christ, Non-denominational "Mega" churches, etc, agrees with these words.
"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and the earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man; And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And arose again on the third day according to the Scriptures; And ascended into the heavens, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; And shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end."
It bears saying and repeating that except for the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses and perhaps a few more, such as "Jesus only" Pentecostals (they reject the Holy Spirit being God), and modalists (such as Unitarians, who do not believe in the Holy Trinity), basically all those who profess belief in Christ owe their faith to the dogmatic pronouncements of the one Christian church, which met in seven Ecumenical councils, with bishops and clergy, and wrote down the things that the church always believed. A person who rejects the priesthood, or the Eucharist, or the intercession of the saints, and many other things the church always believed, taught and practiced, still accepts the dogmas that church wrote down for the protection of the Christian faith and the faithful who believe in Jesus Christ. This is something for any sober minded person to think about deeply.á Why do we believe in the Bible, or the Holy Trinity? The church wrote down the dogmas it believed. The church deliberated and agreed on the canon of New Testament Holy Scripture. If the church was accurate regarding the Holy Trinity, the nature of Christ, and the canon of Scripture, the question remains for those who reject other life-long practices of the church - why do you not believe these things also?
The doctrines formalized in the creedá were always believed by the church, and were taught by the 12 Apostles, but in that age, there were heretics who were trying to change the true "Catholic and Apostolic" belief.á There always have been and always will be heretics, and the church zealously guards true doctrine, because false believe concerning God is to give a man a serpent instead of a fish, and a stone instead of bread. We always worship in "Spirit and in truth", and in the church "love" without " "truth" is an oxymoron.
After the "making of a catechumen" service, the catechumen should live as an Orthodox Christian, with the only exception being that they do not partake of the sacraments (the Eucharist, confession, and unction (anointing with oil, for the sick). The period of time before their baptism should not be insignificant. In the early church is was three years! In our time, due to many factors, including our laxness and weakness, this period is usually much shorter, but it has the same purpose as in ancient times.
The catechumen needs to prove that he is serious about being a Christian. He should fast as Christians do, attend the services, be engaged in sessions of instruction with the pastor or catechist, and struggle against his sins. This is a period of evaluation and instruction. Nobody should become a catechumen to "try it out", but if a catechumen cannot abide with the Orthodox way of life as he learns about it, he should be honest and not consent to baptism.á I have had catechumens fall away for various reasons. Some of them were lazy and had serious spiritual issues they could not or would not try to overcome, and some thought everything was "too hard".á One man was a Mason, and when, after much instruction, about which he was enthusiastic and engaged, when informed that he was required to repudiate free-Masonry before he was made a catechumen, rejected the church and went his way. The catechumenate is serious stuff, and like anything worthwhile, there is a cost!
In our age, we emphasize the "head" more than the heart. Many think of a catechumenateá as a period of time of getting some instruction, like taking classes to be certified as a mechanic. Certainly, instruction is involved, but the most important part of the catechumenateá is prayer, reading of scripture and other books, fasting and attending services. A person should not be baptized until he is committed to struggle in living the Christian life.á To give some concrete examples, if a person is a fornicator and will not struggle to give up fornication, they should not be baptized.á If a person is involved in criminal enterprises, or has a history in Satanism or witchcraft, or Free-Masonry, these things much be disavowed before baptism. Of course, people are weak, and may sin, but at the very least, a catechumen must show his seriousness and honesty by disavowing his sin and struggling against it.á The pastor must be very wise and understand the catechumen well, so that he can discern between obstinacy and disobedience and weakness.
I suppose this is enough about that question! I hope it does not lead to you have too many "interesting times" with your sister! I am Irish and Orthodox, so I cannot lie to you about serious things.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2016áááá
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