ABOUT CATECHUMENS – Иверский Орский женский монастырь





Before the Cherubic Hymn, a priest or a deacon exclaims three prayers for the catechumens. The first one sounds like, “Catechumens, depart. As many as are catechumens, depart.” 

In ancient times, those people who prepared themselves for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and who were not yet the members of the Church through the Baptism, were called catechumens, or those who prepared to enter the Church. According to Tradition, they remained in church only up to the Cherubic Hymn, before this most mysterious moment of the Holy Liturgy, when the mystery of consecration of the Holy Elements and the Eucharist took place. At that moment, they departed, and their departure symbolized that they were not full members of the Church; they only turned in its direction, but had not finally crossed the threshold of the Church yet. They had only affirmed their intentions, but something else should happen next. 

Nowadays we do not have this tradition of catechumens. There is no tradition of their leaving in the middle of the Liturgy. This is why in some churches they omit these Ecteniae for the Catechumens, as they seem to make no sense. However, I think, these Ecteniae brought meaning not only for the catechumens, but they also bring deep meaning for us, who consider ourselves the faithful. We have already crossed the threshold, we are members, we are already something. We are faithful already. But to a greater extent, this happened only technically. Yes, we are accredited as faithful; many of us can provide their Certificate of Baptism and produce witnesses. “Yes, I am baptized, I am a member of the Church, I am not a catechumen.” But in fact…     

Catechumens are already not pagans, but they are not yet full Christians. Nevertheless, unfortunately, in fact, those who proudly bear the banner of the faithful, sometimes do not even correspond to the zeal of the catechumens. We do not even have sincerity, which the catechumens of the first centuries had. Catechesis itself was a big responsibility for the Christians in the first centuries.  Оглашенные – это уже не язычники, но еще и не в полной мере христиане. It was a big deal to stay for a half Liturgy and then leave. Some people stay and you leave. You, contemporary people, try to be in their shoes. How will your pride and your egotism take this? She is staying and I am leaving. But then, they were not made to do this. They did it voluntarily, sincerely, and from all their hearts. This was because those people, who came to the Church, had come to the point of desperation recognizing their sinfulness and inner damage. “Publicans,” and I say this in commas, came to the Church then. They were those people who prayed like the Publican, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”1 Or they were like the woman, who said, “Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masterś table.”2 These kinds of people came to the Church then. They were those who recognized from the bottom of their hearts their unworthiness, their nothingness, and their damaged nature. If we suppose that these Ecteniae were not pronounced, those people would have humbly left, their eyes down, like the Publican, at the moment of a special coming of Grace.   

As the Old Testament Prophets said when God approached them too close, “Lord, leave me, I am a sinful man and my sinfulness cannot bear Your holiness. I am a sinful man.” This was their righteousness; this is what righteousness is. “Lord, I am nothing.” This is righteousness.   

Very often our righteousness is turned upside down, like the righteousness of Jews and Lawyers during the times when Christ came on earth. For them, righteousness was observing the law. Для них была праведность – это соблюдение закона. If you observe the law in meticulous detail, you may raise your head proudly and come into the holiest of holiest. For us, Christians, righteousness is the feeling of our nothingness and the greatness of God. Salvation comes only through the Grace of God, but not through our worthiness. Surely, we need to apply effort to the Grace of God, but no matter how much effort we apply, everything will tell us this is not enough, totally not enough, as there is no result. We confess, cry, repent, stand up for a prayer, and break our forehead. Something happens, but this is only something, but there is still no change. There is no drastic change. Well, today it is a little better, tomorrow it is a little worse. And this happens without ceasing.  

No one should omit the Ecteniae of the Catechumens. It does not sound for those who prepare themselves, but for us, who bear the banner of the faithful. The catechumens and the faithful. There was a differentiation between those who were preparing to come into the Church and those who already were the members of the Church in ancient times.  Nowadays the notion of the faithful has become so relative. How faithful are we? This is a relative notion.  In word, we are faithful, but in deed… there is nothing more to say, only to lower the eyes and say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Rhetorically everything is beautiful, right, and smooth, but practically nothing works and there is nothing.  Glory to God, nothing works. This is for us to finally realize that we cannot do anything without God. No one can become faithful without God. We cannot leave the hope in our own feat, “Lord, wait a little bit. I will strain myself a little more, and everything will work.” The Lord stands aside and smiles. Sometimes He smiles and sometimes cries, “Madman, when will you come to realize you need Me? You cannot do this without Me! You only call yourself faithful, you cannot do this on your own.! You need a guide, a Moses, who will lead you by your hand.” You may only burst with pride on your own and become a mockery. To be “Faithful” in commas, this is what you can do by yourself.  

This is why we will never remove “the catechumens.” This ectenia is about us. As far the faithful are concerned, I do not know who they are… We are standing here only by the help of God’s mercy. We are here not because we are so wonderful people, who sacrificed their sleep on Sunday morning, got here by bus or by car or walked on a frosty day. “Hello, Lord. Here I am. Look at me. I have come here so beautiful.” We should come here on tiptoe, like worthless  people, who were allowed to enter. We were merely allowed to come in and are being tolerated. Christ our Lord tolerates us. And we are simply… Even ancient catechumens were better than we are. We are worse than they were.  

Glory to our God always, now and unto the ages of ages. Amen! 

1Lk. 18:13

2Mt. 15:27