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Becoming Orthodox at St. Michael Church

When individuals or families begin to attend St. Michael Church on a regular basis, they will often have a number of questions. If they are not already members of the Orthodox Church, some of these questions concern themselves with what procedures would be necessary for them to become an Orthodox Christian at St. Michael's. The following information may be helpful in answering some of those questions.

"If I were interested in learning more about the Orthodox Church, how should I begin?"

The injunction to "come and see" applies here. There are three very important components in coming to know more about the Orthodox Christian Faith: worship, learning and fellowship. All three are essential if one is to have a balanced understanding of the Orthodox Christian Faith and community. Attending worship (the Divine Liturgy) on Sundays and at other times is always the first place to begin since our worship is the principal expression of our beliefs. Learning, is also very important. Information about adult classes being offered or ideas for suggested reading and study may be obtained from the clergy. Books and tapes may be purchased from St. Michael's Shoppe or borrowed from our parish library. Fellowship is also very important. There are many opportunities to meet with and come to know, the members of the parish family. Every Sunday, for example, the Divine Liturgy (or Sunday worship) is followed by an informal luncheon to which all are invited. You can use opportunities such as these to come to know the members of the congregation, discover why they are Orthodox Christian and why they consider St. Michael's to be their spiritual home.

"From time to time I hear the word, 'Catechumen' being used. Just exactly what is a Catechumen?"

Catechumens, in the early church, were those undergoing instruction preparatory to becoming Christian. The Orthodox Church, since that time has continued to use the term with reference to those who are preparing themselves to join the Church. A "visitor" or "inquirer" becomes a "catechumen" simply by speaking to a priest and indicating his or her interest in beginning preparatory instruction.

"If I were to become a Catechumen, what would be expected of me?"

Essentially what has already been mentioned in terms of regular attendance at worship, studying about the Orthodox Christian Faith, and active participation in the various social activities of the congregation, The difference is that when "inquirers" become "catechumens" their worship, study and social participation become more focused on their preparation to become Orthodox Christians.

"What should Catechumens do when they believe that they are ready to become members of the Church?"

When through prayer and careful reflection you believe that you are ready you should meet with one of the clergy and share with him your interest. While he may agree with you that you are adequately prepared, he may also ask that you spend more time in prayer and study and participation in church activities. Before being allowed to join the Church, there must be assurance that you have the fundamental knowledge and conviction necessary for membership.

"If it is agreed that I am ready for membership, what happens then?"

A date for your Confirmation1 is set. Following the apostolic practice of Easter (Holy Pascha) confirmations, you might well be confirmed on that day. If there are good reasons not to wait until then, other Sundays or Holy Days might be chosen. By way of preparation, you may be asked to meet with one of the clergy to discuss you convictions regarding the Orthodox Christian Faith. Additionally a time and date will be set for the hearing of your confession2 by a priest usually the Saturday preceding the confirmation. While the priest is not able to grant sacramental absolution to those who have not yet joined the Church, nevertheless confessions are heard in anticipation of, and in preparation for, the confirmation which is to follow. Also, by way of preparation, you will be asked to identify one, two, or at the most three "sponsors". Sponsors are Orthodox Christians in full sacramental standing with the Church who have influenced your decision to become Orthodox and will testify by their sponsorship to your Faith and character. Individuals who are asked to become sponsors are usually deeply honored by such a request. Finally, you have the option of choosing a Christian name in addition to, or different from, the first you currently use. By ancient Christian precedent, some individuals choose to adopt the name of their patron or some other saint, whose life Christian life and witness has inspired them and helped them to spiritually grow. This, however is an option.

"What if I, or my children, have not been baptised?"

Baptism with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, is an absolute prerequisite for confirmation into the membership of the Orthodox Church. If such a baptism took place in the Roman Catholic Church or in a Protestant church it is fully recognized by Orthodoxy and is not to be repeated. If, on the other hand, there was no such baptism, you should inform the clergy well in advance so that plans can be made to have such a baptism immediately before the planned confirmations.

"I notice that there is repeated reference to 'confirmation', yet I hear most people referring to 'chrismation'. Is there a difference between the two, or are they different names for the same sacrament?"

They are different names for the same sacrament. The use of "Chrismation" however, is more common in Orthodox usage since it refers to the use of "chrism"3 during the rite of Confirmation.

"All right, then, what actually happens when the Sacrament of Chrismation is administered?"

At St. Michael's, Chrismation occurs during the Divine Liturgy immediately following the recitation of the Creed (See St. Andrew Service Book). At that time the celebrant of the Liturgy will invite those to be chrismated to come forward and kneel at the altar rail. The sponsors should also come forward at that time and remain standing behind those whom they are sponsoring. At various times during the rite of Chrismation each of those to be chrismated will receive in turn an anointing with Holy Chrism; a white stole-like garment symbolizing the purity of the Christian life; and a lit candle symbolizing a commitment to keep the light of Christ burning in their lives. After all have received candles, they will be asked to return to their seats. At the time of Holy Communion4, all the newly chrismated members will be asked to come forward once you, this time to kneel at the altar rail, and to receive their communions, before others present do so.

"What happens after the Chrismation and the Divine Liturgy?"

Well, first of all, there is a festive luncheon during which you will be warmly and enthusiastically welcomed into the Orthodox Faith and into membership in the parish family of St. Michael's. There are, however, a few other matters which need to be attended to. You will need to help the parish secretary complete the Archdiocesan application for a Chrismation Certificate. You should be receiving the Certificate from the Archdiocese in about six weeks. You will also need to make certain that you are on the mailing list for The Word, the monthly magazine of the Archdiocese. (As a member of the Archdiocese there is no subscription fee for this magazine.) If you have not done so already, you are, also, asked to prayerfully and thoughtfully make an annual financial pledge to help support St. Michael's, the Archdiocese and the Church throughout the world. Recent surveys have shown that Christians seem to pledge just enough to maintain their Church but not enough to help it grow. St. Michael's has carried on its ministry to the community on a voluntary and sacrificial basis for many years. Please keep that in mind as you consider you own financial contribution.

As a new member of the congregation you are invited to participate fully in all of it activities such as the choir, youth work, readers and servers, the altar guild, women's group and so much more. If you are over 18 years of age, you will be able to vote in the Annual Parish meeting, in November, on issues effecting the welfare of our congregation and for new members for the Parish Council, the governing body of the congregation. Our parish Constitution and By-laws, require however that before one can be nominated or elected to serve on the Parish Council, it is necessary to have been an Orthodox Christian in good standing, for a minimum of one year. After that period, however, if asked you are eligible to be nominated and, if elected, to serve as a member of the Parish Council.

"What if I have other questions?"

Should you have still other questions feel free to ask the clergy.


St. Michael Orthodox Church

3333 Workman Mill Road

Whittier, Ca 90601

Endnotes

1Confirmation is a sacrament of the Orthodox Church. Actually, it is a ceremony by which a previously baptised person is anointed with Chrism (see Footnote 3) to be strengthened, to grow, and become spiritually perfected in the life of Christ. The basic Biblical evidence on Confirmation is contained in Acts 8:14-17. By it, when the apostles learned that Samaria had accepted the Word of God, they sent to them Peter and John. Upon reaching Samaria, they prayed for those who had been baptised that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Another instance witnessing the Biblical origin of confirmation is found in Acts 19:2-68; by it, St. Paul, after baptizing in Ephesus a number of disciples in the name of the Lord Jesus, laid his hands on them and "the Holy Spirit came down upon them." St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386 AD) writing on Baptism in his book "Catechesis", speaks on Confirmation as follows: 'For as Christ after being baptised and after the coming of the Holy Spirit fought the adversary one, so you, after the Holy Baptism and the mystical Chrism (Confirmation) having put on the panoply of the Holy Spirit, should stand against adverse powers....' And later he adds, 'having been granted the Holy Chrism, you are called Christians, and thus by the regeneration in the sacrament you also prove true to the name.' Other important early fathers, such as Ireneus, Tertullian, Origin, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzus, and St. Augustine all speak of Confirmation and stress its purpose and effect.

During the Apostolic Age, Confirmation took place by the 'laying on of hands' by the Apostles and later by their successor-bishops on the heads of the newly baptised. That meant that only the bishops of the early Church performed the sacrament of Confirmation, As the Church grew, however, it became impossible for any bishop to be present at the same time in the many growing communities where Baptisms were taking place. Thus the oil of Chrism was introduced and supplied by the bishop to the presbyters for the purpose of anointing the newly baptised. By very ancient tradition, Confirmation should take place immediately after Baptism. Beside the Biblical instance already cited, Tertullian (160-220 AD) states, 'coming out of the baptismal font, we are anointed with sanctified oil, according to the ancient custom.'

2Confession is one of the sacraments of the Orthodox Church. In Greek, the sacrament is known also as the sacrament of 'Metanoia'. This last term signified a change in mind and will, and by extension, repenting after realizing one's mistaken attitude and unacceptable deeds. By this, the inner change is stressed more than the act of confessing one's moral errors to a priest.

In the New Testament, St. John the Baptist was preparing the 'way of the Lord by preaching in the desert a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins' (Mark 1:4). the Lord Himself instituted the Sacrament of Confession by entrusting it to His Apostles: 'receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sin of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sin of any, they are retained' (John 20:23). The Apostles handed down through ordination this Lord-given right to forgive sins to the bishops and priests of the Church. Needless to say, the condition for effective forgiveness is the sincere repentance of the confessing individual.

In the ancient Church, the confession of sins was done in public, as cited in Acts 19:18, 'many of those who believed came confessing and divulging their deeds and practices.' Later on, this custom was abandoned and, in all probability, from the 3rd century certain priests were appointed to receive confessions.

Characteristic of the nature of Orthodox Confession is the way in which the confessor offers absolution when he says, 'Almighty God have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to everlasting life. The Almighty and merciful God grant you pardon, absolution, and remission of you sins' (St. Andrews Service Book). This powerful pronouncement makes it clear that it is the Lord Himself which is forgiving the sins of the penitent, not the priest. Confession is the powerful gift of the Church to her children because through it a sinner can find healing for the soul and peace for the conscience. It also means that both the penitent and the priest assume a serious moral responsibility toward each other; the penitent to keep no sins secret and the priest to keep when he hears in confession, in absolute confidence.

3Chrism is a mixture of olive oil and balsam used in the Confirmation rite of the Orthodox Church. It should be noted that the sacrament of Confirmation is often called the 'Sacrament of Chrism' or, 'Chrismation'. According to the Old Testament, special oils were used for liturgical purposes such as the anointing of kings and priests. Anointing as an act of 'setting apart or appointing for an extraordinary mission' was promptly adopted by the early Church since the Greek name for Jesus 'Christos' (the anointed one) signified also the nature and mission of His Church and her faithful. Its use on both Baptism and Confirmation is evidenced by such early Fathers as Tertullian, St., Ambrose and Theodoret. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386 AD) called it 'the mystic chrism', and in the Canons of the Synod of Laodicia (360 AD) it is called 'the holy chrism'. St. Augustine maintained that Confirmation is the 'Sacrament of the Chrism', carrying a special power conferred to it by the Holy Spirit. Chrism was believed from the beginning to convey the fullness of sacramental grace, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the sweetness of Christian virtue.

4Holy Communion is the term used both for the act of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ as well as the Sacrament of the Eucharist itself. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ was commanded by the Lord Himself during His Last Supper. The nature of the command is obvious in its use of the Greek imperative 'take eat'... and 'drink of it all of you,' and by His further command, 'do this in my remembrance.' There are four accounts of the institution in the New Testament, one by St. Paul in I Cor. 11:23-25, and three in the Gospels (Mt 26: 26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-20). The Eucharist was celebrated by the early Christian community at Jerusalem (Acts 2:42-46) and by St. Paul on his visit to Troas (Acts 20:7). These passages show that from a very early date the service was a regular part of Christian worship, and was held to have been instituted by Christ. That the Eucharist conveys to the believer the Body and Blood of Christ was universally accepted from the beginning, and language was very commonly used which referred to the Eucharistic elements as themselves the Body and Blood.

Indispensable qualifications for receiving include Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, and otherwise full participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Faith in the real presence of Christ by way of the consecrated bread and wine and purity of life are, in the last analysis, the two prerequisites, the importance of which is immense and which are the responsibility of the individual Christian.