How to Become an Orthodox Christian
“The process of becoming an Orthodox Christian can be compared very closely to the process of becoming a married person for it involves the same basic movements of courtship, engagement and marriage. When a person first becomes interested in the Orthodox Church a series of initial interactions take place. Perhaps one visits for a liturgy, researches Orthodoxy on-line, or engages in a conversation with a friend who is Orthodox. If these initial interactions are blessed, a more studied process of inquiry follows which can be compared to the process of courtship. One who launches into this dance with the Church is called by the Church an inquirer or a seeker.”
From Starting Down the Royal Path: How to Become an Orthodox Christian
By Fr. Josiah Trenham, Ph.D.
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;
Christ died for our sins, and rose from the dead.
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. Our Church has a New Members Class on a regular basis for those who wish to get started. 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!
Step Four: Entrance into the Church
Your entrance into the Church will culminate with the service of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist.
As commanded by our Lord Himself, we receive baptism, In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28: 19-20)
Baptism washes away our sins, and makes us members of the Body of Christ. There is no other way to become a Christian, and enter the Church. As St. Paul says:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death…For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)
We are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit through life-giving Chrismation. (Romans 8, 1 Cor. 6) As St. Paul says,
But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us; He has put his seal upon us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Cor. 1:21-22)
As baptism is a person’s participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, so Chrismation is a person’s participation in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Chrismation in the west became known as Confirmation and was moved to after the first communion.
And we become partakers of Divine Nature (1 Peter 1:4) by keeping the command of our Lord Jesus Christ because, as He said,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (John 6:53-56)
There is nothing to add or subtract from the words of the Lord here. It is our great joy to obey and receive His Holy Mysteries for the sanctification and salvation of our souls. The Orthodox Church retains the ancient practice following the type of the consecration of the Old Testament High Priest.
Step Five: Mystagogy
Finally, you will enter into a period of time which we call Mystagogy, which means ‘initiation into the Holy Mysteries.’ This is, above all, a life of discipleship. The life of an Orthodox Christian is a life devoted to Christ in every way. Prayer, fasting, tithing, almsgiving – love in action in every part of our lives. Above all, your life journey has not been unfruitful, and is about to begin a new and exciting chapter.
This period of time is exciting as you will be participating in the Holy Mysteries, acquiring more skill with interior life, entering more deeply into the stream and rhythm of the Church’s prayer, and reaching out to your friends, neighbors and acquaintances with a deeper experience of love and charity than ever before.
Your life as a disciple of Christ will take on a deeper connection, as you learn to be spiritually watchful, applying the words of Scripture to your spiritual life under the guidance of an experienced spiritual father and guide. You’ll learn to recognize the glimmers of temptation and reject them noetically. The Bible will come alive in an entirely unexpected way as you sing and pray the words of Scripture at every liturgical service throughout the year!
And your experience of worship will surge into your new life as a powerful experience of heaven on earth. The Lord really does make all things new!
Are you ready for the journey of your lifetime?