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Catechumens

"Pray to God, ye, catechumens," — every day the deacon calls out during the Liturgy. And after this prayer — litany — he says, "Catechumens, depart!" For a person well versed in the language, this could sound harsh, indeed the dictionary of the Russian language by S.I. Ozhegov interprets the word "catechumen" as a person "who behaves unreasonably, loudly, weirdly." Should we let people like that into a church?

Yes, the meanings of some words do undergo curious changes. In ecclesiastic Slavic philology the verb "to catechumen" meant "to instruct well the basics of the faith," and the adjective "catechumen" meant "a student of Christian dogmas, somebody who desires to become baptized." Apparently some of those people left some peculiar trace in history, thus giving rise to a new meaning of the word...

In the ancient church not all of the people were baptized. The person coming up to the baptismal font had to understand clearly the essence of the Christianity, so that the answer to the question "Do you believe in Christ?" would come from all of the person’s heart, "I believe in Him, my King and my God!." That is why those who did not get Christian upbringing as well as converts from among the Jews and the pagans had to learn the dogmas of the faith from bishops and presbyters or catechism teachers. Catechumens had to study for a long time, sometimes for several years. During that period the catechumens had no right to be present at the very essential part of the service — the Eucharistic Mystery together with the faithful. In order not to isolate them completely from communicating with Church, the authors of the liturgical prayers grouped together some of the songs of the instructional character as well as Scripture readings into the first part of the Liturgy and called it the "Liturgy of the Catechumens."

But when the instructional part of the service is over and there comes the sacred and awesome time of communion with God, people whose souls were not washed with waters of Baptism, must not witness the mystery. That is why the deacon first announces the Litany of the Catechumens and then urges them to leave. In the first centuries of Christianity this was not confined to words, they would go about and make sure that not a single non-baptized person would remain in church.

Now the canons have changed. Anyone can become a witness of the Holy Mysteries, even those who just dropped by out of idle curiosity. The very concept of Catechumens was lost long ago, but many clergymen deem it necessary to revive it. Why then are the words of the deacon and the prayer of the Church for Catechumens still preserved?

In pre-revolutionary Russia there was a book entitled "The Reference Book of a Clergyman" which states the following, "In many parts of the world many people turn to Orthodoxy, as well as there are converts to Orthodoxy from other Christian denominations. Our Church takes care of all of its children no matter where and prays before the One Who enlightens souls and bodies of all the Catechumens irrespective of the horrendous distances lying between them. Besides, there are children who got their Orthodox names through the ritual of Orthodox naming, but who have not been baptized yet... Due to that the Catechumen prayers will never lose their significance and role and will remain within the Liturgy as long as the Church of Christ is alive on the earth."

As far as leaving the church is concerned — you should not follow the example of some people just because your neighbor does this or that thing. Every non-baptized person should decide for himself or herself: so far I do not have the right to participate in Eucharistic Ceremony, which means I must leave.

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