Becoming a catechumen in the Orthodox Church begins the process of preparation to become a convert. Prior to being made a catechumen, there’s a feeling out process that takes place. For me, this process took over a year.
I didn’t convert to Eastern Orthodoxy overnight. Having been raised Southern Baptist there were a lifetime of objections to overcome. But after attending my first Divine Liturgy, I knew this was a path I wanted to walk down, at least a little farther.
I didn’t visit the church again for a couple of weeks, though the priest checked in with me and invited us back. He told me that the Metropolitan was visiting and it would be a rare opportunity for us to see him. Not being familiar with the term ‘metropolitan’ as it related to the Church, I didn’t realize that this was a very rare visit by the Archbishop of the Diocese of the South.
I skipped the service.
Eventually we did visit again, standing in the back and trying to follow along with the prayers and singing. The Lord’s Prayer we knew, but most of the others were foreign. I felt that stuck out like a sore thumb, though I can now see that nobody was paying attention to me at all.
As in my first Liturgy, the feeling of being completely enveloped in the beauty of the service was there. It wasn’t the emotionalism of the Pentecostal services I had attended. It was a celebration of the God of creation.
As I journeyed toward becoming a catechumen, one of the first things I let go of was my rejection of the ornamentation and beauty of the church itself. As a Baptist I was used to austere, simple churches with no excessive decoration. It was in my DNA to reject anything that was gaudy or golden as simply ‘Catholic,’ and therefore of the devil.
But God created beauty, did He not? Did He not create a world full of precious stones and metals? Did He not create a universe where the precision and orderliness of mathematics rules all? Did He not give us the capacity to appreciate art? Music? Poetry?
What better place to celebrate the beauty of God’s creation than in His house?
The Church, through the temple and Divine service, acts upon the entire man, educates him wholly; acts upon his sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste, imagination, mind, and will, by the splendour of the icons and of the whole temple, by the ringing of bells, by the singing of the choir, by the fragrance of the incense, the kissing of the Gospel, of the cross and the holy icons, by the prosphoras, the singing, and sweet sound of the readings of the Scriptures. – St. John of Kronstadt
As I stood in these first Liturgies and pondered this question, I was not surrounded by a temple devoted to Man. These were not paintings and candles and gold for the sake of a tacky display.
It wasn’t Benny Hinn’s white suit or Creflo Dollar’s jet plane, that’s for sure.
I read somewhere that Orthodox Christians don’t close their eyes when they pray because they don’t believe we have to shut out the beauty of the physical world when we petition God. I doubt this is an official practice. I do know I rarely close my eyes when I pray anymore. There’s just too much to see. Too much for which to give God the glory.
Yet in the midst of all this beauty, we stand. We stand until our feet hurt. We stand until our knees and backs ache. We stand until we question the choice of shoes we wore to church.
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, Then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man. — Proverbs 24:33
Worshiping God is work. It is a discipline. We are called to work, not to rest. We are in the midst of a harvest before the Master returns to see what we have reaped. We don’t want to be caught sleeping on the job.
Our worship is offered to God as a work, and the work He does in our lives is done through His Church and through His ministers. The Greek is λειτουργία (liturgia), and it is in Liturgy that I truly began to understand that work.
My previous series focused on my discovery of Orthodoxy. This series is going to focus on my journey from Baptist to Orthodox catechumen and beyond. If you’d like to be notified of each new edition, subscribe to my email newsletter.