Depart, catechumens!

The rite itself (and I admit I've only read it in translation), is in need of a serious tidying-up. An example - why is that bit about "depart ye catechumens" still there, when at that point, not only does nobody leave but (as I've heard said) it would be regarded as odd if anybody did?

The above was a genuine question from somebody elsewhere regarding the Liturgy. I must hastily add that it was not an attack. The person who asked has a great fondness for Orthodoxy and thoroughly enjoys the Liturgy, and the above was in the context of a series of questions and discussions about the Liturgy.

The comment struck me as odd though, in that I had heard of this part of the Liturgy before I began exploring Orthodoxy and had never heard that it isn't actually performed, and certainly, as a catechumen, I have been made to know in no uncertain terms that I am to leave at this point and to return during the Litany of Thanksgiving.

The week after reading this, there was no Liturgy at my own church and so I went to an Antiochian parish. I responded to the dismissal of the catechumens by moving to the back of the building and reading some of the material at the back and conversing quietly with the doorkeeper, who was also the priest's wife. She explained that they usually wouldn't expect catechumens to leave at that point. I returned after communion.

So my questions are as follows: is the dismissal of catechumens seen mostly as a remnant of a bygone era nowadays, with only some churches actually observing it, or is it still largely observed with only some churches being slightly more relaxed about it? Also, is the variation from parish to parish or is it determined by the jurisdiction?

Many thanks.

21 responses:

Ian said...

I look forward to your informed readers giving comment. It is an interesting issue.

I've never been asked to leave my (Antiochian) parish's service. And I have not been told this is any different. I was rather interested, and surprised, to hear you were expected to. But I can see reasons, and after reading your post I thought about doing it myself.

On the topic of the call to depart, I must say I rather like the one our Assyrian (Church of the East) cousins use:
Let him who has not received Baptism depart. Let him who has not accepted the sign of life depart. Let him who does not receive it depart. Go, hearers, and watch the doors!

Michael said...

Yes, that is rather lovely!

It could be rendered into North Mancunian as "Go on! The lot o' yer. Off wi' yer. And you lot keep and eye on them there doors and make sure they don't try and get back in. I know what they're like".

Fr Paul was explaining on Sunday that "The doors! The doors" was originally a call for the doorkeepers to ensure that the doors were closed and that those without (the catechumens and excommunicated) could not behold the Mysteries. I do find it something of a contradiction, though, that, as an enquirer I was permitted to stay and now as a catechumen I am not. However, I do see the logic in not wanting to make enquirers feel unwelcome.

Huw Raphael said...

The departure per se is no longer important because, since the 4th century, there's been no fear that any of them would betray the rest of us.

Some jurisdictions (and some parishes with in them) use it as you have noted.
Some do not use it but still read it.
Some do not even read it (or the litanies for the Catechumens).

These last, Fr Alexander Schmemann says, are the worst because to a great extent we are all always Catechumens and we need to be reminded of that.

It varies from parish to parish like almost all aspects of liturgical practice and variation: in some respects there is nearly as much variation (if not more) from parish to parish and jurisdiction to jurisdiction as one might find in Anglicanism.

When you add the Western Rite to the equation the fullest sense of Orthodoxy's spectrum develops.

Joe said...

I have in the three parishes closest to me (one OCA-Western diocese, one OCA-Bulgarian, and one ROCA) seen the full spectrum. The OCA-Western diocese parish expected you to leave.

The ROCOR parish read the prayers but no-one left (granted the Temple is unusually small and there really is nowhere for anyone to go)

And the OCA-Bulgarian parish (where I normally attend) does not even read the prayers. Of course they ahve no catechumens at the time being. I hope that if they do have Catechumens they bring back the prayers. The Litany's for the Catechumens are extremely important. Catechumens are most especially besought by the evil one and they need as much help from the Church as possible.

The three year Catechumen has spoken...
Joe Zollars

Eric John said...

The departure of the catechumans was a practical thing in the early church. It wasn't so much that they shouldn't behold the Mysteries, I think, but so that they could absorb what they had learned in the Liturgy of the Catechumans and the sermon. A lot of catechumans and inquirers are often overloaded on Orthodoxy. They conduct mounds of Internet research and in so doing come across the messages of weird fringe groups which often cause doubts or even lead them into spiritually dangerous situations. This, added to the anxiety that sometimes wells up in those who see others receiving Communion, while they themselves are left hungry and vulnerable, makes a time for rest and reflection essential for the catechuman. Thus, departing allows them to absorb Orthodoxy without pressure, at their own pace. It's a measure to counter burnout and also a test of humility.

Perhaps, like a lot of other formerly practical things in Orthodoxy, the catechuman departure can be spiritualized to apply to everyone. It's a reminder to the faithful that what happens in the Eucharist is a mystery and we participate in it only through the grace of God and not because of our own knowledge, righteousness, or readiness.

Huw Raphael said...

"I do find it something of a contradiction, though, that, as an enquirer I was permitted to stay and now as a catechumen I am not."

In the bad old days you'd not have been able to stay as an enquirer either. All outsiders were a danger.

Just to add to Joe's "full spectrum", my OCA-west parish read the prayers but no one left their places and I think we may have been the only Antiochian parish in the entire Southeast to read them at all: their service books leave them out.

The OCA Monastery in town reads them (but, again, no one leaves). The Greek parish doesn't read 'em.

Ian said...

Love the North Mancunian version!

Joe: I almostr join you in your three-year catechumenate. Let us bring it back together! ;-)

Wise words Eric John.

Interesting that the prayers are dropped in many parishes Huw: I've never seen them dropped here in Oz [it's generally the antiphons that go or are shortened in parishes here...thankfully ours does it all.]

Anonymous said...

Yes, my pastor reads all the prayers for the catechumens every Sunday, and I concur with Eric that we're all catechumens our whole lives long, so we need the prayers just as much as the ones just starting to study the Faith.

Whenever I hear the prayers for the catechumens, I get a Cecil B. De Mille mental picture of fur-clad, smelly barbarians being herded out of the Hagia Sophia, to go back to the northern fastnesses where it was suicide to take baths...and the ladies of Constantinople could at last take their perfumed handkerchiefs away from their noses inhale the clouds of incense unalloyed with the odor of the Great Unwashed....

But that's balanced by another, lovelier picture, that of the catechumens who have just been baptised, spending all of Bright Week in the Church, still wearing their white robes and at last, now that they are illuminated, learning "the Church's secrets"--the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and everything you should never mention to the Roman soldiers...

"For I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies..."

Leetle M.

Joe said...

Love the mental picture Leetle M.

Ian--I hear you man. Actually, technicaly I'm still a Catechumen (according to one priest i asked) but unfourtunately I had to change parishes, and am not actively studying the faith. I've been meaning to talk to the priest at the new parish, but never seem to be able to catch him what with my 65 hour a week schedule and his work schedule on top of parish schedule etc. Please pray for me.

Joe Zollars

Anonymous said...

Hey Joe, you know you have all our prayers...and we do suggest, with your punishing work schedule... "How 'bout a little Church break?"

You know, "studying" Orthodoxy is all well and good, but it grows on you. I bet many of the members of the Babushka brigade never "studied" in the sense we converts have studied, and yet...the Church is their life.

Like I said, it grows on you....

Leetle M.

Anonymous said...

Well I would take a break, and have been trying for months, but I have a great deal of difficulty growing out and/or beyond my work ethic--the only thing still protestant about me.

I did cut out the second job in hopes I would be able to make it to church more often. But the problem with the primary job is, being in management, I'm on call 24-7. Which leaves me very little time for anything else.

Joe Zollars

Ian said...

Wise words Leetle M. And words I need to take to heart as well. I never pushed it as I thought I needed to read, read and read! Thankfully someone else in my parish spoke to our priest and told him it was time I was received! ;-)

My prayers are with you Joe. God bless. My chrismation was put back a little as we were priest-less for a while.

Joe said...

Well talked to Father today (actually he brought it up) and it looks like I'm going to possibly be Chrismated soon.

Joe Zollars

Michael said...

Blessed be God!

Joe, I'm glad for you and hope that you can find some time and space amongst everything else for yourself and for God. Do keep us updated. I don't know the full story but I know that you've had not the easiest of times of it. Much prayer here for you.

Leetle M, my question is about to betray a shameful ignorance here, but I've heard reference in the past made to a particular work ethic and protestantism and I must admit to having always been confused. Please would you explain? Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

The so-called "Protestant Work Ethic" is said to be drawn from the scriptural assertion attributed to St. Paul: "He that will not work, neither let him eat." The Massachusetts Puritans were very big on stuff like that.... nowadays, I think there have been some rather radical changes in Massachusetts, however.

As with all work ethics, imho "The Protestant Work Ethic" can be carried too far. I subscribe to spurts of hard work, broken up by prayer, fun and siesta time. I took a big church break this week--a Great Vespers of Ss. Gerasimos and Artemios, plus a Divine Liturgy the next morning, plus delightful Greeky goodies to eat after Vespers the night before the liturgy.... all told, a total of 7 full hours in church! Whoopeee!

If I could have afforded the gas for travelling from church to church, we've got a St. Luke's Orthodox Church a few miles away but "uphill and down dale"...and I could have had another Great Vespers and a very fancy Liturgy with goodies the next day. I shall content myself with, tomorrow, using up petrol to go and venerate the wonder-working icon of Our Lady of Sitka [Alaska], on tour of the U.S., 14 miles from my house at our St. Herman's OCA church (where they have frozen home-made perogies available every Thursday.... sigh, yum...).... Petrol is now $2.89/gal. for my huge car which gets 11 miles to the gallon. So I will stay with Our Lady of Sitka as long as they'll let me, to make the trip pay off! Prayers for you all, especially our fine catechumens (this means you, Joe, Ian and Michael).

They also say they will have a luncheon featuring native Alaskan dishes...I don't think I'm going to like the whale blubber....

Leetle M. the Adventurous

Ian said...

Wonderful news Joe! Thanks be to God.

Thank you for your prayers LM! Have a wondrous time visiting St Herman's Church and may God bless you and keep you safe -- esp. against the possibility of whale blubber! ;-)

Joe said...

Tahnks y'all for the prayers.

Michael: Little M. got it right on the money with the work ethic part. It actually originally stemmed from Calvinism, which pretty much all of American Protestantism is flavored with including in some areas the episcopal church.

Little M.: Fuel is only 2.39 a gallon here and if you go with Ethanol its only 2.37. By next monday it will probably be down to 2.35 for regular and 2.33 for ethanol as that is what prices are in the neighboring town.

The Convenience Store Manager has spoken.

Joe Zollars

Anonymous said...

Hi, Joe and Michael and Ian and Everyone!

What nice reasonable fuel! My gas-eater has to have the "premium" gasoline since it is so huge (3-seater Pontiac station wagon with V-8 engine), but fortunately, the traffic was light this morning on the way to the St. Herman's Church. It was pouring rain and foggy, so I said to meself "What a nice Mancunian morning!"

When I got there I lit us all a big fat candle, and then went and venerated the icon before the Divine Liturgy--it's a beautiful icon, covered with a very elaborate gold "reza". It was written by a Russian Orthodox Christian in Alaska some time between 1790 and 1835--it looks quite like Our Lady of Vladimir.

The two "Eskimo" priests were small and Oriental looking, called Fr. Sergei and Fr. Vladimir (unpronounceable surnames). They said and sang their prayers in Tlingit and Slavonic and English, and of course were referred to as "Native Americans" rather than Eskimos. We enjoyed hearing the Russian chants sung in Tlingit!

After the liturgy there was an anointing service in front of the icon and we all venerated the icon again after we were anointed. There were lots of folks there with walkers and wheelchairs, so I thought to myself how blessed we all are, and prayed not just for us, but for all those who have some sort of physical thing that prevents them from "running the strait race" as St. Paul talked of doing....

Then the wonderful Alaskan lunch in the parish hall. We started with some delicate pickled herring with tomatoes and onions, followed by shrimp with cocktail sauce. Then there was salmon (broiled) and salmon and crabmeat salad. For vegetables there were pototoes boiled Russian style with butter and dill and herbs, green beans sliced julienne style with more herbs, some mighty fine looking ham (which I was not allowed by the dr. to eat, sigh), a very interesting Russian cabbage-onion-hardboiled egg pie (kinda like a
"pasty"), some diced red beets with vinaigrette sauce and onions, somewhat like a "relish", big "zeppelin" rolls, and for dessert that lovely little rolled pastry with poppyseed and hazelnut filling--made with many thin layers so that it's almost like candy.

Leetle Masha is now very rejoiceful and happy, and wish you could have been there too. For a rainy day, it was a very bright occasion indeed. I felt like you were all standing there too on either side of me--the little church was packed and everybody really paid attention, even the little kids. One little boy about a year and a half old was learning to make a prostration, and he did three very cute belly-flops in front of the miraculous icon.

Leetle M.
I had lunch with a dear friend who has my old job as "church lady" of the Episcopal church where I went in my youth. She and her husband just got a bull terrier puppy--he's so cute, looks sorta like a little white pig with brown spectacles. Our strategy is to get all the church secretary jobs in the ECUSA for Orthodox girls like my friend, and then, "preach constantly, when necessary use words." Or bring along a bull terrier....

Anonymous said...

Oh, mercy, I forgot the most important detail--the Eskimo clergy said all of the "Depart all you catechumens" prayers and litanies! I guess they do that up in Alaska to make sure everybody studying Orthodoxy is really serious about it.

Leetle M.

Ian said...

LM: thank you so much for sharing. I do wish I could've been there also, but you've brought us their mentally and spiritually with you through your fine descriptions. Wonderful. Thanks be to God.

In terms of catechumens, I will most likely be received in early December. Thanks be to God! And my priest was most impressed, and laughed, with your comment LM on, 'I bet many of the members of the Babushka brigade never "studied" in the sense we converts have studied, and yet...the Church is their life.', which made something click in my mind and which I told him about when we had our fortnightly talk.

Anonymous said...

Hehe, glad your pastor liked my observation about the babushka brigade.

My spit-and-polish pastor continues his excellent liturgical drill. Over the past two days, we had two squads of 10 acolytes each, and somehow, they got in a hurry and their stoles got all askew. It was like a relay, each acolyte fixing the stole of the acolyte behind him before the procession could march off. This morning, during the bishop's visit, one acolyte was detailed to do nothing but take photographs of the entire thing...well, it =was= quite a show... So many priests, monks and acolytes, plus a deacon and the bishop...they had to stand along the solea in rows.

Just like the marines....

LM

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