After the doxology of the Priest at the end of the first litanies, we address prayers for the Catechumens. The Deacon first exhorts the Catechumens to pray for themselves and then exhorts the faithful to pray for the Catechumens.
We all know who these cathechumens are!
As we know from the Holy Gospels, the Lord's last commandment to His Disciples was to go forth into the world, to preach the Gospel to all nations, making no distinction in race or nation, and to teach them to keep all the commandments that they had received from the Lord. Those of them who would believe in Christ as God and accept all other doctrines and would be baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (see Matt. 28:20). To this the Evangelist Mark adds: "And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following." (Mark 16:20).
Initially the Apostles and their associates traveled from country to country and did not have enough time to systematically teach the entire Gospel to those who asked to be baptized. In these cases the teaching was limited to the basic doctrines, which were later included into the Creed. The Acts of the Apostles mentions the incident with an official of the queen of Ethiopia who was reading the Prophet Isaiah in his waggon, returning to his homeland from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Under the guidance of an Angel, the apostle Philip overtook the Ethiopian on the road to Gaza, catechized him for some time, and baptized him. There was no time for more catechism. The Ethiopian left for his distant homeland and if he had not been baptized, he would have remained unbaptized (see Acts 8: 26-39).
Later, however, as the Church spread throughout the world and there appeared local organized Christian communities with Bishops and Priests, the collective experience has shown that before one is to be baptized, one must systematically be taught all the basic truths of the Gospel. That is why the Church has set a period of three years ofcatechesis by educated and faithful Catechists, appointed by the Bishop. Those, who came to the Church and showed sincere interest, the Bishop accepted into the Order of the "Catechumens"with a special prayer and blessing. They regularly attended classes and had the right to attend services from a special place appointed to them in the narthex of the church and attend throught the first part of the Divine Liturgy - the Liturgy of the Word, as we call it (That is, from the beginning of the Divine Liturgy to the prayers for the Catechumens, about which we will speak later).
The Deacon after the first Prayers that we mentioned, together with all the faithful, asks the Lord to give His Grace and mercy to the Catechumens. May the Lord catechize to them the word of truth through their Catechists. They reveal to them the Gospel with its profound content, so that they may understand it. And finally, through Holy Baptism and the other Mysteries of divine Grace the Catechumens are united with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
The Priest, in front of the Holy Table, completes the last prayer for the Catechumens, who reverently participate in bowing before the Lord. The Priest then begs from God, who wants all people to know the truth and be saved, to free the Catechumens from old delusions and the evil plots of the devil; to enlighten their souls and bodies; to unite them to His flock and invite them to participate in eternal life. And at the end the Priest exclaims: "So that with us they (the current cathechumens) also may glorify Your most honorable and majestic name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages."
We can imagine with how much warmth and emotion the Deacon pronounces the prayer "That He will unite them (that is, the Cathechums) to His holy, catholic, and apostolic Church..
.". Truly! How emotionally the Christian parents, or the baptized spouses whose spouses are still Cathechumens, would listen to the prayers for their children, spouses and all the Cathechumens !
The Church from the early years longed and sought not so much to have large numbers of attendees, but for its members to be possessed by warm faith and genuine selfless love, in order to morally strengthen the whole body of believers and to stimulate it to remain steadfast in times persecution. That is why the Church was interested in fully verifying the character and motives of those who came to the Church, that is, if they are sincere and come from an innate zeal. And this effort, as the History of the Church informs us, bore rich fruits. Millions are the holy Martyrs, who endured the cruel and inhuman tortures during the persecutions of the pagan Roman emperors and in other circumstances, to remain faithful to the Savior Christ.
The help offered by the Mother Church through her prayers and supplications for the spiritual maturity of the Catechumens was, is and will always be very important. Additionally, all church members must express these demands, "with all the soul and with of the intellect."
One might today in the Orthodox Countries and in the Orthodox Communities around the world think that because we are baptized in infancy, there are no Catechumens This may seem right, but it reveals ignorance. Today many are forced to leave their homes and homelands and take refuge in foreign countries, we have many cases of entire families seeking catechism and baptism. But we have hundreds and thousands of Catechumens in the newly formed Orthodox Missionary Churches, which are expanding all over the world. Let us not forget to include all of them in our prayers for the Catechumens. Amen.
Here we come to the end of the interpretation of the First Part of the Divine Liturgy.