In this season of the year it is traditional for Catechumens to be preparing for reception into the Church. My experience is that for anyone preparing to be received life gets a little tougher. I suspect the enemy to be the culprit behind this and therefore think it all the more incumbent on all Orthodox to remember and pray for Catechumens. The Fathers wisely gave us such prayers for every liturgy (though in some versions of the Typicon they may be left out). I generally think of this as a crying shame but I don’t know enough behind the issue to really have an opinion. I just know that in my parish there are always Catechumens to be prayed for.
I think of my favorite prayer for the Catechumens, that of St. Basil’s liturgy:
O Lord our God, who dwellest in the heavens, and lookest down upon all thy works, look down upon thy servants, the catechumens, who have bowed their necks before thee, and grant them a light yoke. Make them honorable members of thy holy Church, and vouchsafe unto them the laver of regeneration, the forgiveness of sins, and the robe of incorruption, unto the knowledge of thee, our true God.
The phrase that always stands out to me when I read it is: Grant them a light yoke. This is the yoke of Christ who told us “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). For many coming into Orthodoxy, the yoke seems difficult. Compared to much they may have known elsewhere, Orthodox can seem completely daunting. Converts, true to form, they take everything seriously. If the calendar says, “Fast.” They fast. If services are scheduled they feel they should be there and are dismayed at how difficult this can be (particularly during Lent).
They should not take as an example those who totally disdain the fast or who absent themselves from services as if all that mattered was Sunday (or only a few of those). That is all another story.
But we are commanded to pray for the Catechumens – and I might add – make their yoke is light as possible while still doing them good. They should not be crushed by an idealized Orthodoxy that even the Orthodox do not keep. But they should not be discouraged by the poor examples they see in others.
I encourage my own parish in sermons, reminding them that if we do not strive to live the Orthodox life, then those who seek it will have no hope when they come to us. The Orthodox Church has to be something more substantive than the sign outside the building.
But still, in all, O God, grant the Catechumens a light yoke. Grant them the yoke of Christ, and not the yoke of man. For there is no hope in man, nor in princes, nor in the sons of men.
God save the Catechumens!