A Project to Come

I have started work on a Blog project that I’m entitling “Catechesis Project.” It is to be a slow writing of catechetical materials designed for those inquiring into Orthodoxy. There is a wealth of material out there, and I use everything I can get my hands on, but I still haven’t found any one thing that does some of what I would like to be able to do with Inquirers and Catechumens in my parish.

I am setting up a blog site where the work will be available for reading and comments (I hope to have many helpful, including questions – if it’s not answering questions then it’s not doing it’s job).

I am only in the initial stages of its construction but would appreciate your prayers for me as I take this on. I have no idea how long it will become or what it’s final use will be – though I have thoughts on the subject. Time and God’s good grace will make all things clear. But pray for this work. I will be publishing links to it in the near future. Thank you!


  1. Fr. Stephen, the thought of you writing a catechism excites me because you know about Western thinking AND the mind of the church fathers. Your writing helps me alot and I pray that I will pray for you and your project.

    P.S. If you will email me I’d like to briefly discuss something related with you.

  2. I am very glad you’re doing this. It is sorely needed IMNSHO. I have cobbled together some stuff but it is wholly inadequate. Looking forward to reading and providing feedback as you asked.

  3. Looking forward to learning more about orthodox Christianity. Your on my blogroll so that I can check back every now and then more easily. Thanks.

  4. My prayers Father. And I do greatly look forward to reading it, and, God willing, providing constructive feedback as needed.

    May God bless, guide and direct your work.

  5. Fr. Stephen,

    In keeping with my role as the bearer of cold water, let me announce at the outset that I don’t see much point in catechisms. My first question would therefore be: Why bother?

    My second question is similar: How do you intend to improve upon St. Tikhon’s catechism?

    Have a nice day!

  6. I use the term catechism loosely. I think the form of catechisms has seen it’s day. As for improving on anybody – only in the sense of shaping answers in a way that addresses questions that I hear asked. The level of Biblical knowledge assumed in the 19th century (or even mid 20th) cannot be assumed today. There are also things that are not covered in many catecheses that are more relevant or needed today.

    Why bother? Cause I have to do this stuff anyway, since a large part of my life and ministry is spent in mission work and catechesis. If I had the material (supplemental to what I already have) at hand it would be an easier job. Simple as that. Doesn’t need my name on it – just the material inside.

    I have had a nice day, thanks.

  7. I see you dried off the cold water quite nicely! 🙂 May Christ bless you in this endevor Father! I am looking forward to it.

  8. Dear Father Stephen, bless.

    This project is exciting. I am very glad to read that you intend to shape answers in a way that addresses the questions you hear asked …

    I was a practicing Roman Catholic my whole life and converted to Orthodoxy 14 years ago. There are so many things that would have been helpful for me to understand as I came into the Orthodox Church.

    I read the standard books, talked to my priest, prayed, worshiped, etc. Missing from my catechesis however, was a way to incorporate and indeed, validate my Catholic upbringing. Years later, I was able to see that when I became Orthodox, I didn’t break with the Catholic Church so much as I graduated from it: I graduated to Orthodoxy. I brought with me the love of the crucifix, the rosary, the saints, shrines and grottos and many wonderful Catholic traditions (with a little “t.”) Through the Orthodox Church, I was brought to a deeper understanding and way of being. If Catholicism was like high school, Orthodoxy was like University: full of wonderful new ideas, beautiful art and architecture, ancient customs and practices and much greater demands on me spiritually and intellectually.

    I think a catechesis that could speak to the unique experiences of seekers would be very helpful: the world-weary and jaded, those coming from Conservative Protestant, Evangelical or Catholic backgrounds and our American teenagers, to name a few. The truth remains the same but those seeking the truth often carry with them layers of misconceptions and biases from contemporary ideologies, popular psychology and cultural influences.

    Thank you for all that you do, Father. — Martha

  9. Father,

    I first read this with great excitement and enthusiasm! I love the idea of you putting together something more comprehensive–esp. for a convert like me craving some sort of organization and system (ah, the shedding of the West is still in process apparently!). Clearly there was some sort of catechetical plan in the early church based on what I’ve read, and frankly it seems to be somewhat lacking in the US in the 20th century.

    Having said that, there is something instructive in the organized chaos of entering the Orthodox church. As frustrating as it can be to have to talk to 10 different priests to get answers to questions, or to have to read 10 different books to get a good idea about the sacraments or the role of a spiritual father…I also think that it is a good wake up call for us converts to realize we arent’ just stepping into a different version of what we already have (if we are Christian converts), but into something that requires a 180 on our thinking. The vehicle can be as important as the content. How does one organize the info and provide easy access to answers, and yet not confuse or mislead the catechumen?

    Having said that, I think if there is anyone out there thinking about these things who can accomplish such a task, I’d have you at the top of my list! So my prayers are with you in this endeavor and I’m happy to help in any way I can.

    BTW, are you familiar with Jordan Bajis’ “Common Ground: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian” (Light and Life Publishing, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1989)? It is an excellent book and quite accurate title.

    Alyssa Sophia

  10. I’ve seen Bajis’ Common Ground – parts of which are quite good. It is doubtless the case that no matter what I might add to the mix of available material, there will always be a need for more, or to talk to 10 priests, etc. Orthodoxy is the fullness, and you can’t capture the fullness. I just hope to open a few doors for people more widely than they may have found in some other places. If I am of use, what more could I ask? That I even became Orthodox was an amazing gift in itself. That I might be of use as an Orthodox Christian seems to me a kindness I do not deserve.

  11. “Orthodoxy is the fullness, and you can’t capture the fullness.”

    Amen! Still, God’s blessings to you on behalf of converts to come…


  12. Visibilium,

    The Web is a hard place to do the subtleties of conversation. May God forgive us all.

  13. Father,

    I spent a year in catechism preparation to be received into the Roman Catholic Church, but decided against it in the end. My catechists, two priests, were men I still highly respect. They put a lot into the time they spent with my wife and I.

    Yet, I have noticed a profoundly different approach taken by my priest now, as we prepare to be received into the Orthodox Church. He’s had us read a few things, and one book, but his obvious emphasis has been on us being at liturgy, fasting consistently with the Church, praying nightly and morning with the Church, etc. Such an integrated approach has changed us more than we understood it would. I recall thinking, about 9 months ago, that I wish we could “read more books”! Father has really subdued that impulse in us, in deference to more prayer and more worship.

    Your blog has helped me also, to read not just for the sake of more understanding, but for the sake of more living. I’m sure your future “catechism” will continue in that vein. I have grown to love, along with my wife, the more “wholistic” (for lack of a better term) approach to catechesis found in Orthodoxy.

    (Btw, I was joking about naming the catechesis after you…. )

    Kevin B.

  14. Kevinburt,

    You have a wise, good priest if he knows these things. prayer, worship and moderate fasting are of far more benefit, as is the slowing down of everything. There is such a thing as “a human pace” and it is the pace we move at most naturally. Learning to relax to this pace helps us pray, to eat, to worship, to live attentively.

    Books will mostly convert us to ideas. We need doctrine, and we need to know what we should renounce, but we especially need to know God and our own true selves and this will take time.

  15. Hi Father,

    I’m a recent convert, from conservative Protestantism. I’d like to give you my perspective. Some of the Orthodox writings I came across on the web – mostly of the apologetic variety – I found to be arrogant and sneering. (One also finds this amongst comments!) There is hatred, instead of love and humility. Very off-putting; please don’t use those materials, and moreover renounce their tone! Personally, I think many Protestant beliefs are not crazy; they are misguided, and wrong, but not egregiously intellectually unsound. We are to love even our enemies; and Protestants and Catholics are not our enemies.

    I also reacted against the relentless West-bashing; I think there are better ways to frame distinctions than to preface everything by “well, the WEST is so impossibly misguided blah blah blah … but the EAST!!!!! is blah blah blah.” Is there _nothing_ wrong with Eastern cultures and mindsets? Is there no truth whatsoever to be found amongst Protestant doctrines?

    One of the biggest stumbling blocks for me was chrismation, and the idea that no-one outside of those visibly in the Orthodox church could be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, or attain salvation. Lord have mercy on me, is it not sin to deny the presence of the Holy Spirit when He was obviously at work in, e.g., evangelical Protestant martyrs? (Or in myself, in a life following Christ, albeit as a sinner, prior to joining the Orthodox church.) The Orthodox church, meanwhile, has long lacked the missionary vision it had in days gone by, does not seem particularly concerned about unity in the US, has a problem with nominalism, and there looks to be considerable rot in some of the hierarchy. Where are those who are obeying Christ’s commands? An outsider might easily conclude that he or she must continue looking for the Church. And I have heard that many converts, after an initial honeymoon period, become dejected and leave. Were they told things that were not completely true, so that the gap between reality and what they were led to believe is large?

    On a (perhaps) related note, I was truly blessed by “Common Ground,” which I found much more helpful than the Timothy Ware books. (I also found some Protestant writings helpful, in particular “Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church” by DH Williams. This book clarifies the role of Tradition in the early centuries, arguing against the typical Protestant misunderstanding. Yes it is still Protestant; but still, as a Protestant I found it helpful as I was coming into Orthodoxy.) Some of my biggest concerns were “Does the Orthodox church take Holy Scripture seriously?” and “Does the Orthodox church really take sin seriously?” and a profound misunderstanding of the Orthodox view of atonement, salvation, and the role of the Christian in salvation. Protestants may well misunderstand the Catholic view, but one has to start with those misunderstandings, and agree where agreement can be made, and then disagree “in a good way” when disagreements are there.

    Also, my impression is that there is not complete uniformity of belief about every single thing amongst the Orthodox – in that sense, it is a “big tent.” Things are expressed or described differently, and perhaps even understood slightly differently. (River of Fire comes to mind – some of it I find objectionable, and does not accord with St. Chrysostom’s teachings, for example …) One cannot hold to beliefs inconsistent with Holy Tradition, and I struggle to rid myself of old beliefs and to embrace the teaching of the Church, but Holy Tradition does not pin every single thing down either. And in the end, it is not perfect belief that saves (that is a Western concept, no?) nor official/visible membership in the Orthodox church (and frequent partaking of the sacraments), but rather a life of faith and obedience, walking with our Lord.

    I guess that is more than enough for now. I am sure I am misguided, but hopefully there will be something here which will lead to something of benefit.

    In Christ,

  16. randy,

    These thoughts are very much on the mark. If Orthodox “theology” contains hatred, then it is not Orthodox theology, any more than if an icon contains hatred is it an icon. There are many bad presentations of Orthodoxy on this account. There is no excuse for being mean-spirited about any of these things – even if the one with whom you speak seeks to provoke you. If a person is easily provoked to anger in an argument, they are not spirtually mature enough to undertake such conversations. It’s just that simple. Just because someone “knows” some doctrine doesn’t mean they should be writing about it. But, of course, the internet is an absolutely free zone.

    Good catechesis and apologetics does not need to bash anyone. I hope you’ll check out what I’m working on (it’s on the blog roll now as Catechesis Project) and make comments. Hold me to a standard of kindness and fairness. I don’t want to be otherwise.

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