A catechumen is, as my priest has told me, is a member of the Church, just not a "full" member. So in your world view someone who lives a fully Orthodox life and is a catechumen, dies before being chrismated he is the same as a non-believer? Um, no.
A catechumen is a catechumen, and I do not think it is appropriate for a catechumen to say that he or she is an Orthodox Christian, or to refer to a catechumen as an Orthodox Christian, which implies that he or she has already been united to the Church through holy baptism. That being said, it is true that if a person has been made a catechumen formally, yet reposes prior to his or her reception into the Church, then such a person would be given an Orthodox burial as though that person were an Orthodox Christian. How the Church handles such a person after that person’s death is a different matter, however, than how a catechumen who is living should refer to himself prior to being united to the Church.
One question this subject raises, though, is “who exactly is a catechumen?” Is a catechumen someone who has been coming to the Church for a while but is not yet united to the Orthodox Church through baptism? Or, is a catechumen a person over whom an Orthodox priest has prayed the “Prayers for the Making of a Catechumen”? (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/shann/needs.iv.v.html
) If a person has had the “Prayers for the Making of a Catechumen” prayed over him, such a person certainly is a catechumen, yet often people are referred to as such, or refer to themselves as such, who have not had these prayers read over them, nor have they been made a catechumen in any other formal way. In many (most/all?) Orthodox churches, the “Prayers for the Making of a Catechumen” are only said at the time of that person’s reception into the Church, just moments before a person’s baptism/chrismation. What if a person reposes before being formally made a catechumen, and has not had the “Prayers for the Making of a Catechumen” prayed over him? This is obviously a pastoral issue which the person’s priest will have to carefully consider. The priest may give such a person an Orthodox burial, or he may not, depending on different circumstances and the person’s perceived level of commitment and the degree of their desire to be received into the Church. But as long a catechumens are still among the living, and as long as they are still waiting to be united to the Church through holy baptism/chrismation, it is not proper to consider catechumens Orthodox or for them to consider themselves as such.
On a personal note, I knew I wanted to be Orthodox for about 8 yrs prior to finally being received into the Church. During this time, I was hoping and praying that my wife would warm up to Orthodoxy so that she, I, and the children could all be received together. For me, even then, Orthodoxy was the only faith I really agreed with and believed that I could commit to. From that time, as the years went on, I strove to become Orthodox in heart and mind, and about 3 yrs prior to our baptism I began attending Vespers services alone more regularly (I’de go to our Episcopal church with my wife on Sundays), and kept in regular contact with an Orthodox priest. Eventually my wife’s heart did open up (thank God!), and she could no longer bear to watch me suffer as I tried to live this double life (being Orthodox in my beliefs and convictions, and yet not part of the Church), and she finally opened up to leaving our Episcopal church and joining the Orthodox Church. We broke off all ties with our Episcopal church and began exclusively attending the Orthodox church with the intent to eventually be united to the Church, and about seven months later we were baptized. However, while I had been committed to becoming Orthodox for about 8 yrs or so prior to our baptism, I never considered myself an Orthodox Christian until *after* we had been baptized and chrismated. I think this was just as it should be.