I can understand your feelings, because we're pretty much on the same boat; both from Roman Catholic backgrounds, both enrolled in the catechumate, and neither with any "serve by" date as to when we would be illumined.
Something that's been helpful for me, is to do some genuine "spiritual reading" (as opposed to simply reading apologetical/polemical type materials). I've become particularly fond of the writings of Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos, of Nafpaktos), as I think they get to the heart of what the spiritual life "is", and in metaphors that I think are useful to modern western aspirants to the spiritual life.
Metropolitan Hierotheos' big point, is that Orthodoxy is fundamentally not just
sacramental, but is equally ascetical
. In fact, without the two, one has an incomplete methodology for curing the souls of fallen human beings (ex. me and you.) Thus, while he lauds the emphasis upon frequent communion (which you'll find being preached about in many Churches now), he cautions that this must
be conditional - the condition being that it is wedded with whole hearted adherance to the spiritual struggle, which would include spiritual guidance and regular confession.
If you have the opportunity, I'd highly
recommend two books of his - The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition
, and Entering the Orthodox Church - the Catechism and Baptism of Adults
, preferably read in the order I've listed them (as I found there are things in the latter which are explained in the former). Both are published by Birth of the Theotokos Monastery
, and there is information at the website about ordering (while I don't see the "Entering the Orthodox Church..." book listed on the website, I'm sure following the ordering information there would allow you to get information on how to obtain it.)
One thing that becomes quite clear in The Illness and Cure of the Soul...
is that fundamentally, Orthodox Christianity is therapeutic in it's treatment of the human soul; curing it's spiritual blindness, transforming it's passions (which are described as "fallen energies" of the soul; not inherently bad, but horribly deformed by default in fallen men), and thus making the soul something capable of being a receptical for the Holy Spirit and the fullness of His Grace. Orthodoxy is not a "moralistic" religion, in the sense that it is not pre-occupied with ethics as an end in themselves - rather, moral, obedient behaviour is a pre-condition to correcting what is wrong with us and restoring our relationship both with God and our neighbour, which has been shattered by the fall and by our own sins.
In Entering the Orthodox Church...
, what becomes clear as well, is just what the purpose of sacramental life is, and just how crucial
proper preparation for it is to actually benefiting. The idea that we can just approach the sacraments and "get something" out of them, without proper preparation is quite mistaken - if anything, such an approach will only guarantee that we'll be receiving them to our condemnation. This includes the sacrament of Baptism, or for those being received into the Church by economia, Chrismation, in which it is understood whatever may have been absent in one's heterodox baptism is being bestowed. The catechumate is a very important time of preparation. It's not simply a "holding pattern" for wannabe's, or simply a means of proving you're serious and that you won't simply bail once you've been illumined (though, that is a part of it obviously; though only a part
). Rather, it's a time to prepare for the reception of the grace of rebirth.
We're prone these days to throw terms around very casually, or to read the Holy Scriptures and the lives of those earliest of Christians with some confusion. For example, we think the term "illumination" as refering to the Mysteries of Initiation, is more or less a "pretty" or "nice" set of terminology, or only refers to something totally inperceptable to us. We also wonder why the word "Saint" was so casually thrown around by the Holy Apostles to refer to believers - we figure they must have meant something far less by it than we tend to these days (since we tend to only refer to "exceptional" figures as "Saints" - like St.John of Shanghai, or St.Tikhon, or St.Elizabeth the New Martyr, etc.). The truth however, is that none of this is true. Generally, the typical early Christian was
much holier than what we now see, and there were real "Saints" all over the place (or at least people extremely advanced in the spiritual life were quite common, by our lowly modern standards), hence why the term was used so "casually" in the earliest period. Also, Holy Baptism really was "illumination" in that period, precisely because it was received with such careful guidance and preparation.
One thing that's very important, is to crucify your mind and get all of the (heterodox) "Latin learning" out of your head. I still have a lot of problems with this. Why do I say this? Because there is a tendency in the "Latin tradition" (as it's been distorted and come down to us today) to view everything outside of "receiving the sacraments" as a big waste of time, or at least as not being really that
important. Also, there is an overly mechanistic/legalistic way of phrasing and conceptualizing things which is also unhelpful, and tends to make us think that the struggling work of sinners who are preparing to be received (or received back into, in the case of Orthodox penitents) the sacramental life of the Church is also somehow a "waste of time", because such people by Latin lights would not be quote "in the state of grace." As I'm sure every "conservatively catechized" former Roman Catholic here knows, only things done "in the state of grace" are actually "meritorious" or really of any worth - those who are not in the quote "state of grace" are "dead members" and incapable of doing quote "supernatural works", etc. This whole way of thinking is misguided, and not Orthodox. It also operates on an understanding of grace as a created series of static "states" and "habits" or creaturely helps which is not Orthodox, and makes incomprehensible anything the Fathers had to say about the spiritual struggle (and that includes the great western Fathers as well, like St.Ambrose or St.John Cassian.)
Strictly speaking, if you're a catechuman, you are already a "Christian" by the lights of the Church. You're status is not "nothing". Rather, this is a very important time for us, one which we should make the most of, so that we will approach our "illumination" properly disposed - going down into the waters confessing our sins, actually sorry
for our sins (which is much harder to do than it appears on the surface), and not in any wise liars or duplicitous when we say that we reject the devil and his works - words which roll much easier off the lips than they manifest themselves in our secret thoughts and the way we actually live our lives.
I'd like to finish by saying none of this is my own wisdom - I'm only repeating what I've been told one way or another by Orthodox Christian shepherds and pastors of souls I've come to trust, things which were quite in spite of my previous way of thinking. In fact in all of this is quite an implicit rejection of many of the assumptions (aka. baggage
) I was still carrying with me when I first approached the parish Priest about becoming an Orthodox Christian, in spite of my good intentions.
I'm just getting tired of this. I'm tried of going to all of these services and still being on the outside.
So I guess that's the big thing - you're not on the "outside". You're in the front door. Actually this is one of the downsides of the Church (for good reasons on the whole, when all is said and done) not being quite as "strict" in it's discipline in most cases as it once would have been - as I think those strict disciplines are illustrative of some realities that are perhaps otherwise obscured. Catechumen would have been dismissed before the Holy Sacrifice (still reflected in the Liturgy to this day, but rarely enforced), true - but put in perspective, there are many types of penitents who would not be allowed into the Church proper at all
depending on what their sin was.