Yes, but this was because there were other reasons; people did not have access to reading materials about the faith, or they could not read. So the materail could only be taught one on one.
Not quite. The lengthy catechumate had to do with, frankly, more rigor being taken in the preparation of catechumen for their Baptism. While it is a matter of the Church's economia
to be increasingly lenient in this regard, it has a trade-off; people are very often reaching the Baptismal font incapable
(by lack of preparation/personal-disposition) to get the "full benefit" of the Holy Mystery (or at least a fuller
benefit, if that makes any sense.)
If one thing can be said about western Christianity (particularly Roman Catholicism, since it's closer to the "Orthodox root" so to speak, where as the various Protestantisms are spin offs of this), it is that it is a reduction
of Orthodox Christianity. Thus, it's got a lot of the basics right - the ideas of priesthood, sacraments, etc. But
these are all understood only in a narrow, superficial way. This is where the legalism comes from - legalism is the interpretation of reality minus substance... our idea of how all of these things ought to be, rather than the reality of them, and splitting hairs and coming to all sorts of rationalizations.
A proximate danger of the various expressions of leniency in the Church's economia (which literally refers to Her authority to "govern the household"), whether it be in regards to the manner of receiving converts from heterodox sects, or in things like the catechumate itself (or the many other examples one could perhaps think of), is that worldliness enters into the thinking of the Church's members, or that spiritual understanding which is only possible through struggle and experience is replaced by "book learning" (which of itself isn't always a bad start) or worse yet, rationalism
A big problem right now, is that the Church's "lightening of the burden" so to speak, is being thoroughly confused by many souls (including those in pastoral-type positions, or at least in positions where people place some creedence in what they say, like professors at seminaries or theological institutes) with "the reality", and is being given a sort of ontological/rational that it does not in fact merit. This is a process I'm now convinced is older than the "ecumenical movement" as we know it, and is one of the bitter fruits of the "western captivity" that many contemporary Orthodox scholars (and better yet, men of sanctity) speak of.
IOW, there is a price to be paid for the "lightening of the burden" - but the price is
paid, because a prudential judgement has been made that more will be saved through such leniency...in other words, there is a greater good at work, or perhaps a lesser evil (depending on how one looks at it.) We're a faithless bunch - I don't know if many of us would be willing to not only stick out a three year catechumate, but to be involved in one as complete as it was in the past (where one was expected to live near the Bishop, attend services throughout the week, even daily, etc.) But obviously there were those who did.
Thus, one can make the catechumate not only brief, but of almost no consequence - read a few books, get Baptized/Chrismated. One can put pews in the Church (because people are lazy, and we'd rather keep them in the Church than have them grumble and be scandlized.) You can truncate services, for the same reason. You can make the clergy look identical to their Protestant and Roman Catholic neighbours. You can make all possible exceptions for fasting (civil holidays, family events, etc.) You can change the ecclessiastical calendar. The list goes on and on. But at a certain point, it's worth asking "what exactly is left"? I guess this is the logic/linguistic problem, of just when a "big" pile of sand becomes a "small one", if one is removing one grain of sand at a time (is it at ten grains subtracted? 100? 101? 102?) There is no legalistic answer
for this I suppose.
(sorry for rambling Tom...I know this goes well beyond what you in fact said)