In the last post, I offered some thoughts on the Liturgy of the Catechumens. Since there were several questions regarding the dismissal of the catechumens (as said nowadays, “let all of the catechumens depart! Depart, ye catechumens; let none of the catechumens remain!”), which concludes that section of the Divine Liturgy, this post addresses that issue.
The Christian Liturgy, in all of its forms, ancient and modern, East and West, includes a vocal dismissal of catechumens (and others). This invitation to leave the nave of the church is issued in a loud voice by the deacon as he stands on the soleas (the slightly raised area extending out from the templon, or iconostasis, where most of the proclamatory acts of worship take place). In antiquity, the dismissal was significantly longer: not only catechumens, but also heretics (many by name!), Jews, pagans, and then a general one: “cuius non cura est, procedat!” (He who has no business here, depart!). The exact language differed a bit from one liturgy to another, but the principle of dismissing those not worthy to participate in the Eucharist was firmly established from the earliest times. Later, before even the end of the first millenium, the Orthodox Church did not get rid of this, even when the catechumenate faded (everyone was a Christian from their earliest years; adult baptisms became quite rare). So, the habit was maintained in preserving a high spiritual climate in the Eucharist.
Nowadays, we faithful may best hear this dismissal as a reminder of the solemnity of the spiritual ministry we are embarking on in the Eucharist! We can take the dismissal issued by the deacon as a clarion call to rise to a high spiritual state and to dismiss from ourselves every evil thought and unworthy distraction.
But, also, it seems fitting in our day when many people come into the Orthodox churches to learn, that they should have a clear reminder that what follows this dismissal is really beyond their competence to share. They have not (yet, for some) entered into the same level of spiritual preparedness, so the dismissal tells them that although they need not physically remove themselves from the nave of the church, they should be aware that they are not yet initiated into the holy ministry we have together.
In some classically laid out Orthodox church temples, the narthex is much larger and becomes a functional place of worship. In such temples, the junction-point of narthex and nave can be a series of columns or a low wall with icons and the baptisterion conjoining both. The catechumens and inquirers (classically called “auditores” or “akroomenoi“–hearers) could take their place in this area of the church and still participate according to their status.
It may interest many to know that in most monasteries the catechumens are REALLY ushered from the nave, before the Liturgy continues on into the eucharist (the Liturgy of the Faithful).