The transitional stage with ektenias:
of Fervent Intercession, of the Catechumens and their dismissal, and of the Faithful.
The transitional prayers now are said, in the form of several ektenias. An ektenia is a drawn out series of petitions announced by the deacon, to which the laity ought to actively respond. The usual responses are either “Lord have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord”. These ektenias, or litanies, are sometimes shortened, or entirely omitted, depending on the local situation. The first very meaningful act which takes place after the reading of the Gospel is the procession of the prepared bread and wine from the prothesis, through the nave, to the Holy Table. This is accomplished in the Great Entrance, which will be discussed shortly. As mentioned earlier, important liturgical actions need proper preparation. Thus, the ektenias of this transitional section of the liturgy accomplish the proper disposition of the worshippers. We pray for all in the ektenia of fervent supplication (we say “Lord have mercy” now three times after each petition). Unlike the earlier Great Ektenia, we even pray specifically for persons by name, both living and departed. Here, specific names can be supplied to the deacon before the liturgy for mention in prayer. We mention only the names of Orthodox Christians aloud in these ektenias. If the laity wish to exercise their priesthood in behalf of the whole world, each and every one can offer his or her quiet, heartfelt intercessions in behalf of any and all persons. As the deacon will say shortly, “for any and all whom we have in mind.” To this the people affirm, “for any and all!” (In our Antiochian translation, “for all mankind”).
After beseeching God for the catechumens who are preparing to enter the Church, their dismissal marks the formal end of the Liturgy of the Catechumens. In the primitive church, the catechumens were ushered out of the synaxis of the faithful in the nave and the doors from the narthex to the nave were secured. In the beginning, the catechumenate was in a vibrant state of development. Adults came to Christ directly from paganism and thus needed long and thorough instruction in prayer, knowledge of Holy Scripture, and formation in Orthodox Christian ethics. They had to rid themselves of many un- and even anti-Christian habits of thought, speech, and action. After Christianity was officially recognized, and even promoted by the state, the catechumenate fell into abeyance. But now, increasingly in our day and age, when paganism and unbelief flourish in so many places, and where the Christian spiritual and ethical conscience in society-at-large is in such precipitous decline, the adult catechumenate is increasingly being reinstated. Thus, it behooves us to encourage the catechumens, if not to leave, at least to stand piously to the side or to the rear, and to take their time to learn. So, whereas beforehand this litany in behalf of the catechumens was omitted, it now finds new currency as increasing numbers of converts are finding their way home to Orthodoxy. And, all of the faithful can hear in these words a dismissal of all evil thoughts, and an expulsion of every distraction.
Some are embarrassed to hear the diaconal command, “Let all catechumens depart!” Their embarrassment stems from a misunderstanding of the place of the catechumens in the holy Church. They do not yet possess the competency spiritually to share in the synaxis of the faithful. They cannot yet receive the Holy Mysteries and are working on the basic principles of Orthodox Christian life: repentance, baptism, confession of sins, fasting, humility, examination of oneself, obedience to our apostolic order, and the acquisition of Holy Tradition. Let us give them the space to gain these things before thrusting them into full responsibility! I have never catechized anyone who objected to this path of discovery. Once received into the Church, they are most likely never to deny their Lord by defiling their Orthodoxy.
With the dismissal of the catechumens, along with all those “for whom the liturgy is no concern” (dismissal, as said in the Romano-Byzantine liturgy in southern Italy in the first millenium of the Christian era) the synaxis of the faithful proceeds with as little interruption as possible. For now the faithful attend to the serious acts which lie before them: the bringing of the gifts of bread and wine to the Holy Table and the Eucharist itself. As St Justin the philosopher and martyr reports in his 1st Apology (written in the early 2nd century), “then we bring bread and wine to the president of the synaxis.”