Many compare the process of joining the Orthodox Church to a courtship. It has the same basic elements. The relationsip begins with a spark of interest that develops into a friendship. It moves forward from there, slowly, one step at a time as you get to know one another.
It's the same with the Church. It's going to be a life-long relationship, a transformation. The Church isn't in a hurry. You shouldn't be either. A relationship as serious as this can't be rushed. The person who decides to enter into a closer "association" with the Church is referred to as an Inquirer or a Seeker. Things move forward from there.
You're just checking it out...no commitment.
Often one's initial encounter with the Orthodox Church takes place in conversations with friends who are Orthodox, or by researching Orthodoxy online, or by accepting an invitation to attend a sacrament like a wedding or a baptism.
Eventually, a person decides to attend a service. With the blessing of God, a more serious phase of inquiry begins to unfold in which the person decides to pursue a relationship with the Church.
This stage of the relationship takes varying lengths of time. Don't be in a hurry. At a minimum, you should allow two or three months. During that time you should attend as many services as you can. That's how we'll become acquainted and get to know one another.
After all, you're trying to answer some very difficult questions, maybe for your family too.
Your relationship with the Church becomes serious.
A catechumen is one who is learning about the faith and preparing to be received into the Orthodox Church, whether from a prior Trinitarian tradition or a non-Christian background.
In ancient times, the period of the catechumenate often lasted between three and five years. The length of time also varies today, depending on the individual and their former religious background. It takes time to put off sin and acquire purity of heart.
As a catechumen, you're viewed by the Church as an Orthodox Christian. Your obedience is to receive instruction, practice faithfulness, attend the services, learn how to pray, participate in fellowship, and build relationships in the parish.
Our Metropolitan directs one to remain a catechumen for at least one year, so as to experience a full liturgical cycle of feasting and fasting. The faith is absorbed through practice. You shouldn't be in a hurry.
The day long-anticipated finally arrives! Newly illumined!
You've been canonically received into the Orthodox Church. You may now participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church. You're free to approach the Holy Chalice and commune of the all-holy Body and precious Blood of Christ.