I have been reading a couple of ancient catechisms of the Orthodox Church: the Great Catechism of St. Cyril of Jerusalem and the Great Catechism of St. Gregory of Nyssa. Two things in particular struck about these catechisms. The first thing is the division of catechism into two categories: pro-catechesis (instruction before baptism) and mystagogical catechesis (instruction after baptism). The main reason for this division is that in the fourth century the un-baptised were not permitted to learn in detail about the Mysteries of the Faith. The first mystagogical catechism of St. Cyril is on baptism, in which he describes how delighted he is to finally be able to explain more fully what happened to the catechumens in their baptism. While the secrecy of the Sacraments in the fourth century is not relevant to our own day, St. Cyril also states that the reason he waited until baptism to explain the Sacraments is because they would not have been able to understand their meaning before being enlightened. The fact that baptism was not considered the end of catechism is extremely relevant, particularly when considering infant baptism. Unfortunately, infant baptism eventually led to the disappearance of pretty much any kind of significant catechism beyond Sunday school (and even Sunday school is now almost a thing of the past).
The other significant aspect of the ancient catechisms, and especially that of St. Gregory, is that they give a lot of attention to Scripture, but this strong biblical aspect of catechism is far more impressive than telling “bible stories” (Sunday schools have never gone beyond “stories” when it comes to Scripture simply because Sunday school has always been regarded as something that is only for children). While the biblical focus was for the most part the key feature of pro-catechesis (the ancient catechisms were designed for adults), in cases of infant baptism, this too must become a part of post-baptismal catechism.
When I consider these great catechisms of late antiquity, it confirms my belief that our modern catechisms leave much to be desired. In cases of adults, either we expect people to learn everything there is to know before baptism, and nothing afterwards (with all the attention being focused on knowledge); or we simply offer what George Constanza in the famous Latvian Orthodox conversion episode of Seinfeld described as "an express conversion". As for infant baptism, we are at a loss. For the early Church probably depended upon catechised parents and godparents to carry out the task of catechism throughout the child’s early youth (not to mention grounding the child in Orthodox prayer and worship in church and at home). Today, the vast majority of parents and godparents are themselves in need of the same treatment, and many think it is not important, while others do not imagine that there may be a possibility of taking the child when it is a little older to catechism or Sunday school.
While the problem of nominal Orthodox Christians baptising their children to also become nominal Orthodox Christians seems to be almost unsolvable, it would be a start if every church provided catechism for children and adults, both prior to baptism and after baptism. That way, at least those who are interested will know that there is a way for them and their children to learn about the Orthodox Faith if they so wish.