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Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe Jesus to be the Son of God and the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. With an estimated 2.3 billion adherents in 2015, Christianity is the world's largest religion. It is the predominant religion in Europe, the Americas, Southern Africa, the Philippines, and Oceania. It is also growing rapidly in Asia, particularly in China and South Korea.

Christianity began as an offshoot of Judaism. Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity is classified as an Abrahamic religion. Its Scriptures include the Hebrew Bible, known as the Old Testament; and the New Testament, which include the Gospels or the books that narrate the life and works of Jesus.

Christianity in the Philippines

A photo of the Cebu City Heritage Monument. The monument depicts the different milestones in Cebuano history, including the introduction of Christianity to the natives. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Britz Somozo)

The Philippines is one of two predominantly Christian countries in Asia (the other being East Timor). As of 2010, 92.2 percent of Filipinos are Christians, with 80.6 percent of them being Roman Catholics. Other Filipino Christians include Protestants such as member-churches of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, and other Protestant churches and denominations (8.2 percent); and other Christians (3.4 percent).

Historical Background

In the 1500s, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in present-day Philippines while sailing under the flag of Spain in search of a western route to the East Indies, the source of the spice trade. He and his men landed on the island of Cebu in the central Philippines.

At this time period, almost nothing was known of the Philippines, and so our sources of information about pre-Hispanic societies in the country date from the early period of Spanish contact. Most Philippine communities, with the exception of the Muslim sultanates in the Sulu archipelago and Mindanao, were fairly small and without a centralized authority. Authority was wielded by a variety of individuals, including 1) headmen, or datu; 2) warriors of great military prowess; and 3) individuals who possessed spiritual power or magical healing abilities.

The absence of a centralized power meant that a small number of Spaniards were able to convert a large number of Filipinos living in politically autonomous units more easily than they could have, say, converted people living in large, organized, complex kingdoms such as those Hinduized or (later) Theravada Buddhist-influenced kingdoms in mainland Southeast Asia and on the island of Java in Indonesia. The Spanish were unsuccessful in converting Muslim Sultanates to Christianity, and in fact warred with Muslim Filipinos throughout their 300 year colonial rule from 1521 to 1898. Nor did they successfully conquer certain highland areas, such the Luzon highlands, where a diverse array of ethno-linguistic groups used their remote, difficult mountainous terrain to successfully avoid colonization.

Magellan's arrival in Cebu represents the first attempt by Spain to convert Filipinos to Roman Catholicism. The story goes that Magellan met with Chief Humabon of the island of Cebu, who had an ill grandson. Magellan (or one of his men) was able to cure or help this young boy, and in gratitude Chief Humabon allowed 800 of his followers to be 'baptized' Christian in a mass baptism. Later, Chief Lapu Lapu of Mactan Island killed Magellan and routed the ill-fated Spanish expedition. This resistance to Western intrusion makes this story an important part of the nationalist history of the Philippines. Many historians have claimed that the Philippines peacefully 'accepted' Spanish rule; the reality is that many insurgencies and rebellions continued on small scales in different places through the Hispanic colonial period.

After Magellan, the Spanish later sent the explorer Legazpi to the Philippines, and he conquered a Muslim Filipino settlement in Manila in 1570. Islam had been present in the southern Philippines since some time between the 10th and 12th century. It slowly spread north throughout the archipelago, particularly in coastal areas.

History and Origins

In the mid-first century, Christianity spread beyond its Jewish origins under the leadership of the Apostles, especially Peter and Paul. Within a generation an episcopal hierarchy can be seen, and this would form the structure of the Church. In 301 Christianity became a state-religion in Armenia being the first country to accept Christianity. Christianity spread east to Asia and throughout the Roman Empire, despite persecution by the Roman Emperors until its legalization by Emperor Constantine in 313. During his reign, questions of orthodoxy lead to the convocation of the first Ecumenical Council, that of Nicaea.

In 391 Theodosius I established Nicene Christianity as the official and, except for Judaism, only legal religion in the Roman Empire. Later, as the political structure of the empire collapsed in the West, the Church assumed political and cultural roles previously held by the Roman aristocracy. Eremitic and Coenobitic monasticism developed, originating with the hermit St. Anthony of Egypt around 300. With the avowed purpose of fleeing the world and its evils in contemptu mundi, the institution of monasticism would become a central part of the medieval world.

Christianity became the established church of the Axumite Kingdom (presently encompassing Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia) under king Ezana in the 4th century through the efforts of a Syrian Greek named Frumentius, known in Ethiopia as Abba Selama, Kesaté Birhan ("Father of Peace, Revealer of Light"), thus making Ethiopia one of the first Christian state even before most of Europe. As a young man, Frumentius had been shipwrecked with his brother Aedesius on the Eritrean coast. The brothers managed to be brought to the royal court, where they rose to positions of influence and converted Emperor Ezana to Christianity, causing him to be baptized. Ezana sent Frumentius to Alexandria to ask the Patriarch, St. Athanasius, to appoint a bishop for Ethiopia. Athanasius appointed Frumentius himself, who returned to Ethiopia as Bishop with the name of Abune Selama.

During the Migration Period of Late Antiquity, various Germanic peoples adopted Christianity. Meanwhile, as western political unity dissolved, the linguistic divide of the Empire between Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East intensified. By the Middle Ages distinct forms of Latin and Greek Christianity increasingly separated until cultural differences and disciplinary disputes finally resulted in the Great Schism (conventionally dated to 1054), which formally divided Christendom into the Catholic west and the Orthodox east. Western Christianity in the Middle Ages was characterized by cooperation and conflict between the secular rulers and the Church under the Pope, and by the development of scholastic theology and philosophy.

Beginning in the 7th century, Muslim rulers began a long series of military conquests of Christian areas, and it quickly conquered areas of the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa, and even captured southern Spain. Numerous military struggles followed, including the Crusades, the Spanish Reconquista, the Fall of Constantinople and the aggression of the Turks.

Martin Luther

In the early sixteenth century, increasing discontent with corruption and immorality among the clergy resulted in attempts to reform the Church and society. The Protestant Reformation began after Martin Luther published his 95 theses in 1517, whilst the Roman Catholic Church experienced internal renewal with the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent (1545-1563). During the following centuries, competition between Catholicism and Protestantism became deeply entangled with political struggles among European states. Meanwhile, partly from missionary zeal, but also under the impetus of colonial expansion by the European powers, Christianity spread to the Americas, Oceania, East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.

In the Modern Era, Christianity was confronted with various forms of skepticism and with certain modern political ideologies such as liberalism, nationalism, and socialism. This included the anti-clericalism of the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and general hostility of Marxist movements, especially the Russian Revolution.


Christians have frequently suffered from persecution. Starting with Jesus, the early Christian church was persecuted by state and religious establishments from its earliest beginnings. Notable early Christians such as Stephen, eleven of the Apostles as well as Paul died as martyrs according to tradition. Systematic Roman persecution of Christians culminated in the Great Persecution of Diocletian and ended with the Edict of Milan. Persecution of Christians persisted or even intensified in other places, such as in Sassanid Persia. Later Christians living in Islamic countries were subjected to various legal restrictions, which included taxation and a ban on building or repairing churches. Christians at times also suffered violent persecution or confiscation of their property.

There was persecution of Christians during the French Revolution. State restrictions on Christian practices today are generally associated with those authoritarian governments which either support a majority religion other than Christianity (as in Muslim states), or tolerate only churches under government supervision, sometimes while officially promoting state atheism (as in North Korea). The People's Republic of China allows only government-regulated churches and has regularly suppressed house churches and underground Catholics. The public practice of Christianity is outlawed in Saudi Arabia. Areas of persecution include other parts of the Middle East, Sudan, and Kosovo.

Christians have also been perpetrators of persecution against other religions and other Christians. Christian mobs, sometimes with government support, destroyed pagan temples and oppressed adherents of paganism (such as the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, who was murdered by a Christian mob). Also, Jewish communities have periodically suffered violence at Christian hands. Christian governments have suppressed or persecuted groups seen as heretical, later in cooperation with the Inquisition. Denominational strife escalated into religious wars. Witch hunts, carried out by secular authorities or popular mobs, were a frequent phenomenon in parts of early modern Europe and, to a lesser degree, North America.

Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator), a 6th-century icon from Saint Catherine's Monastery in Mount Sinai. The icon, which depicts Christ having two facial characteristics, may represent his dual nature as both God and man. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/St. Catherine's Monastery/St.nerol)


Although Christianity has always had a significant diversity of belief, most Christians share a common set of doctrines that they hold as essential to their faith, which include:

Jesus Christ

As indicated by the name "Christianity", the focus of Christian theology is a belief in Jesus as the Messiah or Christ. The title "Messiah" comes from the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (māšiáħ) meaning anointed one. The Greek translation Χριστός (Christos) is the source of the English word Christ.

Christians believe that, as the Messiah, Jesus was anointed as ruler and savior of humanity, and hold that Jesus' coming was the fulfilment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The Christian concept of the Messiah differs significantly from the contemporary Jewish concept. The core Christian belief is that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans are reconciled to God and thereby attain salvation and the promise of eternal life.

While there have been theological disputes over the nature of Jesus, most Christians believe that Jesus is God incarnate and "true God and true man" (or both fully divine and fully human). Jesus, having become fully human in all respects, including the aspect of mortality, suffered the pains and temptations of a mortal man, yet he did not sin. As fully God, he defeated death and rose to life again. According to the Bible, "God raised him from the dead", he ascended to heaven, to the "right hand of God", and he will return again to fulfil the rest of Messianic prophecy such as the Resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment and establishment of the Kingdom of God.

According to the Gospels, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary. Little of Jesus' childhood is recorded in the Gospels compared to his adulthood, especially the week before his death. The Biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry include his baptism, miracles, teachings and deeds.

Death and Resurrection of Jesus

Most Christians consider the death of Jesus, followed by his resurrection, the cornerstone of their faith and the most important event in history.

According to the Gospels, Jesus and his followers went to Jerusalem the week of the Passover where they were eagerly greeted by a crowd. In Jerusalem, Jesus cleansed the Temple, and predicted its destruction - heightening conflict with the Jewish authorities who were plotting his death.

After sharing his last meal with his disciples, Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane where he was betrayed by his disciple Judas Iscariot and arrested by the temple guard on orders from the Sanhedrin and the high priest Caiaphas. Jesus was convicted by the Sanhedrin of blasphemy and transferred to the Roman governor Pilate, who had him crucified for inciting rebellion. Jesus died by late afternoon and was entombed.

Christians believe that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day, that Jesus appeared to his apostles and other disciples, commissioned his disciples to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son (Jesus) and of the Holy Spirit." and ascended to heaven. Christians also believe that God sent the disciples the Holy Spirit (or Paraclete).

The purpose of this death and resurrection is described in various doctrines of atonement. Some see Jesus as a Sacrifice or substitutionary atonement made to purify humanity like many other sacrifices described in the Old Testament. Others see Jesus' dying and suffering on the cross as a sign and demonstration from God that he was willing to endure the sin and punishment because of his agape (parental, self-sacrificing) love for humanity. In another interpretation of Jesus' death and resurrection, The Book of John compares the crucifixion of Jesus to the lifting up of the Nehushtan (brass serpent) saying that "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:14-16)


Christians believe salvation is a gift by unmerited grace of God, who sent Jesus as the savior. Christians believe that through faith in Jesus one can be saved from sin and spiritual death. The crucifixion of Jesus is explained as an atoning sacrifice, which, in the words of the Gospel of John, "takes away the sins of the world". Reception of salvation is related to justification.

The operation and effects of grace are understood differently by different traditions. Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy teach the necessity of the free will to cooperate with grace. Reformed theology places distinctive emphasis on grace by teaching that mankind is completely incapable of self-redemption, but the grace of God overcomes even the unwilling heart.

The Trinity

Most Christians believe that God is spirit (John 4:24), an uncreated, omnipotent and eternal being, the creator and sustainer of all things, who works the redemption of the world through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Against this background, belief in the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit was expressed as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which describes the single Divine substance existing as three distinct and inseparable persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ the eternal Word), and the Holy Spirit. According to the doctrine, God is not divided in the sense that each person has a third of the whole; rather, each person is considered to be fully God (see Perichoresis). The distinction lies in their relations, the Father being unbegotten, the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding. "Begotten", in these formulae, refers to the idea that Jesus was uncreated and "eternally begotten" of the Father.

Christians of Reformed theology also conceive of salvation as one work of the triune God, in which "the three divine persons act together as one, and manifest their own proper characteristics" with the agency of the Holy Spirit as an essential element."

Trinitarian Christians trace the orthodox formula of the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — back to the resurrected Jesus himself, who used this phrase in Matthew 28:16-20 or the Great Commission.

Most Christians believe the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, and that his active participation in a believer's life (even to the extent of "indwelling" within the believer), joining the believer's free actions with his own, is essential to living a Christian life. In Catholic, Orthodox, and some Anglican theology, this indwelling is received through the sacrament called Confirmation or, in the East, Chrismation. Most Protestant traditions teach that the gift of the Holy Spirit is symbolized by baptism; however some (Baptists and comparable groups) do not attribute any sacramental significance to baptism. Pentecostal and Charismatic Protestants believe the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a distinct experience separate from other experiences like conversion or water baptism, and many Pentecostals believe it will always—or at least usually—be evident through glossolalia (speaking in tongues)


In antiquity, and again following the Reformation, several sects advocated views contrary to the Trinity. These views were rejected by many bishops such as Irenaeus and subsequently by the Ecumenical Councils. During the Reformation, though most Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants accepted the value of many of the Councils, some groups rejected these councils as spiritually tainted. Clemens Ziegler, Casper Schwenckfeld, and Melchior Hoffman advanced the view that Christ was only divine and not human. Michael Servetus denied the divinity of Christ, as did others who were tried at Augsburg in 1527.

Modalists, such as Oneness Pentecostals, regard God as a single person, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit considered modes or roles by which the unipersonal God expresses himself.

Latter-day Saints accept the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but deny that they are the same being, believing them to be separate beings united only in will and purpose. (see Godhead)

Present-day groups who do not consider Jesus to be God include Unitarians, descendants of Reformation-era Socinians, and Jehovah's Witnesses.


Christianity regards the Bible, a collection of canonical books in two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament, as authoritative: written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and therefore the inerrant Word of God. Protestants believe that the scriptures contain all revealed truth necessary for salvation (See Sola scriptura).

The Old Testament contains the entire Jewish Tanakh, though in the Christian canon the books are ordered differently and some books of the Tanakh are divided into several books by the Christian canon. The Catholic and Orthodox canons include the Hebrew Jewish canon and other books (from the Septuagint Greek Jewish canon) which Catholics call Deuterocanonical, while Protestants consider them Apocrypha.

The first four books of the New Testament are the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), which recount the life and teachings of Jesus. The first three are often called synoptic because of the amount of material they share. The rest of the New Testament consists of a sequel to Luke's Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, which describes the very early history of the Church, a collection of letters from early Christian leaders to congregations or individuals, the Pauline and General epistles, and the apocalyptic Book of Revelation.

Some traditions maintain other canons. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church maintains two canons, the Narrow Canon, itself larger than any Biblical canon outside Ethiopia, and the Broad Canon, which has even more books. The Latter-day Saints hold the Bible and three additional books to be the inspired word of God: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.


Creeds, or concise doctrinal statements, began as baptismal formulas and were later expanded during the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries. The earliest creeds still in common use are the Apostles' Creed (text in Latin and Greek, with English translations) and Paul's creed of 1 Cor 15:1-9.

The Nicene Creed, largely a response to Arianism, was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively, and ratified as the universal creed of Christendom by the Council of Ephesus in 431.

The Chalcedonian Creed, developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, (though not accepted by the Oriental Orthodox Churches) taught Christ "to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably": one divine and one human, that both natures are perfect but are nevertheless perfectly united into one person.

The Athanasian Creed, received in the western Church as having the same status as the Nicene and Chalcedonian, says: "We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons not dividing the Substance."

Most Protestants accept the Creeds. Some Protestant traditions believe Trinitarian doctrine without making use of the Creeds themselves, while other Protestants, like the Restoration Movement, oppose the use of creeds.

Afterlife and Eschaton

Most Christians believe that upon the death of the body, the individual soul, which is considered to be immortal, experiences the particular judgment and is either rewarded with heaven or condemned to hell. The elect are called "saints" (Latin sanctus: "holy") and the process of being made holy is called sanctification. In Catholicism, those who die in a state of grace but with either unforgiven venial sins or incomplete penance undergo purification in purgatory to achieve the holiness necessary for entrance into heaven.

At the last coming of Christ, the eschaton or end of time, all who have died will be resurrected bodily from the dead for the Last Judgement, whereupon Jesus will fully establish the Kingdom of God in fulfillment of scriptural prophecies.

Some groups do not distinguish a particular judgment from the general judgment at the end of time, teaching instead that souls remain in stasis until this time (see Soul sleep). These groups, and others that do not believe in the intercession of saints, generally do not employ the word "saint" to describe those in heaven. Universalists hold that eventually all will experience salvation, thereby rejecting the concept of an eternal hell for those who are not saved.

Worship and Practices

Christian Life

Christians believe that all people should strive to follow Christ in their everyday actions. For many, this includes obedience to the Ten Commandments. For other individuals, they see the old law has been "done away with" and replaced with the New covenant. Jesus taught that the greatest commandments were to: "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength", and to "love your neighbor as yourself."

This love includes such injunctions as "feed the hungry" and "shelter the homeless", and applies to friend and enemy alike. Though the relationship between charity and religious practice are sometimes taken for granted today, as Martin Goodman has observed, "charity in the Jewish and Christian sense was unknown to the pagan world."

Other Christian practices include acts of piety such as prayer and Bible reading.

Christianity teaches that one can only overcome sin through divine grace: moral and spiritual progress can only occur with God's help through the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the believer. Christians believe that by sharing in Christ's life, death, and resurrection, and by believing in Christ, they become dead to sin and are resurrected to a new life with Him.

Christian Love (Agape)

'Agapē' (IPA: [ɑˈgɑ.pε] or IPA: [ˈɑgɑˌpε]) (Gk. αγάπη [aˈɣa.pi]), is one of several Greek words translated into English as love. The word has been used in different ways by a variety of contemporary and ancient sources, including Biblical authors. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love. Greek philosophers at the time of Plato and other ancient authors used the term to denote love of a spouse or family, or affection for a particular activity, in contrast to philia — an affection that could denote either brotherhood or generally non-sexual affection, and eros, an affection of a sexual nature, usually between two unequal partners. The term agape is rarely used in ancient manuscripts, but was used by the early Christians to refer to the self-sacrificing love of God for humanity, which they were committed to reciprocating and practicing towards God and among one another.

Agape has been expounded on by many Christian writers in a specifically Christian context. Thomas Jay Oord has defined agape as "an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being."

Agape received a broader usage under later Christian writers as the word that specifically denoted "Christian" love or "charity" (1Corinthians 13:1–8), or even God himself (1 John 4:8, Theos ein agape, "God is Love"). The New Testament provides a number of definitions and examples of agape that generally expand on the meanings used in ancient texts, denoting brotherly love, love of one's spouse or children, and the love of God for all people.

The Christian usage of the term agape comes directly from the canonical Gospels' account of the teachings of Jesus. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus said, "'Love (agape) the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love (agape) your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-41)

At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said, 'Love (agape) your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love (agape) your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?

Christian writers have generally described agape, as expounded on by Jesus, as a form of love which is both unconditional and voluntary; that is, it is non-discriminating, has no pre-conditions, and is something that one decides to do. Saint Paul described love as follows: "Love (agape) is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1Corinthians 13:4-8a). Tertullian, in his 2nd century defense of Christians remarks how Christian love attracted pagan notice: "What marks us in the eyes of our enemies is our loving kindness. 'Only look' they say, 'look how they love one another'" (Apology 39).

Liturgical worship

Justin Martyr described second century Christian liturgy in his First Apology (c. 150) to Emperor Antoninus Pius, and his description remains relevant to the basic structure of Christian liturgical worship:

"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need."

Thus, as Justin described, Christians assemble for communal worship on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, though other liturgical practices often occur outside this setting. Scripture readings are drawn from the Old and New Testaments, but especially the Gospels. Often these are arranged on an annual cycle, using a book called a lectionary. Instruction is given based on these readings, called a sermon, or homily. There are a variety of congregational prayers, including thanksgiving, confession, and intercession, which occur throughout the service and take a variety of forms including recited, responsive, silent, or sung. The Lord's Prayer, or Our Father, is regularly prayed. The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper) consists of a ritual meal of consecrated bread and wine, discussed in detail below. Lastly, a collection occurs in which the congregation donates money for the support of the Church and for charitable work.

Some groups depart from this traditional liturgical structure. A division is often made between "High" church services, characterized by greater solemnity and ritual, and "Low" services, but even within these two categories there is great diversity in forms of worship. Seventh-day Adventists meet on Saturday (the original Sabbath), while others do not meet on a weekly basis. Charismatic or Pentecostal congregations may spontaneously feel led by the Holy Spirit to action rather than follow a formal order of service, including spontaneous prayer. Quakers sit quietly until moved by the Holy Spirit to speak. Some Evangelical services resemble concerts with rock and pop music, dancing, and use of multimedia. For groups which do not recognize a priesthood distinct from ordinary believers the services are generally lead by a minister, preacher, or pastor. Still others may lack any formal leaders, either in principle or by local necessity. Some churches use only a cappella music, either on principle (e.g. many Churches of Christ object to the use of instruments in worship) or by tradition (as in Orthodoxy).

Worship can be varied for special events like baptisms or weddings in the service or significant feast days. In the early church Christians and those yet to complete initiation would separate for the Eucharistic part of the worship. In many churches today, adults and children will separate for all or some of the service to receive age-appropriate teaching. Such children's worship is often called Sunday school or Sabbath school (Sunday schools are sometimes held before rather than during services).


A sacrament is a Christian rite that is an outward sign of an inward grace, instituted by Christ to sanctify humanity. Catholic, Orthodox, and some Anglican Christians describe worship in terms of seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, Eucharist (communion), Penance (reconciliation), Anointing of the Sick (last rites), Holy Orders (ordination), and Matrimony. Many Protestant groups, following Martin Luther, recognize the sacramental nature of baptism and Eucharist, but not usually the other five in the same way, while other Protestant groups reject sacramental theology. Latter-day saint worship emphasizes the symbolic role of rites, calling some ordinances. Though not sacraments, Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Holiness Churches emphasize "gifts of the Spirit" such as spiritual healing, prophecy, exorcism, glossolalia (speaking in tongues), and laying on of hands where God's grace is mysteriously manifest.


A Catholic priest celebrating a Holy Mass at the Nuestra Señora de la Merced Parish Church in Candaba, Pampanga, Philippines. Many of the liturgical traditions of Christian churches such as the Catholic Church are rooted in Jewish and early Christian practices. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Judgefloro)

The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper) is the part of liturgical worship that consists of a consecrated meal, usually bread and wine. Justin Martyr described the Eucharist as follows:

"And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh."

Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and many Anglicans believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ (the doctrine of the Real Presence). Most other Protestants, especially Reformed, believe the bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ. These Protestants may celebrate it less frequently, while in Catholicism the Eucharist is celebrated daily. Catholic and Orthodox view communion as indicating those who are already united in the church, restricting participation to their members not in a state of mortal sin. In some Protestant churches participation is by prior arrangement with a church leader. Other churches view communion as a means to unity, rather than an end, and invite all Christians or even anyone to participate.


Today the best-known Christian symbol is the cross, which refers to the method of Jesus' execution. Several varieties exist, with some denominations tending to favor distinctive styles: Catholics the crucifix, Orthodox the crux orthodoxa, and Protestants an unadorned cross. An earlier Christian symbol was the 'ichthys' fish (Greek Alpha - α) symbol and anagram. Other text based symbols are Greek abbreviations for Jesus Christ, originally with superlineation, to include IHC and ICXC and chi-rho (the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek). In the Greek alphabet, the Chi-Rho appears like an X (Chi - χ) with a large P (Rho - ρ) overlaid and above it. It is said Constantine saw this symbol prior to converting to Christianity (see History and origins section below). The variation IHS of the nomina sacra is latinized Greek representing the first three letters of the Latin name, Iesus. Another ancient symbol is an anchor, which denotes faith and can incorporate a cross within its design.

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