Thursday, December 4, 2008

UNDERSTANDING CHRISTIANITY


Christianity is the largest religion in the world having an approximate population of over 2 billion followers largely concentrated in North and South America, Europe, parts of Asia especially in the Russian Federation, in Australia, and in many localities of Africa. Christianity is classified as an Abrahamic religion just like Islam and Judaism. Beginning as a Jewish sect in the Eastern Mediterranean, it quickly grew in size and influence by the 4th century due to the influence of the Roman Empire. The Roman Catholic Church or the Catholic Church is the largest church in Christianity, has one-sixth of the world’s population, and represents over half of all Christians. Comprising 2782 dioceses that include Latin rites and Eastern rites, the Catholic Church is currently headed by Pope Benedict XVI who is the highest authority in matters of faith, church governance, and morality.

The headquarters of the Catholic Church is in the Vatican within the City of Rome in Italy. Measuring approximately 44 hectares (110 acres) and with an estimated population of 800, the State of the Vatican City is a landlocked sovereign city-state consisting of a walled enclave that came into existence only in 1929. The Pope is ex-officio and head of state and head of government. The Pope, who is technically an absolute monarch, has legislative, executive, and judicial power over the Vatican. In Italian, the State of the Vatican City is known as Stato Della Città Del Vaticano. The Vatican City is clearly distinct from the Roman Catholic Church known as the Holy See. The administrative apparatus of the Holy See is called the Roman Curia consisting of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Since the Holy See dates back to early Christianity, it should not be confused with the Vatican City which came into existence in 1929.

The second largest Christian communion is the Eastern Orthodox Church after Roman Catholic. Most of the adherents of this church are concentrated in Greece, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Macedonia (part of former Yugoslavia), Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Russia. Some adherents may also be found in Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Lebanon. There are some traces in Africa, Australia, North America, Asia, and South America. Orthodox Christians believe in a God who is both three and triune.

On the other hand, the Church of England is the officially established Christian Church of England which is considered to be Catholic and also Reformed. It is reformed because it was influenced by the doctrinal principles of the Protestant reformation of the 16th century. Queen Elizabeth II of England holds the constitutional title of “Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” The oldest see was founded in England by St. Augustine of Canterbury in the year 597 and the current Archbishop is Rowan Williams who is 104th in a line that stretches back to 104 years.

Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism since the earliest Christians were Jews or Jewish Proselytes. Jesus Christ of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem to the Virgin Mary-a Jewish resident of Nazareth in Galilee. Conceiving by the agency of the Holy Spirit while she was already betrothed to Joseph of the House of David, Mary’s most common titles include “The Blessed Virgin Mary” (also abbreviated to BVM), “Our Lady”, “Mother of God”, and “Queen of Heaven.” In the Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus to address the teachings of Nestorius in 431 BC, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Anglican Church, and all Eastern Catholic Churches refer to Mary as “Theotokos”, literally meaning “Godbearer” and more common in Latin as ‘Mater Dei”. Because Jesus was regarded as ‘King of Kings” and because of His lineage of King David, Mary was known as “Queen Mother” in early Christianity.

The birth of Jesus Christ is known as the Nativity of Jesus or simply the Nativity and is an account of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels and in the apocryphal accounts. The re-enactment of the Nativity often seen in Christmas celebrations signifies Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ is revered by most Christian churches as the Son of God and the reincarnation of God. Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. The Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost is one spirit of God thought acting in concert with and sharing an essential nature with God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ).

In Trinitarian theology, the Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as the ‘Third Person” of the Triune God with the Father being the First Person and the Son the Second Person. Early Christianity is defined as the period between the crucifixion of Jesus (c. 30) and The First Council of Nicaea (325). The genealogical accounts of Jesus Christ are documented in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke though substantially different with contemporary scholars viewing them as theological constructs. Jesus Christ has been recorded as having miraculous healing powers such as cleansing of the leper, healing of a paralytic, curing of Simon’s mother-in-law; he was brought many possessed by the devil and some suffering from various diseases, and was credited with going to the synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee. (Mark)

The First Council of Nicaea was held in Nicaea in Bithynia in present-day Turkey under the command of Constantine the Great. With the exception of Britain, approximately 250 to 318 Bishops attended including Alexander of Alexandria and Eustathius of Antioch while Macarius of Jerusalem and Sylvester 1, Bishop of Rome, sent legates. Other participants included church historian Eusebius of Caesarea while Athanasius of Alexandria who was best known for his battles against Arianism, attended as a Deacon.

Jesus had twelve Apostles namely: Peter, James son of Zebedee, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus (identified with Jude), Simon the zealot, and Judas Iscariot. These disciples were chosen, trained, and named by Jesus of Nazareth so they could spread the “good news” and establish the Christian church by evangelism.

Of the twelve apostles, one among them called Judas Iscariot, keeper of the “money bag”, who is mentioned in the synoptic gospels, the Gospel of John, and the Acts of the Apostles, became the betrayer by conniving with the Romans who were out looking for a way to have Jesus Christ arrested. The author of the Gospel of Luke records that Saint Matthias was chosen by the remaining eleven Apostles to replace Judas Iscariot after his betrayal of Jesus. (Acts 1:18-26). According to Acts 1, it was Peter who proposed an assembly numbering one hundred and twenty to have Saint Matthias replace the traitor Judas Iscariot in the Apostolate.

According to the Church of England’s Book of Liturgy, the feast of Saint Matthias is celebrated on 24 February; in the newer common worship, he is celebrated on May 14 although he may be celebrated on May 24; in the Episcopal Church the feast is on My 14; the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates his feast on 9th August. In the Roman calendar, it was transferred in 1969 to May 14 so as to celebrate it in Eastertide during the Solemnity of the Ascension. Besides, Christianity is famous for the celebration of Christmas day, Easter, Thanks Giving, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Valentine’s Day, Passover, Saint Patrick’s Day, Lent, and the Feast of the Tabernacles. Though many, the above are holidays are the most observed in the Christian world.

There are four canonical gospels of the New Testament: the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke, and the Gospel of John. According to Christianity, Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross during the reign of the Roman emperor Pontius Pilate; he died and thereafter was resurrected on the third day after the crucifixion and according to John, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in the tomb where she saw two angels who asked her why she was crying. (Matthew 28: 1-10). It was Joseph of Arimathea who asked Pontius Pilate for the body of Jesus Christ afterward wrapping the body in a linen cloth and placing it in a tomb. The Christian doctrine of ascension holds that Jesus Christ ascended the heavens in the presence of his eleven apostles as mentioned in the Gospel of Mark (16:14-19). To many Christians, Jesus Christ will return to earth in what is known as the “second coming” for the full establishment of the kingdom of God on earth.

Beliefs concerning future and end times are espoused in Christian eschatology although it is a relatively recent development. It concerns the end of the world, Last Judgment, resurrection of the dead, hell and heaven, renewal of creation, the fulfillment of Messianic Prophecy, the beginning of the Messianic Age, and among others the consummation of all of God’s purposes.

As the end of the year 2008 approaches, Christians all over the world will commemorate a special day dedicated to honoring the birth of Jesus Christ which falls on December 25 for the majority of Christians. From the Anno Domini system of dating, the day is marked with celebrations including gift-giving, church celebrations, and the display of the Christmas tree, mistletoe, nativity scenes, Holly, and lights.

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