Reporting On Orthodox Christianity

Lighting a candle in Orthodox church. Saint Volodymyr's Cathedral, Kiev, Ukraine. By Petar Milošević.
Lighting a candle in Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral, Kiev, Ukraine. Creative commons image by Petar Milošević

One challenge in writing about the Eastern Orthodox is the debate over numbers. A figure often cited is 3 million adherents in the U.S., with about 2 million in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1 million in the Orthodox Church in America, and some tens of thousands in the other 20 major Eastern Orthodox churches.

In a summary posted by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Alexey D. Krindatch of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute notes that the Orthodox churches in the United States have been facing several challenges since the 1970s. 

These include the tug between assimilation and maintaining ethnic distinctiveness, incorporation of the increasing numbers of American-born members and of converts from inter-Christian marriages, and grassroots movements that want to see greater unity among the Orthodox communities.

This guide provides journalists with background information on Orthodox Christianity and a brief guide to covering Orthodox Christianity in American and international contexts.



Eastern Orthodox churches are rooted in the earliest days of Christianity and do not recognize papal authority over their governance. During the Great Schism of 1054, the churches split from those in the western half of the Roman Empire, when those western churches recognized the supremacy of the bishop of Rome above all other bishops.

Today Eastern Orthodox churches are organized mostly around national lines and recognize the patriarch of Constantinople as their leader. The churches have 250 million to 300 million members worldwide and include the Greek Orthodox Church and Russian Orthodox Church. 

In the United States the largest of these churches is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, followed by the Orthodox Church in America, which includes followers of Bulgarian, Romanian, Russian and Syrian descent.

A member of the HOly Father of the First Ecumenical Council kisses an icon on the 7th Sunday of Pascha, or Easter. Creative commons image by the St. Petersburg Orthodox Theological Academy
A member of the Holy Father of the First Ecumenical Council kisses an icon on the 7th Sunday of Pascha, or Easter. Creative commons image by the St. Petersburg Orthodox Theological Academy

Branches & Groups

Orthodox Christian churches are rooted in the Middle East or Eastern Europe but do not recognize the pope as their leader. The Orthodox Church split with the Roman Catholic Church in the Great Schism of 1054, largely over issues of papal authority. 

The pope in Rome claimed supremacy over the four Eastern patriarchs, while the Eastern patriarchs claimed equality with the pope. Today the spiritual head of Orthodoxy is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who has no governing authority over the other patriarchs but is called “first among equals.” 

The Orthodox Eucharistic service is called the Divine Liturgy, and worship is very sensual, involving incense, chants and the veneration of icons. The Eastern Orthodox Christian churches include the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem and the Orthodox Churches of America, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Finland, Japan, Mount Sinai and China.

Ethnicity in the Church

It is sometimes understood that Eastern Christian Church-goers are perceived as strangers to Americans. This may occur because high priority is given to preserving ethnic identity and heritage of members. 

This preservation practice occurs because often the mother country language is used, children attend parochial schools instead of American public schools, and nationwide Orthodox ethnic women and youth organizations are created for attendance by specific audiences. These institutions and practices foster an ethnicity specific or generally “ethnic” identity for the group.

One resulting phenomenon of these institutions includes self-isolated ethnic communities. In comparison to Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions, Orthodoxy is defined as a more exclusive religious organization. For instance, Orthodox members sometimes frown upon “inter-Christian marriage,” or Orthodox-Not-Orthodox marriage (i.e. a Protestant and Orthodox marriage).

Example coverage

“Iraqi Christians find refuge in ancient monastery” — June 17, 2014, Jane Arraf, Al Jazeera

Perched on the side of a mountain surrounded by caves, St. Matthew’s Monastery has been a place of refuge since the fourth century. Some of the earliest Christians sought safety here. With the fall of the city of Mosul, just 20 miles away, the monastery’s thick stone walls have again become a sanctuary.

Along the courtyards in rooms normally used by religious pilgrims and monks, dozens of Christian families fleeing Mosul have settled in – laying out mattresses and the few belongings they carried with them. Released from school, children climb dizzying heights to play on the rocks nearby – their home city visible in the distance. Inside, their worried parents drink tea and watch news of a region that has again become a battlefront. — Read more.

Orthodox bishops chafe at Christian persecution in the Middle East

By David Steinmetz, Religion News Service
Nov. 14, 2013

(RNS) On July 25, a delegation of leaders from 15 Eastern Orthodox churches (including the U.S.) met in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the increased persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

Occasional persecution was always a hazard for Christians living as minorities in Muslim countries. Still, there were places in the Middle East where a reasonably tranquil life was possible. This was particularly true of Egypt and Syria, where Christians made up more than 10 percent of the population and often prospered as a group — urban, well-educated, and professional.

With the civil war in Syria and the civil conflict in Egypt, the instances of violent repression increased. This rise in the rate of violence signaled a change that was particularly worrying for Orthodox bishops, who lead the largest body of Christians in the Middle East.

Ironically, the Orthodox delegates from around the world did not go to Moscow to discuss the Middle East. In fact, they had been invited to Moscow by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, to take part in a celebration commemorating the conversion of the Russian people to Christianity more than a thousand years ago. Nevertheless, the delegates found they were compelled to talk with their Russian hosts about such events as the burning of more than 40 churches in Egypt, the random murder and drive-by killing of Christian laity in Cairo, and the kidnapping of senior clergy in Syria.

Unfortunately, the list of innocent sufferers in a civil war is very long and the losses endured by them runs very deep. Nevertheless, argued the Orthodox leaders, civil disorder in the Middle East cannot be allowed to continue. Innocent suffering must be brought to a quick end. The bishops were convinced, however, that there was no solution to the violence against either Muslims or Christians that does not begin with an immediate cease-fire and the start of intense negotiations by all the warring parties.

View of Ma'loula village in Syria with statue of the Virgin Mary and mosque. RNS photo by John Wreford, courtesy of Associated Reporters Abroad
View of Ma’loula village in Syria with statue of the Virgin Mary and mosque. RNS photo by John Wreford, courtesy of Associated Reporters Abroad

It is hard to imagine Orthodox bishops talking to Joseph Stalin or even Nikita Khrushchev about the plight of innocent Muslims and Christians caught in a bloody conflict they did not start and could not end. But Putin, in spite of his KGB background, has embraced the Russian Orthodox Church. What exactly is involved in that decision is a matter of debate. It is at least clear that Putin thinks that Orthodoxy adds a dimension of depth to the Russian character missing from what he regards as the superficial character of the American people. On the whole, Putin has a low view of American society (with the exception of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, which he adores).

Putin is therefore comfortable, as the old Communist hierarchy would never have been, sitting in the Kremlin palace, chatting with the patriarch of Moscow about the pastoral concerns of Orthodoxy in the Middle East. Such a friendly meeting between Putin and the leaders of Orthodoxy should not go unnoticed, certainly not in the Middle East, where Russia has interests to protect. The Orthodox bishops for their part were aware that Putin had no easy remedy for ending the violent upheavals in Egypt and Syria, but nevertheless urged him to encourage peaceful negotiations whenever he could.

Apparently Putin agreed with his visitors that some negotiation in the Middle East was still possible. In August he sold a reluctant President Obama on a Russian negotiated plan to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons. It was not a comprehensive solution to the civil war, but it was an important step in the right direction.

The Orthodox bishops must have felt that the jointly negotiated settlement on chemical weapons was a first answer to their desperate prayer on July 25 “that peace and the love of brothers may be restored in the Middle East.” You don’t have to believe in the efficacy of prayer to breathe a quiet “Amen” to their petition. 

Core beliefs


A Theotokos icon, painted by Leonid Ouspensky, hangs in St. Gregory of Sinai Monastery in Kelseyville, Calif. Creative commons image by Jim Forest
A Theotokos icon, painted by Leonid Ouspensky, hangs in St. Gregory of Sinai Monastery in Kelseyville, Calif. Creative commons image by Jim Forest

Theotokos means “God-Bearer” in Greek, referring to the Virgin Mary as mother of God in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. 

To Orthodox Christians, Mary is considered the one who gave birth to God. She is not referred to as Christ-Bearer. This suggests that Orthodox Christians consider Christ as both divine and human. Jesus’ humanity is confirmed in his birth from a woman, who is a real historical person. He is also divine because he was born of the Virgin Mary and conceived by the Holy Spirit.

However, Orthodox Christians do not maintain the Catholic beliefs regarding the immaculate conception of Mary and do not specifically speak to Mary’s freedom from original sin. Like Catholic Christians, Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus was born in a virgin birth.


‘Mystery’ is a term used in Orthodoxy to signify a sacrament in Western Christianity. 

This number is derived from Italian theologian Peter Lombard (c.1100-1160), who first defined the seven sacraments (or ‘Mysteries’). This number of acts was later adopted by the Orthodox church. The seven Mysteries are Baptism, the Eucharist, Chrismation, Holy Orders, Holy Unction, Marriage, and Penance. 

However, Orthodoxy views any action designed to bring us closer to the presence of God and done through the church as having some sacramental value, beyond these seven. As in the Catholic Church, the Mysteries of the faith convey divine grace to those who receive them worthily.

the church as having some sacramental value, beyond these seven. As in the Catholic Church, the Mysteries of the faith convey divine grace to those who receive them worthily. 

The baptism of Christ graces the ceiling of the Orthodox Baptistery in Ravenna, Italy. Creative commons image by Holly Hayes
The baptism of Christ graces the ceiling of the Orthodox Baptistery in Ravenna, Italy. Creative commons image by Holly Hayes

The seven mysteries and brief explanations are as follows:

  • Baptism: Represents unity and devotion to Christ
  • The Eucharist: Communion in which the Orthodox unite
  • Chrismation: Confirmation
  • Holy Orders: Selective and divine priesthood
  • Holy Unction: Healing ministry
  • Marriage: Eternal Christian marriage
  • Penance: Virtue and nobility signified by confession

Example Coverage

“Orthodox Christians retrieve holy cross from icy Istanbul waters” — Jan. 14, 2015, Ayla Jean Yackley, Reuters

More than a dozen swimmers have braced the icy waters of Istanbul’s Golden Horn to take part in one of the world’s oldest polar bear plunges: the ancient Greek Orthodox rite celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany.

After prayers on Epiphany, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians, tossed a wooden cross into the brackish waters of the Golden Horn, an estuary that runs along Istanbul’s oldest quarter, to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River and the appearance of the Holy Spirit 2,000 years ago. The event is held here every Jan. 6, and this year it coincided with the coldest winter storm this season. — Read more.

Orthodox Christians Mark Baptism of Jesus at River Jordan

By Peggy Fletcher, Religion News Service
Jan. 1, 2000

(RNS) JORDAN RIVER, Israeli-Occupied West Bank — Garbed in a loose white robe, 38-year-old Anne Maniuk waded into the grimy brown river full of reeds, dunked her head under, and emerged with a great smile on her face and hands lifted heavenward: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” said the teacher in her native Russian language, her short blond hair tied into a white kerchief, now dripping wet.

At the same time, a nun splashed in the murky water, trailing a heavy long black habit and headdress. Nearby, men sporting long hair and beards, muscles rippling through skimpy T-shirts, swam a few strokes into the center of the river, before returning to shore.

The more timid, or well dressed, meanwhile, crowded the water’s edge to receive a blessing and a splash of droplets from an Orthodox priest, or scoop up a sample of the holy water in a plastic bottle to carry back home.

Every year, Orthodox Christians around the world celebrate the baptism of Jesus on Jan. 18. In some parts of Russia, Christians cut through the ice of frozen streams and rivers, in order to make a ritual dip in commemoration of the date, said Slava Molitvin, a Russian-Israeli tour guide, here with a group of 18 pilgrims. “For us, this water is not so cold,” he said.

Still, a dip in the Jordan River site, revered by many as the actual place of Jesus’ baptism 2,000 years ago, has a special meaning for pilgrims. And on Tuesday (Jan. 18), several thousand Orthodox Christians, gathered here for millennial year celebrations from as far away as Greece, Russia and the Ukraine, came to view the river of the Bible and sample its waters first hand. “I had imagined a big river. I was surprised to see how small. and dirty it was,” confessed Maniuk as she stood on the river bank for nearly two hours in prayerful anticipation, singing hymns and uttering prayers with a group of seven other women friends. “Still, this is the water of Jesus Christ,” so it can’t be really dirty, said the woman, who saved her earnings for two years in order to make the month-long pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Finally, the signal came. An Orthodox priest descended to the river’s edge, threw a flower-decorated cross into the water while simultaneously releasing a dove into the air. Maniuk and her friends took the plunge. They held hands and sang in the water. They embraced each other. “It was wonderful,” Maniuk said after emerging barefoot and dripping wet a few minutes later.

As far as appearances go, this baptismal site on the Israeli-occupied West Bank side of the Jordan River, has probably known better days. Approaching the river from ancient Jericho, the remains of a enormous monastery courtyard lies in ruins. Here, pilgrims en route to the Jordan must have rested from the heat of the desert under the shade of date palms. The date trees are now dead stumps enabling soldiers from a nearby army post to scan the area which lies along the border with Jordan. Signs warning of minefields are posted along the monastery walls.

At this southernmost point of the Jordan near its outlet to the Dead Sea, the river water today is largely a cesspool of modern agricultural sewage dumped by Israeli kibbutzim far upstream.

Just one set of narrow concrete steps leads down to the water, creating huge human traffic jams on holidays like this one, when Palestinian Christians, Orthodox clergy and foreign tourists all converge at once.

The Jordan River span 156 miles and eventually flows into the Dead Sea. Creative commons image by Vyacheslav Argenberg
The Jordan River span 156 miles and eventually flows into the Dead Sea. Creative commons image by Vyacheslav Argenberg

One such visitor is a Russian Orthodox priest, Father Germanos, from the Russian city of Tula, about 200 miles south of Moscow. This is his seventh visit to the site, he said, adding that on his last trip in the fall his finger was healed of rheumatism when he dipped in the water.

“I take the water in bottles back to Russia,” he said. “And this way I bring the holiness of Jesus and the river back to the people there. People use the water to clean their apartments of evil spirits, and they even drink it if they are sick.”  

As far as Father Germanos is concerned, there is no doubt in his mind that the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist is right here at this very site.

Many European and American pilgrims, however, prefer to take the dip at the Israeli-developed “Yardenit” pilgrim site about 100 miles further north. There, where the Sea of Galilee flows into the Jordan, the water is considerably cleaner and access is not through a militarized border zone.

Near here, meanwhile, the government of Jordan has recently developed its own baptismal site on its side of the Jordan River, in an area known as Wadi Al Karrar. The site lies alongside a small fresh water spring and an ancient monastery. It is here that Pope John Paul II will visit during his March tour of the Holy Land.

Not to be outdone, however, Israel is planning to upgrade this facility on the West Bank side of the Jordan River. The multimillion dollar improvements will include a better access road to the river, as well as modern amenities such as toilets, say Israeli military administration officials who control the area.

Still, given the proximity to the border, it’s unlikely the minefields surrounding the old monastery will be removed or the military jeeps that circulate here endlessly will give way to easy tourism access. Nor is it likely the water quality of the Jordan River itself will be improved.

For the moment, however, pilgrims like Father Germanos, remain undisturbed by the water’s brown tinge. “I myself have drunk the water on three different occasions,” he said. “In the Bible it says that even if you drink poison and you believe, nothing will happen.” 



Most Christian denominations schedule worship around a liturgical calendar, which includes holy days of celebration to commemorate events in the life of Jesus Christ or the saints. 

The degree to which these events are celebrated varies greatly with the denomination. Catholic and Orthodox denominations are more likely to commemorate the lives of the saints than Protestants.

The major holidays and observances in Christianity are Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, Advent and Christmas. 

Religion journalists generally cover these in some way, whether through enterprise stories, photography or daily coverage of events.

Example Coverage

“Orthodox Christmas melds Yup’ik and religious traditions” — Jan. 8, 2015, Lisa Demer, The Alaska Dispatch

NAPASKIAK — Under delicate snowflakes crocheted by the town mayor, beneath a grand chandelier imported from Russia, a Yup’ik priest in a remote Southwest Alaska village led parishioners in song, prayer and praise day and night this week for Orthodox Christmas, or Slaviq.

Most of America took down Christmas trees a week ago, but here in the heart of Orthodox Christian Alaska, people were cutting fresh trees for the holy holiday’s pinnacle on Wednesday, Orthodox Christmas Day. The celebration will stretch on for a week or more. — Read more.


April Fool’s isn’t a religious holiday, but there are some religious roots

By Peggy Fletcher, Religion News Service
March 31, 2014

(RNS) Let’s be clear: April Fools’ Day is not a religious holiday.

It does, however, trace its origins to a pope.

The day began, most believe, in 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII decreed the adoption of the “Gregorian calendar” — named after himself — which moved New Year’s Day from the end of March to Jan. 1.

The change was published widely, explains Ginger Smoak, an expert in medieval history at the University of Utah, but those who didn’t get the message and continued to celebrate on April 1 “were ridiculed and, because they were seen as foolish, called April Fools.”

Even though the annual panoply of pranks meant to mock the gullible or to send a friend on a “fool’s errand” may not be grounded in any ancient religious merrymaking, the notion of “holy fools” does have a long and respected place in Judeo-Christian history.

Hebrew prophets were often scorned as mad or eccentric for pronouncing unwelcome or uncomfortable truths. The Apostle Paul talked to the Corinthians about becoming “fools for Christ.” And Eastern Orthodoxy still sees the “holy fool” as a type of Christian martyr.

Such views are wrapped up in paradox.

“If the wisdom of the world is folly to God, and God’s own foolishness is the only true wisdom,” argues British clergyman John Saward in “Perfect Fools: Folly for Christ’s Sake in Catholic and Orthodox Spirituality,” “it follows that the worldly wise, to become truly wise, must become foolish and renounce their worldly wisdom.”

Such role reversals were common during medieval Christian festivals.

Some argue that April Fools’ Day is a remnant of early “renewal festivals,” which typically marked the end of winter and the start of spring.

These festivals, according to the Museum of Hoaxes, typically involved “ritualized forms of mayhem and misrule.”

Participants donned disguises, played tricks on friends as well as strangers, and inverted the social order.

“Servants might get to order around masters, or children challenge the authority of parents and teachers,” the museum’s website notes. “However, the disorder is always bounded within a strict time frame, and tensions are defused with laughter and comedy. The social order is symbolically challenged, but then restored, reaffirming the stability of the society, just as the cold months of winter temporarily challenge biological life, and yet the cycle of life continues, returning with the spring.”

Some have mistaken these celebrations for medieval Christianity’s Feast of Fools, which took place each January.

For centuries, this feast was seen as “a disorderly, even transgressive Christian festival, in which reveling clergy elected a burlesque Lord of Misrule, who presided over the divine office wearing animal masks or women’s clothes, sang obscene songs, swung censers that gave off foul-smelling smoke, played dice at the altar, and otherwise parodied the liturgy of the church,” says historian Max Harris, author of “Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools.” Afterward, revelers would “take to the streets, howling, issuing mock indulgences, hurling manure at bystanders, and staging scurrilous plays.”

But that’s not what happened, he says.

Even Victor Hugo’s famous novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” — and the Disney animated film loosely based on it — got it wrong. In Hugo’s opening passages, Harris explains, the novelist describes “rowdy theatricals and underworld parades of lay Parisians … ‘on the sixth of January 1482’ as a combined celebration … of the day of the kings and the Feast of Fools.”

Those two celebrations were “nothing of the sort,” Harris wrote in an email from his home in Wisconsin. “Indeed, they were not even an accurate portrayal of lay festivities.”

Such revelry, Harris says, “was almost wholly a figment of Hugo’s imagination.”

So what was it really like?

The actual feast was developed in the late 12th and early 13th centuries as “an elaborate and orderly liturgy for the day of the Circumcision (Jan. 1),” Harris says, “serving as a dignified alternative to rowdy secular New Year festivities.”

The goal, he emphasizes, was “not mockery but thanksgiving for the incarnation of Christ.”

Role reversals did occur, but their point, Harris said, was to underscore Mary’s joyous affirmation that God “has put down the mighty from their seat and exalted the humble.”

The “fools” represented those chosen by God for their lowly status.

This liturgical feast was largely confined to cathedrals and collegiate churches in northern France.

Centuries later, high-ranking clergy “who relied on rumor rather than firsthand knowledge, attacked and eventually suppressed the feast,” Harris saidl. “Eighteenth- and 19th-century historians repeatedly misread records of the feast; their erroneous accounts formed a shaky foundation for subsequent understanding of the medieval ritual.”

The Feast of Fools was finally forbidden by the Council of Basle in 1435.

That misunderstanding of history, though, eventually found its way into Hugo’s novel and even the Catholic Encyclopedia, which linked the “feast of fools” to the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, whose “parody must always have trembled on the brink of burlesque, if not of the profane.”

That is unfortunate, said Harris, who has read and studied the original documents from the time. In his mind, the feast was more sanctified than sacrilegious. 



Although there are numerous scriptures used by Christians, the Bible, including 39 books from the Old Testament and 27 books from the New Testament, is the central religious text.

The May 18, 2014 liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Kronstadt. Creative commons image by the St. Petersburg Orthodox Theological
The May 18, 2014 liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Kronstadt. Creative commons image by the St. Petersburg Orthodox Theological

The Old Testament consists of Hebrew Scripture about the covenant God had with Israel. The New Testament forms the basis of Christian faith and recounts the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Eastern Orthodox Christians include most parts of the Apocrypha in the biblical canon. (The Apocrypha, from the Greek word that means “things hidden,” is made up of religious writings included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, but not the Hebrew Bible. 

Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics accept them as divinely inspired, but Protestants do not.) The Greek Orthodox Church collaborated on the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, published by the National Council of Churches USA, which includes the Apocrypha. 

However, the Eastern Orthodox canon includes different Apocrypha books than either Protestants or Roman Catholics do. The variations are based on which books were present in the Septuagint and its early manuscripts. 

(The Orthodox omit 2 Esdras from the Protestant Apocryphal but add 3 and 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151.)

Example Coverage

“Jackson’s Orthodox Church built on ‘zeal and eagerness’” — Jan. 31, 2015, Nathan Handley, The Jackson Sun

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Jackson held its first meeting in 2011, but it didn’t get its first, full-time priest until this year.

Father Matthew Snowden has been serving less than a month, but Laura Wilson, one of the church’s founding members, said there is already a great difference. Wilson said the priest is a very important part of the services.

The church previously had a priest visit to conduct services a few times a month from St. John’s Orthodox Church in Memphis. — Read more.

Drag queen winner of Eurovision contest condemned by Russian Orthodox Church

By Sophia Kishkovsky, Religion News Service
May 12, 2014

MOSCOW (RNS) A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church strongly denounced the Eurovision Song Contest’s selection of a drag queen as its winner, saying it was a sign of the world’s moral decline and part of an effort to “reinforce new cultural norms.”

Conchita Wurst, the stage name of a former band singer from Austria named Tom Neuwirth, won the 59th installment of the competition, held this year in Copenhagen, with a song titled “Rise Like a Phoenix,” which she performed early Sunday (May 11) as a bearded woman in a form-fitting gold dress.

The Eurovision contest draws well over 100 million viewers annually, and the contest has become a point of national pride in Russia, which began competing in the 1990s.

Conchita Wurst, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014, during the winner's press conference. Creative commons image by Albin Olsson
Conchita Wurst, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014, during the winner’s press conference. Creative commons image by Albin Olsson

“The process of the legalization of that to which the Bible refers to as nothing less than an abomination is already long not news in the contemporary world,” Vladimir Legoyda, chairman of the church’s information department, told the Interfax news agency. “Unfortunately, the legal and cultural spheres are moving in a parallel direction, to which the results of this competition bear witness.”

Legoyda said the result of the competition was “yet one more step in the rejection of the Christian identity of European culture.”

On Monday (May 12), Vitaly Milonov, a municipal legislator in St. Petersburg known for his anti-gay activism, appealed to Russia’s culture ministry to ban any future performances in Russia by Wurst.

Other Russian commentators pointed out that Russia’s pop-music scene is known for flamboyant performers who bend gender lines.

Both the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate have been positioning Russia as a moral bastion in contrast to Europe and the United States.

The Moscow Patriarchate has condemned the legalization of same-sex marriage in European countries and defended anti-gay legislation in Russia, saying it is meant to protect minors.

Last June, speaking at a monastery atop Mount Athos in Greece, Patriarch Kirill I, the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, warned that moral relativity is “that ground on which only the Antichrist can come” and singled out sexual morality as a sign of relativism.

“We see what is happening today,” he said. “Same-sex marriages, euthanasia, abortion — that which was always regarded as evil from the point of view of divine truth is no longer considered evil.”

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Russian church’s Department of External Church Relations, said at a conference in Moscow in December that the West was destroying marriage as “the God-created union of man and woman” and warned that countries that are drawn into Europe’s orbit would be forced to accept alien values, in a clear reference to Ukraine.

In April, a controversial group of Russian Orthodox youth activists raided the screening of a documentary film about LGBT teenagers, who are often driven to suicide by their sense of isolation in Russia. 

Notes on coverage

An Eastern Orthodox bishop celebrates Antipascha, the re-dedication of the resurrection of Christ. Creative commons image by the St. Petersburg Orthodox Theological Academy

General guidelines

  • Take care with labels. Christianity is diverse, and beliefs can vary greatly within denominations. Ask questions about beliefs before leaping to assumptions.
  • Learn the correct terms. Many Christian denominations come with their own terms and titles for the structure or hierarchy of leadership within that denomination. Some congregations are governed independently within national guidelines and others embrace a strict hierarchy. Learn the correct titles and don’t try to generalize across denominations.
  • Consider stories on the major Christian holidays, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, Advent and Christmas.
  • Orthodox denominations are rarely a source of breaking news, but journalists may be interested in their growing numbers. Together, Orthodox churches account for many more members than some Protestant denominations that receive much more news coverage.
  • The Eastern Orthodox follow the Julian Calendar instead of the Gregorian Calendar used by Western churches. Christmas falls on Jan. 7, and the date of Easter differs each year.
  • Priests may be married in Eastern Orthodox traditions if they marry before ordination, but monks and bishops must be single.
  • The Oriental Orthodox Churches churches split from the Eastern Orthodox churches in 451 A.D. because they rejected the Christological definition of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, which asserted that Christ is one person in two natures, fully human and fully divine — a definition that the Eastern Orthodox Churches accepted. The Oriental Orthodox Churches include the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian, Malankara and Eritrean churches.

Example Coverage

When obedience is next to Godliness

By Laura Turner, Religion News Service
April 20, 2007

Struggling to train an unruly dog in your jam-packed life and think you’ve exhausted all resources?

Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and start acting like a monk.

For nearly 40 years, an order of Eastern Orthodox monks at the New Skete Monastery in Cambridge, N.Y., have funded their monastic lives by training the most stubborn of misbehaving dogs for thousands of frustrated families. The training benefits the pups, the families and maybe most of all the monks, who say the discipline and focus required for obedience training puts them in a deeper spiritual place.

“Working with dogs has put us in touch with the mystery of God and nature,” said Brother Christopher, the program’s director. In keeping with their monsatic practice the New Skete monks do not use last names.

The monks have trained thousands of dogs in their three-to-four week programs, which costs $1,300, including canine room-and-board. After the training period is over, the monks convey to owners how important it is to continue developing the relationship and training outside the monastery.

The monks are the subject of a new show on Animal Planet called “Divine Canine: With the Monks of New Skete.” It’s an 11-part series, airing Mondays from 8 to 8:30 p.m. ET, that examines life at the monastery in terms of “loyalty, faith, discipline and dogs.”

Too often, people look at religion and spirituality in narrow and structured ways, said Brother Christopher, who has been training dogs for 25 years. As a result, they don’t realize the powerful spiritual feelings that often stem from everyday tasks like dog training. Ditching their robes for jeans and sweaters for part of each day, the monks find their interactions with man’s best friend to be a heavenly outlet.

“Many people think of their religion when they pray at the beginning and end of the day, as a more formal religious aspect of our lives,” said Brother Christopher. “As monks, we’re very aware of the whole of life being contemplative in character.”

In the serenity of their 500-acre monastery nestled in Cambridge’s rolling hills, the monks say they employ a holistic approach that brings spiritual gains and improves the behavior of the canines.

“What’s so important in the life of a dog is the relationship with their owner,” Brother Christopher said. “Rather than going about training in a mechanical way, we try to help people understand that the training has to serve the relationship for both to allow it to blossom.”

The first episode of the TV series shows the successful training of a pampered dog named Stella, whose owners admitted they couldn’t control. They dressed her in sweaters and strolled her around in a baby stroller rather than making her walk. Stella often paid her owners no mind when they voiced even simple commands. After four weeks with Brother Christopher, Stella went home as cute as she came in, but also with respect for her owners.

“We want owners to realize the potential that caring and training for a dog can have for both you and your dog,” said Brother Christopher. “It can be a total enrichment.”

Aside from training unruly dogs for customers, the monks also care for and breed world-class German shepherd puppies. The experience of dog training has added a truly happy element to the intense spiritual contemplation of the monks’ daily routines.

“If dogs were not here, we’d probably be a group of somber, bitter old men,” Brother John said on the TV show. 

International sources


The St. Nicholas Cathedral in Kronstad, constructed from 1903-1913, was reconsecrated in 2013 after having been used for secular purposes since 1929. Creative commons image by the St. Petersburg Orthodox Theological Academy


  • Heather J. Coleman

    Coleman is an associate professor of history and classics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. She studies religion in Russia. Her current research is based on a book project, “Holy Kyiv: Priests, Communities, and Nationality in Imperial Russia, 1800-1917,” which explores the ethno-religious diversity of Kyiv diocese its relationship with the pastoral mission of the Orthodox clergy there. She also has expertise on Russian Baptist history and theology.

  • Douglas John Hall

    Douglas John Hall is author of The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World, in which he examines whether Christianity teaches some a love of consumption and waste. He is emeritus professor of theology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. He has written extensively about neo-Orthodoxy.

  • Myroslaw Tataryn

    Professor of Religious Studies and Theology at St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo. His primary focus in systematic theology among the Orthodox in particular. His dissertation studied the Orthodox Theologians at l’Institute Saint Serge, Paris (1925-1939) and their perception of St. Augustine’s Theology.

  • Lucian Turcescu

    Professor and Chair of Theological Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. His research focuses on early Christianity and on the relationship between religion and politics.


The Middle East

U.S. sources & resources

Major organizations

  • Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

    The Greek Orthodox Archdioceses of America is the largest Orthodox denomination in America,with about 1.5 million members.

    Contact: 212-570-3500.
  • National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

    The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA is an umbrella organization of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and Living Peace denominations. The NCCC frequently files amicus briefs in religious and civil liberties cases. Philip E. Jenks is press contact.

  • Orthodox Church in America

    The Orthodox Church in America website gives a detailed explanation of the faith. It also lists the 19 self-governing and self-ruling Orthodox churches worldwide, which include the OCA. (The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is directly under the authority of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople in Turkey, and is not administratively related to the Church of Greece.)  Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (historically Russian) is Metropolitan Tikhon, located in Syosset, N.Y. Find local parishes.

  • Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA)

    This organization brings together the canonical hierarchs of the Orthodox jurisdictions in America. The purpose of the conference is to make the ties of unity among the canonical Orthodox churches and their administrations stronger and more visible.

    Contact: (212) 774-0526.

U.S. resources

  • Orthodox Christian Information Center

    The site is an online article repository, with over 850 articles and 3,000 printed pages on Orthodox Christianity. It posts information for members and nonmembers.

  • Orthodox Church in America Directories

    Includes Orthodox dioceses, parish listings, clergy listings, monastic community listings, military chaplain listings, organizations, seminaries, churches in North America, and world Orthodox churches.

  • Orthodoxy in America

    An online directory of the Orthodox Church in North America, specifically of the parishes, monasteries, and seminaries of the twelve major Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

  • Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA)

    This organization brings together the canonical hierarchs of the Orthodox jurisdictions in America. The purpose of the conference is to make the ties of unity among the canonical Orthodox churches and their administrations stronger and more visible.

    Contact: (212) 774-0526.
  • Association of Religion Data Archives

    The Association of Religion Data Archives provides numerous data collections on religion.

    Contact: 814-865-6258.
  • Orthodox Christian Education Commission

    The Orthodox Christian Education Commission is an agency of the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas and was founded as a forum to exchange ideas and search for solutions to education problems.

    Contact: 800-464-2744.
  • The Orthodox Theological Society in America

    The society was organized under the auspices of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas to promote Orthodox theology, cultivate fellowship and cooperation among Orthodox Christians and coordinate the work of Orthodox theologians in the Americas. Email through the website.

  • Orthodox Peace Fellowship

    The Orthodox Peace Fellowship is an international association of Orthodox Christians, located in the Netherlands, who study and advocate on issues of peace and conflict in local, national and international contexts.

    Contact: 31-72-511-2545.
  • Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration

    The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration a pan-Orthodox association that addresses environmental issues.

  • International Orthodox Christian Charities

    International Orthodox Christian Charities has provided humanitarian assistance through some of the most troubled decades in recent history. Specifically, it is the international humanitarian organization of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas.  It is based in Baltimore and has programs in several African countries.

  • Christian Orthodox

    A page on Eastern Orthodox churches and basic information on Orthodox faith.

  • Orthodox Christian Mission Center

    The Orthodox Christian Mission Center focuses on evangelism. OCMC’s mission is to make disciples of all nations by bringing people to Christ and His Church.

  • Orthodox Christian Fellowship

    The Orthodox Christian Fellowship is the official campus ministry effort under the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. It is a pan-Orthodox effort, overseen by an executive committee and aided by an 11-person student advisory board.

  • Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry

    The Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry ministers to men and women behind bars.

  • Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion

    The Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion exists to foster interdisciplinary dialogue and promote Christian fellowship among professionals in medicine, psychology, and religion. Members pursue an understanding of the whole person that integrates the basic assumptions of medicine, psychology, and religion with the Orthodox Christian faith in educating and serving church and community. Demetra Velisarios Jaquet is president.

  • Fordham University Orthodox Christian Studies

    Fordham University in New York offers this program of study. The mission of their Orthodox Christian Studies Center is to provide a venue for the academic study of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

The Albanian Orthodox Church in Worcester, Massachusetts. Creative commons image by Rafael Garcia


National sources

  • Emmanuel Clapsis

    Emmanuel Clapsis is professor of dogmatic theology at Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass. Among his publications is The Orthodox Churches in a Pluralistic World: An Ecumenical Conversation.

    Contact: 617-850-1266, 617-731-3500.
  • John H. Erickson

    John H. Erickson is professor of church history at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y.

  • Donald M. Fairbairn

    Donald M. Fairbairn Jr. is professor of historical theology at Evangelical Theology Faculty in Leuven, Belgium. Previously he was a professor of historical theology and missions at Erskine Theological Seminary in Due West, S.C. He is the author of Eastern Orthodoxy Through Western Eyes.

  • Thomas E. FitzGerald

    Thomas E. FitzGerald is professor of church history and historical theology at Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass.

  • Veselin Kesich

    Veselin Kesich is professor emeritus of the New Testament at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y.

  • John Anthony McGuckin

    John Anthony McGuckin is a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He is the author of The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Its History, Doctrine and Spiritual Culture (2008) and many other books and articles.

  • Jerry Pankhurst

    Jerry G. Pankhurst is a sociology professor at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. He is co-editor of Eastern Orthodoxy in a Global Age: Tradition Faces the Twenty-First Century.

  • Aristotle Papanikolaou

    Aristotle Papanikolaou is Archbishop Demetrios Professor of Orthodox Theology and Culture and
    Senior Fellow and co-founder of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y.

  • Elizabeth H. Prodromou

    Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou is a retired U.S. diplomat and the co-chair of the Southeastern Europe Study Group at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University. Previously, she taught international relations and directed the M.A. Program in International Relations & Religion at Boston University. She has written several articles on Orthodox Christianity.

Regional sources


  • Peter C. Bouteneff

    Peter C. Bouteneff is a professor of systematic theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. He is interested in popular culture and has worked for the World Council of Churches. He wrote the article “All Creation in United Thanksgiving: Gregory of Nyssa and the Wesleys on Salvation” in the book Orthodox and Wesleyan Spirituality.

  • George Dion Dragas

    George Dion Dragas is professor of patrology/patristics at Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass.

    Contact: 617-850-1221.
  • Michael Plekon

    Michael Plekon is professor of religion and culture at City University of New York in New York City. He wrote a chapter titled “The Russian Religious Revival and Its Theological Legacy” in The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology (2008).

  • Theodore Stylianopoulos

    Theodore Stylianopoulos is professor of Orthodox theology and the New Testament at Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass.


  • Frank S. Alexander

    Frank S. Alexander is a professor and founding director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta. He is co-editor of The Teachings of Modern Orthodox Christianity on Law, Politics & Human Nature (2007). He is an expert on homelessness and housing policy.

  • Ted A. Campbell

    Ted A. Campbell is an associate professor of church history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He is the author of The Gospel in Christian Traditions (2008).

  • Phillip Charles Lucas

    Phillip Charles Lucas is a professor of religious studies at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla. He is the co-editor of Cassadaga: The South’s Oldest Spiritualist Community (University Press of Florida, 2000) and general editor of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. His other publications include “Enfants Terribles: The Challenge of Sectarian Converts to Ethnic Orthodox Churches in the United States,” published in Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions (2003).

  • John Witte Jr.

    John Witte Jr. directs the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, where he also teaches law. He is an expert on legal issues related to marriage, family, Christianity and religious freedom. His books include Church, State and Family: Reconciling Traditional Teachings and Modern Liberties and Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment.


  • Paul L. Gavrilyuk

    Paul L. Gavrilyuk is an associate professor in theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. His publications include “Eastern Orthodoxy,” The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion (2007).

  • Alexander G. Golitzin

    Alexander G. Golitzin is a theology professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He is an author of the Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church.

  • Robert L. Nichols

    Robert L. Nichols is a professor emeritus in history at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. He is co-editor of Russian Orthodoxy Under the Old Regime.


  • Stephen K. Batalden

    Stephen K. Batalden is a history professor at Arizona State University in Tempe. He is the editor of Seeking God: The Recovery of Religious Identity in Orthodox Russia, Ukraine and Georgia.

  • Eugene J. Clay

    Eugene J. Clay is an associate professor in religious studies at Arizona State University in Tempe. His publications include “Russian Orthodoxy,” published in Religion and American Cultures: An Encyclopedia of Traditions, Diversity and Popular Expressions.

  • Alexei D. Krindatch

    Alexei D. Krindatch is director for membership growth and research at the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and a leading researcher on Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The institute is “inter-Orthodox” and describes itself as an independent, not-for-profit teaching and research institution affiliated with the GTU and the University of California.

  • Richard G. Hovannisian

    Richard G. Hovannisian is a professor emeritus in history at University of California, Los Angeles. He has written about and studied the history of Orthodox Christianity.

Sources by branch


  • Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

    The Greek Orthodox Archdioceses of America is the largest Orthodox denomination in America,with about 1.5 million members.

    Contact: 212-570-3500.
  • The Greek Orthodox Church

    The website of the Greek Orthodox Church.  Is a resource for relevant texts, monasteries, churches, seminaries, and other relevant resources related to the church.

  • Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: For the Media

    The site provides a summary of the faith for reporters.

  • Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: Monastic Communities

    Several monasteries are scattered across the country. See a list with their contact information.

    Contact: 212-570-3500.
  • Archdiocesan Hellenic Cultural Center

    The Hellenic Cultural Center of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was established in 1986 with the goal of cultivating the Orthodox heritage and Hellenic customs, culture and traditions within the Greek-American community.

    Contact: 718-626-5111.
  • Greek Orthodox Chaplains

    Greek Orthodox chaplains serve full-time as chaplains in the armed forces; others have assumed additional responsibilities as chaplains at Veterans Administration hospitals, with local police forces, at prisons and in hospitals.

    Contact: 303-333-7794, 303-333-7794.
  • Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity

    The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity has been serving Greek Orthodox Christians for more than a century. The cathedral provides regular worship, counseling, Christian education, human services and cultural programs for people in the New York City area.

  • Hellenic College Holy Cross

    Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology provides undergraduate and graduate education. Hellenic College Holy Cross is on a 52-acre campus in Brookline, Massachusetts.

    Contact: 617-731-3500.
  • St. Basil Academy

    St. Basil Academy is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese home away from home for children in need. The academy is in Garrison, N.Y.

    Contact: 845-424-3500.
  • St. Photios National Shrine

    The St. Photios National Shrine is the only Greek Orthodox National Shrine in the country. It is primarily a religious institution and is located in America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida.

  • Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: Parish Directory

    The website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America also provides a parish directory that allows surfers to search by city, state and ZIP code.

    Contact: (212) 570-3500.


  • The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

    This is the website for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which is an arm of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Includes news, dioceses, history, and other information on the church.

  • The Russian Orthodox Church in America

    This site gives a history and summary of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States and lists parishes nationwide.

  • St. Innocent Orthodox Theological Seminary

    The seminary was founded in 1976. Its name and location have changed through the years; since 2006 it has been in Roswell, N.M.

  • Orthodox Voices Blog

    This site has news and information about the Russian Orthodox Church, specifically the Russian Orthodox Church in America.  The content is about Christianity in general, faiths outside Orthodoxy, and Orthodoxy.

  • Religious Books for Russia

    Religious Books for Russia was founded in 1979 to provide religious books for Orthodox Christians in the Soviet Union. Since it is now possible to publish and distribute religious literature in Russia, the organization, which is based in LaGrangeville, N.Y., assists with the publication in Russia of the best contemporary Orthodox theological and educational materials. Books are distributed free throughout Russia.


  • Orthodox Church in America

    The Orthodox Church in America website gives a detailed explanation of the faith. It also lists the 19 self-governing and self-ruling Orthodox churches worldwide, which include the OCA. (The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is directly under the authority of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople in Turkey, and is not administratively related to the Church of Greece.)  Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (historically Russian) is Metropolitan Tikhon, located in Syosset, N.Y. Find local parishes.

  • Department of Military Chaplaincies

    It supports the ministry of Orthodox military chaplains who, while serving as full-time priests and noncombatant full-time military officers, celebrate Orthodox liturgical services and the Holy Mysteries; offer counseling on all levels; visit hospitals, units, barracks, flight lines and ships; attend command-level briefings; and advise commanders on religious, moral and social issues. Contact the Very Rev. Theodore Boback, executive director.

    Contact: (443) 831-6870.
  • OCA Board of Theological Education

    The Board of Theological Education establishes, maintains and oversees the general standards and curriculum for the education and formation of clergy in the Orthodox Church in America’s three seminaries.

  • OCA Office of Communications

    Produces and distributes official statements and news releases of the Orthodox Church in America, maintains relations with the media, responds to requests for information of a general and specific nature, and oversees the content and functioning of the Orthodox Church in America’s website.


  • OCA Department of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry

    The OCA Department of Youth Young Adult and Campus Ministry produces and distributes official statements and news releases of the Orthodox Church in America, maintains relations with the media, responds to requests for information of a general and specific nature, and oversees the content and functioning of the Orthodox Church in America’s website.


Related source guides

Style guide

The practice of ritual washing in a religious rite to cleanse a person of sin or disease, to purify, or to signify humility or service to others. In Christianity, baptism and foot-washing are both forms of ablution. In liturgical churches, ablution can refer to purifying fingers or vessels related to the Eucharist. In Islam, ablution is ritual washing, known as wudu, before prayer. In Judaism, immersion in a mikvah is a form of ablution.
When choosing terms to describe a person’s stance on abortion, journalists should remember that abortion is a nuanced issue, with many people supporting or opposing abortion in some, but not all, circumstances. Take care to describe a person’s view rather than relying on terms popularized in the heated public debate. For example, journalists should use pro-abortion rights or a similar description instead of pro-choice, and opposed to abortion or against abortion rights instead of pro-life. The AP Stylebook advises using anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice.
In Catholicism, a priest grants absolution to a confessed sinner as part of the sacrament of penance. The concept of absolution also exists in Lutheranism, Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodox denominations.
In Western Christianity, it is the season before Christmas and opens the liturgical year of the Latin church; Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day (the Sunday nearest Nov. 30) and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24). In Eastern Catholic churches, Advent begins Nov. 14, the feast of St. Philip the Apostle. Advent anticipates Jesus Christ’s birth as well as his Second Coming. The Eastern Orthodox Church does not observe Advent. Instead there is a period of fasting 40 days before Christmas.
Antiochian Orthodox Christian
The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America was formed in 1975 through the merger of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of New York and All North America and the Archdiocese of Toledo, Ohio, and Dependencies in North America. It is under the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Antioch in Syria. Its ethnic heritage is Middle Eastern, but it has long been the most Americanized of the Orthodox jurisdictions in the U.S. and has attracted many converts for that reason.
Pronounced “uh-PAHK-ruh-fuh.” The Apocrypha are Jewish writings that are included in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian Old Testaments but excluded from most Protestant ones. Some Protestant Bibles include the Apocrypha as noncanonical writings, though, at the end of the Old Testament or in a separate section. (Note: Apocrypha is not a term used by Catholics for these texts. Instead, both Roman Catholics and the Orthodox generally refer to them as deuterocanonical books.) The additional books, which are not part of the Hebrew Bible, come from the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Orthodox regard them as occupying a lesser place than the rest of the Old Testament. The Orthodox also include several texts that are not part of the Catholic collection. The word apocryphal (Greek for “things hidden”) is generally used to describe many early Christian and Gnostic works, such as the gospel of Thomas, that were never included in the official canon of Scripture. The New Testament canon is the same for all Christians.  
Apostles, apostles
The most common Christian reference is to Jesus’ 12 disciples after he commissioned them to go and preach the gospel to the world. However, some churches have other usages. Some charismatic groups refer to certain powerful leaders who oversee groups of congregations as apostles. Among evangelicals, the word can be a generic term for any Christian who is commissioned by the church to accomplish a certain mission in the world. Uppercase when referring individually or collectively to Jesus’ Twelve Apostles, as in Peter was known as Simon before he became an Apostle. Although not one of the original 12, this applies to the Apostle Paul as well. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refers to its highest-ranking members as apostles. They belong to what is called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Capitalize apostle when using as an LDS title before a name. The senior, or longest-serving, apostle becomes the church president and is then referred to by that title; capitalize president before his name but lowercase otherwise.
apostolic succession
The idea in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopal and some Lutheran churches that their bishops are direct spiritual descendants of Jesus’ Apostles, often due to a chain of laying-on-of-hands that can be traced back to Jesus.
The largest administrative unit of some churches with an episcopal government. It is generally overseen by an archbishop. Capitalize as part of a proper name. Lowercase when it stands alone.
Armenian Church
A branch of the Oriental Orthodox Church of Christianity. The Armenian Church of America encompasses the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America for areas outside California, and the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, which serves California.
Autonomous; self-governing. In certain hierarchical Christian churches, a designation of autocephaly means that that church’s ecclesiastical leader does not answer to any higher-ranking leader. The Orthodox Church in America has been designated an autocephalous church, meaning it is independent of but still in communion with other Orthodox churches.
See B.C.
A Christian sacrament, ordinance or ceremony marked by ritual use of water and admitting the recipient to the Christian community. Christians practice three forms of baptism: immersion, where the believer is totally submerged in water; sprinkling, where the believer is sprayed with water; and affusion, where the believer has water poured on his head at a font. There may be variations within a tradition: Roman Catholics are generally baptized by affusion, though some modern fonts allow a candidate for baptism to stand partially immersed. Different Christian bodies have very different ideas about what baptism accomplishes in the person who receives it. Some see it as a symbolic way of publicly proclaiming faith in Christ; others see it as necessary for salvation. They vary on whether it is required for membership. Many Christian traditions, particularly Baptists, consider baptism a ceremony or ordinance instead of a sacrament. Some Christian traditions insist that candidates for baptism be accountable adults who have personally professed faith in Christ. The Catholic Church and others that accept or practice infant baptism may object to the term believer’s baptism because it implies that baptized infants are not believers. These churches prefer the term adult baptism. Baptism is considered one of the three sacraments of initiation, along with confirmation and the Eucharist, by Catholic and Orthodox churches. The term baptism also is used by some non-Christians to describe ritual purification using water.
See canonization.
Beatitude, Beatitudes
Beatitude is a formal title of respect for a Catholic patriarch or an Orthodox metropolitan. It should not be used except when it appears in quotations. The Beatitudes is the name given to a well-known portion of the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (5: 2-12) and Luke (6: 20-23). In this section, Jesus describes the qualities of citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Capitalize when used as a title or when referring to the Beatitudes, but lowercase in other forms of reference. Beatitude means “blessed” but can also be translated as “happy.”
Capitalize when referring to the Scriptures in the Old Testament or the New Testament. The Bible is a collection of writings compiled through centuries and authorized by various church councils, rather than a single book. The Old Testament is a Christian designation for the Hebrew Bible. The term Hebrew Bible should be used in articles dealing solely with Judaism. Lowercase biblical in all uses and bible as a nonreligious term. When citing biblical verses, use AP style for numbering chapter and verse, as in Luke 21: 1-13. In Protestant Bibles, Old Testament books, in order, are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Hebrew Bibles contain the same books but in different order. Roman Catholic Bibles follow a different order, use some different names and contain seven additional, or deuterocanonical, Old Testament books (called the Apocrypha by Protestants): Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch. The books of the New Testament, in order, are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation (in Catholicism, the traditional name for this last book is Apocalypse, but the Catholic News Service advises using Revelation except in direct quotations). See Apocrypha.
In Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches and some Protestant denominations that have an episcopal or hierarchical form of government, bishop is the highest order of ordained ministry. The distinction between a Catholic bishop and an archbishop is an honorary one, and an archbishop has no authority over a neighboring diocese. Some groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Amish and some Pentecostals, use the title bishop for someone who is the pastor of a congregation. Capitalize when used as a formal title before a name. On second reference, use only the cleric’s last name. Lowercase bishop in other uses.
Blessed Virgin
See Virgin Mary.
Theologically, all Christians claim to be born-again through the saving work of Jesus Christ; they just disagree over how it occurs. Catholics and Orthodox, for instance, say it occurs in the sacrament of baptism, which frequently takes place when the baptized person is too young to recall it. Evangelical Protestants emphasize being born-again as a personal, transformational experience that involves a deliberate commitment to follow Christ. Because the term tends to associate someone with a particular religious tradition, do not label someone a born-again Christian. Rather let the person label themselves, as in, who calls herself a born-again Christian.
bread and wine
Primary elements of the Christian service of Holy Communion. This is based on Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, in which he blessed bread and wine, saying, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” Some Christians, especially Catholics and Orthodox, believe that the consecrated bread and wine are literally transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ, although they continue to look and taste like bread and wine (known as the doctrine of transubstantiation). Other groups believe the representation is purely symbolic, while many take a middle course, believing that Jesus is somehow spiritually present in the blessed bread and wine (known as the doctrine of consubstantiation). Never use the word symbol in reference to the bread and wine unless you know that the church you are covering uses that word. In situations involving Catholics, you can refer to the bread as the host, the consecrated wine as the cup, and to either or both elements simply as Communion. See Communion and Eucharist.
See A.D.
According to the New Testament, the hill outside of Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was crucified. The location is also known as Golgotha, or the place of the skull. A common error is misspelling Calvary as cavalry.
The process in the Roman Catholic Church by which an individual is declared a saint. When a cause for canonization (as the process is known) is opened, the candidate is formally known as a “Servant of God,” such as Servant of God John Paul II. Three major steps follow: a declaration of heroic virtues, beatification and canonization. Candidates in those stages are called by the titles, respectively, of “Venerable,” “Blessed” and “Saint,” all uppercase, as in Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. The Catholic Church says that all those in heaven are saints. Canonization is a solemn affirmation by the church to the faithful that a particular person is in heaven and that that person’s life and virtues are especially worthy of emulation and veneration. Canonization is also practiced by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Catholic, catholic
When capitalized, the word refers specifically to that branch of Christianity headed by the pope, the Roman Catholic Church. In lowercase, the word is a synonym for universal or worldwide, as in the catholic church. Most Roman Catholics are Western or Latin Catholics, meaning they follow church practice as it was formulated in Rome. But the Roman Catholic Church also includes 22 Eastern Catholic churches, whose practices closely resemble those of the Eastern Orthodox, including venerating icons, allowing a married priesthood and giving the three sacraments of initiation – baptism, First Communion and confirmation – to infants. Never refer to Eastern Catholics as Orthodox or vice versa. Use Roman Catholic if a distinction is being made between the church and members of other denominations who often describe themselves as Catholic, such as some high-church Episcopalians and members of some national Catholic churches that have broken with Rome (for example, the Polish National Catholic Church and the Lithuanian National Catholic Church).
One who conducts a religious rite, especially a Christian priest.
A cup used by a priest or clergy member to serve Communion wine.
The word means anointed one or messiah in Greek. For that reason, Christians refer to Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Christ or simply Christ.
Western Christians celebrate Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, on Dec. 25. Most Orthodox Christians, using the Julian calendar, celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7. Armenian Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6, except in Jerusalem, where it is celebrated on Jan. 19. Never abbreviate Christmas to Xmas or any other form.
Has multiple meanings. It can mean a building, a gathering of people, a civilly incorporated body, the sum total of all Christians on the planet, or an idea in the mind of God. When reading formal documents of the Catholic Church, it is especially important to figure out which one of these definitions is operative. Capitalize as part of the formal name of a building. Lowercase in phrases where the church is used in an institutional sense, as in separation of church and state.
Most frequently refers to the commemoration of the meal that, according to the New Testament, was instituted by Jesus on the night before the Crucifixion. Other terms include Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper and Eucharist, the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” Eucharist is commonly used by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians and High-Church Anglicans, though some Protestants use it as well. Belief and practice vary widely. Catholics and Orthodox Christians uniformly see the Eucharist as the central rite of Christian worship, and it is celebrated at least in every Sunday service. Some Protestants also celebrate at least weekly; others do so every other week, monthly, quarterly or less frequently. Catholics and the Orthodox, as well as some Anglicans, believe that the consecrated bread and wine themselves become the body and blood of Christ. They speak of Christ’s “real presence” in the Eucharist. Catholics and other Western Christians refer to this teaching as transubstantiation. Most Orthodox do not use the term because they believe it reflects Western ways of thinking that are foreign to Orthodoxy. Meanwhile, even some Protestants who do not believe in transubstantiation nonetheless speak of Christ’s “real presence.” Many others see the Lord’s Supper as a simple memorial meal in which bread and wine (or grape juice) remain unchanged and are no more than symbols. Do not use the word symbol to refer to the bread or wine unless you are sure that the church you are writing about considers Communion a purely symbolic act. When in doubt, use Communion, a term that has currency in just about every Christian tradition. Mass is the usual Roman Catholic term for a Eucharistic service. Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox typically speak of the Divine Liturgy. Some Protestant churches do not use the term sacrament and may rather refer to the Lord’s Supper (as well as baptism) as an ordinance. Communion also can refer to a grouping of churches that share the same beliefs and practices, as in the Anglican Communion. For this usage, capitalize on first reference as part of the full name, but lowercase the word when used alone on subsequent references. Lowercase the phrase communion of saints.  
confess, confessed, confession
An integral part of historic Christian practice. Confession can mean either to admit one’s sins or to profess the Christian faith. In the Roman Catholic Church, individual confession is part of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, in which a baptized person admits his or her sins to a priest, who can then absolve the person in the name of Christ through the power conferred through ordination. Absolution is granted if a penitent displays genuine remorse and a commitment not to repeat the sin. A penitential act may be attached to the absolution, such as an exhortation to pray or do good works. Anglicans confess their sins communally in church, and a private rite is available to them. In Eastern Orthodoxy, individuals confess their sin to God before an icon and a priest; however, the priest does not act as an intermediary to God. A confession also refers to a statement of faith, such as the Westminster Confession. In Nazi Germany, the Confessing Church was an underground church that resisted Adolf Hitler, and its name has been taken by a wide variety of Protestant groups since then, often when they are in opposition to their own denomination’s policies.
A reaffirming of faith in Christ. It is a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church, typically conferred in the early teens, although it may be received as young as 7. Eastern Catholics confer it with infant baptism. Other churches, particularly those that practice infant baptism, consider it a formal rite of passage that includes education in the faith. Some Protestant churches, particularly those that require believer’s baptism, do not practice confirmation.
Coptic Orthodox Christianity
According to tradition, the Apostle Mark established the church in Egypt in the middle of the first century. It is one of the Oriental Orthodox churches and its leader is the pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of the Holy See of Saint Mark. Coptic Christians are most numerous in Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea but are found throughout the world.
In the United States, creationism usually refers to the belief that the Bible’s account of creation is literally true and accurate. That generally means Genesis 1-2:4a, where God creates the Earth and all its life forms in six consecutive 24-hour days less than 10,000 years ago. (Genesis also tells a second creation story, in 2:4b-24, in which man is created before the Earth’s vegetation, and specific days are not described.) See intelligent design.
A statement of religious belief or faith that encapsulates official teaching. Most have developed over time amid religious and political debates. The word creed is based on the Latin word credo, which means I believe. The most common creeds in Christianity are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
A universal sign of Christianity associated with Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion by the Romans. Making the sign of the cross with the hands is a ritual of Christian devotion for Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans and some Methodists and Presbyterians. A cross is different from a crucifix, which has an image of the crucified Jesus.
Daily Office
Set times of daily Christian prayer dating to ancient days. Various forms of the Daily Office are observed widely in the liturgical traditions, especially Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Anglicanism.
In liturgical churches, such as the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican, a deacon is ordained and operates as a subordinate and assistant to priests or ministers. In other churches, deacons are drawn from the laity to carry out worship and/or administrative duties. Uppercase before a name. The Catholic Church reconstituted its diaconate as a permanent order at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. The office had a significant role in the early church but gradually fell out of use in Western Christianity. Permanent deacons, as they are known, are not lay people. They can celebrate the so-called “life-cycle” sacraments, such as baptism, marriage and funerals. They cannot celebrate the Eucharist, as a priest can, or hear confessions. In contrast to permanent deacons, transitional deacons are in the process of becoming a priest.
Another name for the Ten Commandments, which is the preferred term. See Ten Commandments.
A word that can be applied to any Christian body, though some traditions object strongly to its use. For example, the Catholic and Orthodox churches object to its underlying philosophical assumption that they are just various brand names for a single Christian tradition. Baptists (especially Independent Baptists), the Churches of Christ and some strongly congregational groups strenuously object to the notion that they are in any way an organized bureaucracy. They like to think of themselves as “fellowships.” Christian bodies can be substituted to avoid any potential controversy.
The word devil is lowercase, but capitalize Satan.
diocese, diocesan
An administrative unit of the Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox church. It is overseen by a bishop and usually covers a defined geographical area. Capitalize diocese when part of a proper name. See archdiocese.
Divine Liturgy
The Eucharistic service in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. It consists of three parts: the Prayers of Preparation; the Liturgy for the Catechumens, or those preparing for baptism; and the Liturgy of the Faithful.
The major Christian holy day. It marks Jesus Christ’s Resurrection from the dead three days after his Crucifixion. Western Christian churches and Orthodox Christian churches usually celebrate Easter on different dates, sometimes as much as five weeks apart. Both observe Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the March equinox. However, the Western church uses the Gregorian calendar and the Orthodox church and many Eastern Catholic churches use the Julian calendar. They also use different definitions of a full moon and an equinox. The two Easters are observed on the same day about a quarter of the time. Orthodox Christians refer to Easter as Pascha, derived from the Hebrew word for Passover.
Eastern Orthodox
A group of Christian churches that do not recognize the authority of the pope in Rome, but, like the Roman Catholic Church, have roots in the earliest days of Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox churches split from the Western church in the Great Schism of 1054, primarily over papal authority and whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (as the Orthodox believe) or from the Father and Son (as the Catholics believe). Included in the Eastern Orthodox churches are the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox, as well as other, smaller churches based on the nationalities of various ethnic groups such as Bulgarians, Romanians and Syrians. Eastern Orthodox clergy comparable to Catholic archbishops are known as patriarchs or metropolitans. They recognize the patriarch of Constantinople, now Istanbul, as their leader. He has the power to convene councils, but he does not have authority over the activities of the other archbishops. The patriarch of Constantinople is known as the ecumenical patriarch. Working with the archbishop are other archbishops, bishops, priests and deacons. Archbishops and bishops frequently follow a monastic tradition in which they are known only by a first name. When no last name is used, repeat the title before the name in subsequent references. Archbishop may be replaced by the Most Rev. on first reference. Use the Rev. before the name of a priest on first reference. On second reference use only the cleric’s last name. The churches have their own traditions on matters such as married clergy; for example, a married man may be ordained, but a priest may not marry after ordination. In the United States, the largest Eastern Orthodox church is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, followed by the Orthodox Church in America.
ecumenical patriarch
The patriarch of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) is known as the ecumenical patriarch; he is regarded as “the first among equals.” Capitalize this title if used before a name, but not otherwise. In the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches, a metropolitan heads an ecclesiastical province, a metropolitan see, and ranks below the patriarch. Capitalize metropolitan when used as a title before a name. Eastern Orthodox archbishops and bishops frequently follow a monastic tradition in which they are known only by a first name. In those cases, repeat the title before the name in subsequent references. Archbishop may be replaced by the Most Rev. on first reference. Use the Rev. before the name of a priest on first reference; on second reference use only his last name.
end times
Lowercase. Generally refers to the time of tribulation preceding the Second Coming of Jesus, though it has parallels and roots in all three Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Sometimes also called the “End of Days.”
episcopal, episcopacy
A form of church government in which bishops have some kind of authority over clergy and/or congregations. Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopal, Methodist and some Lutheran churches are all episcopal in this sense
Pronounced “es-kuh-TAH-lah-gee.” The theological study of end times, when the fate of individual souls and all of creation will be decided. It is often associated with doomsday predictions, but Christian eschatology also focuses on eternity, paradise, resurrection of the dead and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Book of Revelation and the prophecy of Daniel are considered eschatological or apocalyptic.
A term commonly used by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians and High-Church Anglicans for Communion, but some Protestants use it as well. In the Holy Eucharist, the Lord Christ is contained, offered, and received in the form or presentation of bread and wine. See Communion.
The act of conveying the gospel message of Jesus Christ. The word evangelism is derived from the Greek evangelion, which means “gospel” or “good news.” Styles of evangelism vary from direct appeals at large public meetings to practical deeds done in the name of Christ.
A Christian whose particular mission is to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ through preaching and teaching. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – the purported authors of the Gospels of the New Testament — are called the four Evangelists. Capitalize when referring to them, but lowercase in all other references.
Use the Rev. in first reference before the names of Episcopal, Orthodox and Roman Catholic priests. On second reference use only the cleric’s last name. Use Father before a name only in direct quotations.
Fathers of the Church
Important teachers and theologians from the first few centuries of Christianity whose writings came too late to be included in the canon of the New Testament.
Term used to describe men who are sexually attracted to other men. For women, lesbian is the preferred term. When referring to both, say gay men and lesbians, though gay is acceptable for referring to both in headlines. Avoid references to a gay, homosexual or alternative “lifestyle.”
Capitalize in reference to all monotheistic religions. Also capitalize such references as God the Father, Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit. However, lowercase personal pronouns, such as him and he. Many Christians consider God to be beyond gender, so be sensitive to the context of the story and avoid gender-defining pronouns when appropriate. Orthodox Jews write G-d to avert the sin of erasing or defacing God’s name. Journalists should respect these Jews’ practice by using G-d in quotes of written material, but otherwise should refer to God.
Gospel, gospel
The word derives from the Old English word Godspell, or “good news.” It is a translation of the Greek word evangelion. This refers to the “good news” that Jesus Christ came as the Messiah, was crucified for the sins of humanity, died and then rose from the grave to triumph over death. Of the many gospels written in antiquity, four came to be accepted as part of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Capitalize when referring to each or all of the first four books of the New Testament. Lowercase in all other references.
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
The largest Eastern Orthodox church in the United States, it is composed of an archdiocesan district made up of New York and eight metropolises — New Jersey, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Boston and Denver. It is governed by the archbishop, and a synod of bishops that oversees the ministry of the metropolises. There are 540 parishes and 800 priests. It is directly under the authority of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople in Turkey, and is not administratively related to the Church of Greece. See Eastern Orthodox.
Greek Orthodox Church
One of the churches loosely organized as Eastern Orthodox Christianity. It follows the Byzantine Rite.
Lowercase in all references.
Lowercase in all references.
Holy Communion
See Communion, Eucharist and sacrament.
Holy Ghost
See Holy Spirit.
holy orders
See sacrament.
Holy Spirit
The third entity of the Christian Trinity of God, Son and Holy Spirit. Christians believe the Holy Spirit leads people to belief in Jesus and dwells in each Christian. The Holy Spirit is depicted in Christian art as an ascending dove bathed in light or as a flame. Once called the Holy Ghost, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the term Holy Spirit came into use. It is now the preferred term.
Holy Thursday
The day before Good Friday, when Jesus had his Last Supper with his disciples, washed their feet and instituted Holy Communion. In the Catholic Church, Lent ends whenever the Holy Thursday service begins in any given parish. Also called Maundy Thursday.
Holy Week
In Christianity, the week that begins with Palm Sunday and concludes with Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and Easter commemorates his rising from the dead. Also includes Holy Thursday, which commemorates the Last Supper (Jesus’ final meal with his disciples), and Good Friday, the day of Christ’s Crucifixion. The Roman Catholic Church has redesignated the period as Passion Week, but Holy Week is still the generally used and preferred term.
Pronounced “hah-muh-LET-iks.” The art or study of delivering sermons or homilies.
intelligent design
The belief that some aspects of life forms are so complex that they must reflect the design of a conscious, rational intelligence. Proponents do not identify the designer, but most people involved in the debate assume that intelligent design refers to God. Many supporters of intelligent design reject the theory of evolution and support the idea of creationism. Most intelligent design supporters do not believe that life forms share a common ancestor, although some do.
Last Supper
In Christianity, the Last Supper was the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples before his death. The meal is discussed in all four Gospels of the New Testament. Christians believe it took place on a Thursday night, Holy Thursday, before Jesus was crucified on Friday, observed as Good Friday. See Communion.
The period of penance and fasting preceding Easter, the Christian celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection. Lenten observances are most common in the liturgical traditions, such as Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. The observance of Lent developed through the centuries and sometimes varied in its focus and length. Especially for Western Christians, the currently accepted Lenten period recalls Christ’s 40-day fast in the desert and the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the desert between leaving Egypt and entering the Promised Land. Lent was originally to prepare those being initiated into the church at Easter and was then broadened to include various days of fasting and penance by all believers. In most of the Catholic Church, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. Sundays are not counted as days of Lent. Some, still using the old liturgical calendar, count from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. Since 1969, when the document known as the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar was released, the Roman Catholic Church has said that Lent ends at the beginning of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. During Lent, able-bodied Catholics over 14 and under 65 are called on to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (that is, to go without a main meal during the day) and to abstain from meat on Fridays. Fish is often substituted. The observance of Lent within Protestantism varies from denomination to denomination, church to church, believer to believer. In recent years, even some nonliturgical Protestants, on their own or through their churches, have taken to observing the Lenten season through fasting and penance.
liturgical vestments
Special garments that a priest, minister, deacon or other clergy wears in worship. Liturgical vestments are especially characteristic of the liturgical churches, such as the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican. In some traditions, the colors of vestments change with the seasons of the church year.
Has two sets of meanings, one for Western Christians and the other for Eastern Christians. Among Roman Catholics and Protestants, lowercase liturgy means a standard set of prayers and practices for public worship. It can also be used as a synonym for the service of worship in churches that use such forms – most commonly the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran. With reference to Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics, uppercase Liturgy; avoid the lowercase use of the word with their churches. Churches that tend to vary their services each week, such as most Baptist, Pentecostal and independent churches, are often called nonliturgical.
Always capitalize when referring to God in a monotheistic faith, as in Lord Jesus or in Lord Krishna.
Lord’s Prayer
The New Testament describes Jesus teaching his followers this prayer, the most commonly recited in Christianity. It is found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.
Lord’s Supper
See Communion.
In Christianity, the proper name St. Jerome gave to Satan. Lowercase devil but uppercase Lucifer.
Mary, mother of Jesus
According to the New Testament, Mary was a virgin when she miraculously conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. She then married Joseph. Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that she remained a perpetual virgin and that biblical references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters mean either Joseph’s children by an earlier marriage or cousins. Most Protestants believe that Mary and Joseph had children. Mary was present at Jesus’ Crucifixion and was among the disciples gathered when the New Testament says they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. According to one tradition, she went to live with the Apostle John in Ephesus, Greece (in modern-day Turkey), after Jesus’ Crucifixion. Other traditions hold that she lived out her days near Jerusalem. Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant Christians give her the title Mother of God. Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that her prayers for them are especially powerful because she has such a close relationship to Jesus. Catholics alone believe that Mary’s parents conceived her without transmitting original sin to her – a dogma known as the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is often confused with the Virgin Birth, which refers to the birth of Jesus by the Virgin Mary. Catholics refer to her as the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that she was drawn up bodily into heaven at the end of her life. The Orthodox call this the Dormition of the Theotokos (Theotokos [theh-oh-TOH-kohs] is the usual Orthodox term for Mother of God) and believe that it happened after she died. Catholics call it the Assumption and have never officially resolved whether she died. Mary is also revered by Muslims, and there is a chapter in the Quran named after her. Veneration is the term that characterizes Catholic devotion to Mary and other saints; only God is worshipped. Marian veneration, along with the entire tradition of devotion to saints, was historically one of the principal divides between Catholics and most Protestants, although many Protestants are rethinking their traditional views of the mother of Jesus.
A term used by Latin Catholics and some high-church Anglicans for a worship service that includes the celebration of Holy Communion. The term cannot be used for services that do not include Communion, including those in which someone distributes Communion hosts that were consecrated outside of that service. Catholic sources say a Mass is celebrated or said; however, The Associated Press accepts only celebrated. Capitalize when referring to the celebration of worship in the Roman Catholic Church. Lowercase any preceding adjectives, as in funeral Mass. Orthodox Christians call their Eucharistic service the Divine Liturgy.
Maundy Thursday
See Holy Thursday.
messiah, Messiah
A Hebrew term meaning “the anointed one.” For Christians, the one and only Messiah is Jesus Christ. Jews await the coming of the Messiah. Capitalize in religious uses and lowercase in secular cases.
In the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches, a metropolitan heads an ecclesiastical province, a metropolitan see, and ranks below the patriarch. In Orthodoxy, a metropolitan is said to govern a metropolia, while the Eastern Catholics call it an archeparchy. In the Western churches, the corresponding terms are archbishop and archdiocese.
National Council of Churches
The formal name of this group, which was founded in 1950, is the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. It is commonly called the National Council of Churches, and that term is acceptable in all references. Use NCC on second reference. The NCC is an ecumenical organization that is the major national umbrella group for mainline Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African-American and Living Peace churches. More than 50 other faith groups, including Roman Catholics, work with the council on humanitarian, justice and interfaith issues.
A theological movement that emerged in the 1920s as a scholarly reaction against extreme Protestant liberalism, and drew heavily on the work of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth. It emphasized the sovereignty of God, the seriousness of sin and the revelation of Christian doctrine through Scripture. However, it denied that accounts in the Bible were necessarily historic fact.
New Testament
The part of the Christian Bible written after the death of Jesus Christ. The name traces back to the Greek term meaning new covenant. There are 27 books in the New Testament, including the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as well as the letters of the Apostles and early church leaders.
A woman belonging to a religious order, typically Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Nuns are also found in the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran and Buddhist traditions. In Catholicism, nuns are cloistered, meaning they live a life of secluded prayer, while sisters are more likely to be engaged in ministry outside the convent. However, the terms have become interchangeable in everyday language. Catholics commonly refer to nuns and brothers as “religious,” as in women and men religious, but that term is often confusing to general readers. Nuns and sisters are not ordained; they are lay people who take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the superior (leader) of their community. The superiors of some orders are referred to as Mother. Some nuns and sisters continue to use a surname, while others do not. On first reference, follow the appropriate conventions, as in Sister Jane Doe or Mother Teresa. On second reference, continue to use Sister or Mother and the first name if the person is known that way, such as Mother Teresa. Otherwise, use only the last name on second reference. See sister.
Old Testament
Also known as the Hebrew Scriptures or Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament makes up the first part of the Christian Bible. Jews do not use this term, and many consider it disrespectful because it implies that the Hebrew Bible is “old” and unnecessary compared with the Christian Scriptures. Use Hebrew Bible in stories solely involving Judaism. It is divided into categories of law, history, poetry and prophecy. All of the books were written before the birth of Jesus. The canonical books used differ among Jews, Protestants, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, although there is much overlap. Old Testament is capitalized in all references. See Apocrypha.
The process of authorizing a person to perform ministry in an official capacity for a specific religious organization, usually Christian or Jewish. Many denominations require formal education and training, and many ordain deacons as well as clergy. Lowercase ordained and ordination in all references.
Oriental Orthodox Church
A group of Christian churches that includes the Armenian, Indian, Ethiopian, Coptic (Egyptian), Syrian and Eritrean Orthodox churches.
Orthodox Church
Any of the several Eastern Christian churches that are rooted in the Middle East or Eastern Europe but that do not give allegiance to the Roman Catholic pope. The term Orthodox was adopted by the Eastern Church to signify its adherence to the original apostolic traditions, teachings and style of worship. The Orthodox Eucharistic service is called the Divine Liturgy, and worship is very sensual, involving incense, chants and the veneration of icons. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches were united until 1054, when the Great Schism occurred, mainly as a result of disputes over papal authority. The pope in Rome claimed supremacy over the four Eastern patriarchs, while the Eastern patriarchs claimed equality with the pope. Although the split was officially made in 1054, divisions began more than two centuries earlier. Today the spiritual head of Orthodoxy is the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, who has no governing authority over the other patriarchs but is called “first among equals.”
Orthodox Church in America
The second-largest body of Orthodox churches in the United States. It traces its origins to the arrival in Kodiak, Alaska, of eight Orthodox missionaries from Russia in 1794. In the early 1960s, the OCA was known as the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America, or The Metropolia. People who joined this group in the 1930s were Eastern Catholics who turned to Orthodoxy after the Vatican forbade them to have married priests in the United States. Today, in addition to the parishes of the former Metropolia, the OCA includes the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate, the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese and the Bulgarian Orthodox Diocese. In the past two decades the OCA has established more than 220 new parishes, almost all non-ethnic in origin and worshipping only in English. In 1970, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church designated the OCA an autocephalous church, meaning it enjoys autonomy and has the right to elect its own primate, or presiding hierarch. It has its headquarters in Syosset, N.Y. See Eastern Orthodox.
orthodox, orthodoxy
A term used to denote a clear doctrine that implies correct belief according to a particular religion or philosophy. Lowercase except when referring to Judaism or the Eastern branches of Christianity or as part of a denominational name, such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Palm Sunday
The sixth Sunday in Lent and the beginning of the Christian Holy Week before Easter. Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The day gets its name from the biblical reference to crowds throwing palm fronds before Jesus as he entered the city. Also known as Passion Sunday, though Palm Sunday is the preferred term.
A member of a parish. It is best used only in reference to Catholic, Episcopal and Orthodox Christians. It should not be used for non-Christians or members of nonhierarchical Protestant denominations.
Pronounced “PAHS-kuh.” The term used by Orthodox churches and some other Christians for Easter.
Generally, the head minister or priest of a Christian church, although in some denominations any ordained minister is called pastor. It means shepherd and is also used in reference to bishops and to the pope.
One of the ancient fathers of Judaism and Christianity — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, a patriarch is the highest-ranking bishop. Capitalize if used before a name. In the Roman Catholic Church, the patriarch is the bishop of Rome and is called pope. Unlike the pope, who has jurisdiction over all Roman Catholic territories, the authority of Eastern and Oriental patriarchs is more limited. They have a great deal of enforceable jurisdiction in their own territories but no authority over each other’s.
A Christian feast held on the seventh Sunday after Easter that marks the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ.
Most commonly refers to the head of the Roman Catholic Church, but Coptic Orthodox Christians also are led by a pope. Capitalize only when used as a formal title before a name.
The term used for ordained clergy of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Episcopal faith. Priest also is used by Wiccans and for some clergy in Buddhism and Hinduism. It is not a formal title and is not capitalized. Avoid the term minister when referring to Catholic priests. Also, while every priest has pastoral duties toward the baptized, the term pastor refers to the priest (and in rare cases, laymen or laywomen) charged by the bishop with overseeing a parish. A pastor may have one or more assistant pastors. Most Catholic priests in the United States are diocesan clergy, ordained by and for a particular diocese. They make promises of celibacy and obedience, but although they are expected to adhere to a modest lifestyle, they do not take vows of poverty and can own a home, for example, or a car. The term religious priests refers to priests who belong to a religious order, such as the Jesuits, and hold possessions in common.
priesthood of all believers
A Christian doctrine that believers have direct access to God and do not need professional priests to act as intermediaries. Based on New Testament passages (including 1 Peter 2:9), it stands in contrast to the role of priests in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. This doctrine has also been a source of debate in the Southern Baptist Convention when members have accused leaders of imposing interpretations of Scripture.
A term used to describe people who oppose abortion. Abortion, however, is a more nuanced issue, with many people opposing abortion rights in most, but not all, circumstances. Journalists should instead use a description of their views, such as opposed to abortion or against abortion rights. See abortion, pro-choice.
Someone who speaks divine revelation, or a message they received directly from God. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have certain figures they formally recognize as prophets. Some traditions, including the Mormons, some charismatic groups and some non-Christian faiths, believe their leaders receive ongoing divine revelation. In much of Christianity, all ordained clergy are considered to have a prophetic role because their job is to proclaim the word of God. Capitalize when used before the name Muhammad to refer to Islam’s final prophet, but otherwise do not capitalize as a title.
The act of seeking converts to a faith. However, many Christian groups – particularly the Roman Catholic Church – draw a strong distinction between proselytizing and evangelizing. Proselytizing is viewed as the use of unethical methods – such as coercion, bribery or threats – to bring conversions. Evangelizing is considered a pressure-free effort to present the faith and invite others to freely accept it. This distinction explains why Pope John Paul II frequently condemned proselytizing while encouraging – and engaging in – evangelization. Do not use the word proselytize unless you know it is being used in a negative context. Evangelism (Protestant) or evangelization (Catholic or Orthodox) are the preferred terms.
Protestant, Protestantism
In the 16th century, church thinkers and leaders such as Martin Luther and John Calvin demanded changes in Roman Catholic Church doctrine and practice. That led to the development of denominations made up of the protesters or “protestants” who declared themselves independent of papal authority. Many Protestants say the word means to “testify forth,” as in to preach the word of God. Protestant churches include Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Quaker churches. The label Protestant is not applied to Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. It also should not be used to describe a member of an Orthodox church.
In Christian eschatology, a term used to describe the sudden transportation of true Christians into heaven before other events associated with the end of the world take place. See premillennial dispensationalism.
religious habit
The traditional garment worn by members of religious orders, the habit is analogous to the cassock worn by diocesan clergy. Each order has a distinctive style. Franciscans, for example, wear a simple brown habit with a hood, along with sandals, similar to that worn by the order’s founder, St. Francis. The habit generally has its origins in contemporary dress of the period the order was founded. The habits of many sisters and nuns resemble clothing worn by widows in ancient times, for example. Wearing the habit used to be compulsory, but the regulations were relaxed after the Second Vatican Council, and many religious, men and women, wear regular street clothes.
religious references
In general, follow AP’s guidelines on religious references. deities: Capitalize the proper names of the deities from monotheistic religions — God, Allah, the Father, the Son, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit. Lowercase pronouns referring to the deities. When referring to the deities of polytheistic religions, lowercase the words god and gods, but capitalize the proper name of a specific deity, such as Zeus or Odin. life of Christ: Capitalize the names of major events in Jesus Christ’s life, such as the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Nativity, the Resurrection. Crucifixion and Resurrection should always be capitalized when referring to Jesus — a departure from AP style. rites: Capitalize proper names for rites commemorating the Last Supper or that signify a belief in Christ’s presence, such as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Holy Eucharist. The word communion alone is lowercase. Lowercase the names of other sacraments. Capitalize Benediction when referring to the Catholic religious service with that name, but not when referring to other rites or acts of blessing. Capitalize Mass, but lowercase preceding adjectives, such as funeral Mass. holy days: Capitalize the names of holy days. other references: Lowercase heaven, hell and devil. Capitalize Hades and Satan. Lowercase angel unless it precedes a name, such as the Angel Gabriel. Lowercase apostle unless it precedes the name of one of the original Twelve Apostles or of Paul, or refers to those Apostles collectively.
revelation, Revelation
In monotheistic religions, revelation is the process through which God reveals or communicates truths about God’s self or will. Uppercase when referring to the final book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation. (Note that Revelation is singular.)
Roman Catholic Church
It is the largest Christian community in the world and in the U.S. The Roman Catholic Church considers itself to be the one, true, and full expression of the church founded by Jesus Christ. (The word catholic means “universal.”) It traces its origins to the Church of Rome, which was one of several pre-eminent churches in the apostolic age of the first century. (Others were in Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and elsewhere.) The Catholic Church believes that through St. Peter — considered the first bishop of Rome, where he was martyred — the Church of Rome early on exercised a primacy and authority over the other churches. That authority continued to be exercised under the successors to Peter, bishops who later came to be known by the title of pope. The Catholic Church says the basis of the Petrine and papal authority starts with Jesus’ commission to Peter in Matthew 16:18. The assertion and its practice were always matters of dispute. The first major fracture came in the 11th century, when Western, Latin-Rite Christianity under the bishop of Rome split with the patriarchs of the Orthodox churches in the East, based in Constantinople. The Catholic Church still considers Eastern Orthodoxy a true church with which it has few significant doctrinal differences — the authority of the pope being one of them. Rome characterizes much of Protestantism as not comprising true churches but rather “ecclesial communities.” The Roman Catholic Church was known simply as the Catholic Church until the Protestant Reformation, when the authority of the pope became a source of contention. Catholics began to use the Roman appellation to reinforce their unity under the pope, and the primacy of the papacy has become one of the distinguishing marks of modern Catholicism. Catholic belief and practice are ordered around seven sacraments — Holy Eucharist, baptism, confirmation, penance (confession), matrimony, holy orders (ordination) and the sacrament of the sick. The pope’s seat of power is the Holy See at the Vatican. He selects bishops and members of the College of Cardinals. Cardinals usually are bishops, but that is not a requirement. When a new pope must be chosen, the cardinals gather in a conclave to select him. Outside of Rome, the church’s principal organizational units are archdioceses, headed by archbishops, and dioceses, headed by bishops. Both report directly to Rome. The highest office in the Catholic Church is that of bishop; the pope is the bishop of Rome. In reality, the hierarchical structure among ordained clergy is pope, cardinal, archbishop, bishop, monsignor, priest and deacon. Women are barred from holy orders.
Russian Orthodox Church
Branch of the Eastern Church of Christianity with headquarters in Moscow. It is the largest of the national and ethnic churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. See Eastern Orthodox.
The day of the week observed for rest and worship. Most Christian traditions observe the Sabbath on Sunday. Judaism — along with some Christian traditions such as Seventh-day Adventists — observes the Sabbath on Saturday. (Jews’ observance of the Sabbath begins at sundown Friday.) Capitalize in religious references but lowercase when talking about periods of rest. See Shabbat.
A Christian rite than confers grace and serves as a visible form of it. The Orthodox, Roman Catholic and certain Episcopal churches believe there are seven sacraments: Eucharist or Communion, baptism, confirmation, penance (often called confession), anointing of the ill, marriage and ordination (holy orders). Most Protestant churches recognize only two sacraments, baptism and Communion. Lowercase sacrament, but capitalize when using the proper names for sacramental rites that commemorate the life of Christ or signify a belief in his presence, such as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion and Holy Eucharist. Lowercase the other sacraments.
In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is depicted as an angel used by God to test man. In the New Testament, Satan is a fallen angel who is the ultimate evil and enemy of God and man. In Islam, Satan was the head jinn or genie until he angered God by refusing to accept man’s superiority. Uppercase in all references, but always lowercase devil.
Always capitalize when referring to Jesus Christ.
scripture, scriptures
The sacred writings of a religious group. Capitalize when referring to writings from the Holy Bible but not otherwise.
Second Coming
Always capitalize when referring to the return of Jesus that is prophesied in the Bible.
A member of a religious order of women. Uppercase when used as a title before a name. On second reference, continue to use Sister and the first name if the person is known that way, such as Sister Joan. Otherwise, use only the last name on second reference. Anglican orders for women may include both lay and ordained members.
A council, usually in a Christian church, convened to decide a doctrinal or administrative issue. Uppercase in formal names.
A Greek word, meaning “to view together,” used to refer to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, which tell many of the same stories of Jesus’ life and can be compared side-by-side. The Gospel of John tells different stories in a different sequence.
Ten Commandments
The biblical edicts handed to Moses by God atop Mount Sinai. They are the basis of Mosaic law. They are found in Exodus 20:2-17, 34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21; Exodus 20 is the most commonly quoted version. The commandments are numbered differently by Jews and by different Christian traditions, including Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic Christians. The different numbering and wording (according to the biblical translation chosen) is one factor that has made public posting of the Ten Commandments controversial.
The doctrine that the bread and wine are physically transformed into the body and blood of Christ when consecrated in the Eucharist. The Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox churches believe in transubstantiation. See consubstantiation.
This key doctrine in Christianity says that God, the Son and the Holy Spirit together make up the one Godhead. The exact nature and definition of the Trinity were central in the split between the Eastern and Western Christian churches.
Twelve Apostles
See Apostles.
Virgin Birth
The Christian belief that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. It should not be confused with the Immaculate Conception, which is a Catholic dogma that the Virgin Mary was conceived free from original sin.
Virgin Mary
The mother of Jesus Christ. See Mary, Mother of Jesus.
Word of God
Capitalize when referring to the Bible.
World Council of Churches
Formed in 1948 in Amsterdam, the World Council of Churches claims the membership of 340 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 100 countries and territories, representing some 550 million Christians, including most of the world’s Orthodox churches. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member but has a working relationship with the council. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the council works for Christian unity while stressing that it is not aimed at creating a “global super-church.” It is viewed with suspicion by many theologically conservative Christian groups — including strong factions of some member churches — who believe that it waters down Christian theology and substitutes social action for spreading the gospel.
Do not use this shortened form of the word Christmas.