Glossary

Glossary of Christian Terms

  • Advent - Preparatory season of four Sundays before Christmas. Also has theological meaning of preparation for the Second Coming.
  • Altar - The table central to the celebration of the Eucharist in churches with a strong liturgical tradition. In other Christian traditions its counterpart is the communion table.
  • Ambo - A term for the lectern or pulpit where the scriptures are proclaimed in a Christian church.
  • Anglican - The worldwide communion of national churches originating from the tradition of the Church of England. The American branch is called the Episcopal Church.
  • Anointing - The act of placing holy oil on a person. Christians are anointed in various rites, including baptism, confirmation and anointing of the sick.
  • Antioch - Ancient city located in modern-day Syria. It was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians.
  • Apocrypha - Literature considered at different times to be scriptural but which were not ultimately included in the commonly accepted canon of scripture. Some writings are considered apocryphal by some Christians but not included in the scripture by others.
  • Apostle - One of the twelve closest disciples of Jesus. Each apostle was later a head of a local church throughout the known world. Although Paul was not technically one of the Twelve, he is accorded this title, along with Mary Magdalen in some traditions. Fundamentalist Christians use this title to refer to anyone with a strong sense of mission.
  • Apostolic - Historic churches with a hierarchical form of governance (bishop, priest, deacon) who place importance on a succession of bishops traceable to early times (called apostolic succession). Examples include Roman, Orthodox, Anglican and some Lutheran churches.
  • Baptism - The rite of immersion in water (or in some common variants, pouring of water) that constitutes membership in the Christian church. Originating in the Jewish mikveh, the Christian understanding of baptism is a symbolic death and resurrection to new life.
  • Basilica - The ancient form of a Roman administrative building adapted for use as Christian worship space. This is also a title bestowed on historic church buildings as an honor.
  • Beatitudes - From the Latin beatus, “blessed,” the list of characteristics used by Jesus to describe those who are favored by God but ridiculed by the world.
  • Bible - From the Greek biblios, “library.” A collection of Jewish and Christian literary works of varying genres, written by different authors at different times for different purposes, that constitutes the Christian Scripture.
  • Bishop - From the Greek episkopos, “overseer,” the person who signifies the unity of a church. The bishop teaches, governs and guides the people toward holiness. Churches with bishops are said to have an Episcopal form of governance (examples: Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and others.) In some traditions, a bishop of a large or historically important city is called an archbishop. Christians of the East may use the term eparch for a bishop.
  • Born-again - A term used by fundamentalist Christians to describe a life-changing moment of interior conversion. This is a modern concept originating within the past 150 years.
  • Canterbury - The ancient headquarters of the English Church and the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who presides over the worldwide Anglican Communion.
  • Cardinal - In the Roman Church, an advisor to the Bishop of Rome. Almost always a bishop, cardinals are usually chosen because of the importance of the city they represent.
  • Catechism - A book containing a concise explanation of Christian beliefs.
  • Catechumen - A person learning the Christian faith with the goal of being baptized.
  • Cathedral - The mother-church building of a diocese, or regional church. The identifying mark of a cathedral, from which it gets its name, is that it houses the cathedra, or bishop’s chair, the symbol of the bishop’s authority over a local church.
  • Catholic - Derived from the Greek word for “universal.” Written with a “c,” it is the common faith of all Christians as expressed in standard creeds. Written with “C,” it is often considered to indicate the Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran traditions, although in common usage it generally refers to the Roman Catholic tradition, the largest branch of Christianity.
  • Christ - An honorific title for Jesus, from the Greek christos, “anointed.”
  • Christmas - Celebration of the birth of Jesus, the second most important date in the Christian calendar. The exact date of Jesus’ birth is not known, but in Rome, December 25 was chosen for the feast early in Christian history. In the East, the birth of Christ is celebrated on January 6 and is called Theophany, the feast known as Epiphany in the West.
  • Church - A community of Christians. In English, the word is also used to refer to the building where Christians worship.
  • Communion - The Christian community united in faith and love. Also means the act of receiving the Eucharist, because of its significance as a sign of unity.
  • Confession - To proclaim one’s faith. also means to admit one’s sins. In some Christian traditions, it is colloquial usage for the sacrament of reconciliation, whereby a penitent is reconciled to the community after admitting sin.
  • Confirmation - The ritual completion of the sacrament of baptism, celebrated in many traditions when a Christian becomes a teenager.
  • Congregational - A Protestant tradition in which governance is centered in the local congregation. The denomination to which most Congregational churches belong to is the United Church of Christ.
  • Constantinople - The historical center of Orthodox Christianity, now called Istanbul. The Patriarch of Constantinople is considered second to the Bishop of Rome in historic honor.
  • Council - A gathering of bishops called to settle matters of faith or church governance. See Second Vatican Council.
  • Creed - A concise statement of Christian belief, often recited at services. The most common creed in use by most Christian churches is the Nicene Creed.
  • Cross - The primary symbol of Christian faith., representing the way Christ died. Different traditions use varying forms of the cross. When an image of Christ is on the cross it is called a crucifix.
  • Deacon - from the Greek work diakonos, “servant.” The deacon is one of the three forms of ordained clerical ministry (bishop, priest, deacon) in those churches with a hierarchical tradition. The deacon’s primary role is to remind the people of their duties toward the poor and outcast. In other Christian churches, it is a lay office with duties that vary from charitable functions to an usher to sort of board of directors.
  • Diocese - A church of a geographical region presided over by a bishop. In the church of the East, the term eparchy may be used.
  • Disciple - A follower of Jesus.
  • Easter - The central event of the Christian year., celebrating the rising of Jesus from the dead. Christian teachings relates this event to the Jewish seder held at Passover (or Pesach), and in many languages the word is similar, such as the Orthodox term Pascha. The date of Easter is set according to a lunar calculation.
  • Ecumenism - The movement of unity of all Christians.
  • Edit of Milan - The proclamation in the year 313 by the Roman Emperor Constantine that legalized Christianity, which up to that time had been an underground religion subject o persecution.
  • Epiphany - From the Greek word meaning “manifestation,” the celebration of the birth of Jesus being revealed to all nations through the three Magi, variously  believed to be foreign astrologers or Zoroastrian priests, among other theories. The traditional date for this feast is January 6 (The Twelfth Day of Christmas), although some Churches have moved it to a Sunday following Christmas.
  • Eucharist - From the Greek word meaning “to give thanks,’ the central act of Christian worship. Also called the mass or Divine Liturgy in some traditions, the Eucharist derives from the teaching that Jesus held a Jewish Passover Seder with his disciples the night before he died.
  • Evangelist - A writer of one of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Fundamentalists often use this term to refer to anyone who preaches.
  • Evangelization - The action of sharing the basic premise of the Christian faith with others.
  • Fish - An ancient Christian symbol derived from the Greek acronym “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” which spells the Greek word ichthys, “fish.”
  • Golden Rule - A teaching of Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”
  • Gospel - From an old English word meaning “Good News.” The Central message of Christianity, that humanity can be free from sin, doubt and despair. The word also refers to the four main books of the Christian Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
  • Grace - Christian concept of a human’s participation in the life of God, given not through merit, but by God’s abundant love.
  • Heaven - The eternal state of union with God.
  • Hell - The eternal state of separation from God.
  • Holy Family - The family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
  • Holy Orders - The process by which one is ordained clergy, considered a sacrament by some traditions.
  • Holy - See The Diocese of Rome
  • Holy Week - The period leading up to the celebration of Easter, comprising Palm Sunday, Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The final three days, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, are considered a single event, are called Triduum (Latin: Three Days).
  • Icon - An image commonly used in Churches of the East which depicts a person to be initiated or an event in the life of the church.
  • Iconostasis - In Eastern church buildings, a wall of icons separating the main body of the building from the altar area.
  • Incarnation - The act of God becoming a human to participate in human nature. From Latin: “into flesh.”
  • Incense - Used in some Christian services as a sign of respect to God and people.
  • INRI - Initials sometimes used on a cross to represent the sign placed by the Roman official Pontius Pilate on the cross above Jesus, indicating the crime for which the Romans condemned him: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” (Latin: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum)
  • Laity - Those who have been initiated into the Church (baptized), from the Greek laios, “initiated.”
  • Latin - A term used primarily in the Holy Land to refer to Roman Catholics. Also the ancient language used by Roman Catholics in worship prior to 1968.
  • Lent - A forty day season of penitence in preparation for Easter. The three practices of Lent are prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
  • Liturgy - The public prayer of the Church. From the Greek leiturgia, “work of the people.”
  • Lord - English interpretation of the Hebrew word Adonai, referring to God. The same English word is used to translate Aramaic honorifics meaning “sir” or “master” referring to Jesus.
  • Lutheran - A follower of the tradition begun by Martin Luther (1483-1540), a famous reformer against abuses of the church of his time.
  • Minister - Ordained clergy of the Protestant traditions. The term is also used in hierarchical churches to describe anyone with a role in liturgy or service to others.
  • Mystery - A belief which can never be fully understood, but which invites constant reflection and deeper appreciation.
  • Myth - A story used to communicate a profound truth.
  • Ordination - The ceremony which makes one a leader in the Church.
  • Orthodox - The Churches of the East which gradually grew apart from the Church of the West due to cultural and political differences and geography. Orthodox churches are generally organized according to national boundaries, for example, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, etc.
  • Pope - Title used by the Bishop of Rome, considered the primary bishop of the world because St. Peter was the first to head the Christian community in that city. Rome is one of the five ancient patriarchal sees, the others being in Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The title of “Pope” is also used by some Orthodox churches, such as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt.
  • Parable - In a Christian context, a story told by Jesus to explain a teaching. Jesus ‘ parables were not usually allegories, but rather a story drawn from nature or ordinary life to make a religious point. Parables invite reflection as their point can sometimes be misunderstood.
  • Pastor - The Latin word for “shepherd,” a member of the clergy entrusted with the care of a parish community.
  • Patristics - From the Latin word for “father,” the study of the writings of the Fathers of the Church, ancient Christian writers whose explanation of Christian beliefs are often considered authoritative.
  • Pentecost - The celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Christian Church, observed fifty days after Easter, similar to the Jewish Festival of Shavuot (whose occurrence falls fifty days after Passover begins). After Christmas and Easter, the third most important date in the Christian calendar.
  • Presbyterian - A Protestant tradition where governance is centered on presbyters, or ministers.
  • Priest - From the Greek presbyter, meaning “elder.” In the early church, bishops delegated this function to priests. Thus priests were added to the ordained ministry of the bishop and deacon, forming three levels of Holy orders. Priests preside at Eucharist and sacramental rites.
  • Rapture - Recent concept developed over the past 100 years and held by Fundamentalist Christians of a dramatic selection of the righteous from among the wicked, prior to the end of the world.
  • Redemption - God’s saving activity through Christ in delivering humanity from sin and evil.
  • Reformation - The sixteenth-Century movement by Christians protesting abuses and calling for reform in the Church that eventually divided Western Christianity into Protestants and Catholics.
  • Rome - Ancient capital of the Roman Empire that became the primary center of Christianity.
  • Sacrament - A ritual celebrating a significant milestone in an individual’s life of faith. The number of sacraments vary between Protestant traditions and Catholic traditions, with some accepting only baptism and Eucharist, while others accept seven: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, marriage, reconciliation (also called confession or penance), holy orders, and anointing of the sick.
  • Saint - From the Latin word sanctus, “holy.” An exemplary Christian whose virtues are worthy of imitation.
  • Second Coming - The return of Jesus at the end of time, when the world as we know it will end and a new realm of reality will be introduced.
  • Second Vatican Council - (also called Vatican II) The worldwide gathering of bishops of the Roman Catholic Church (1962-1965) called by Pope John XXIII. The Council transformed the life, theology and practices of the world’s largest religion and opened a new era of Catholic relationships with other Christians, Muslims, and Jews. It is widely considered the most important religious event of the twentieth century.
  • Sin - The willful and deliberate choice of a human to choose his or her own way rather than God’s plan for his or her life.
  • Soul - The principle of life in every human being.
  • Stole - A strip of cloth that is the symbol of ordained ministry in Christian churches.
  • Tabernacle - A container or box in which bread from the Eucharist is reserved to be brought to the sick and homebound, common in Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions.
  • Theological - virtues Those virtues which bring us closest to God: faith, hope and love.
  • Trinity - The Christian expression of three aspects of the One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is the creative aspect of God that intervenes in human history, the Son is the incarnational aspect of God that seeks to redeem us and the Spirit is the aspect of God that is wisdom, creativity and sanctification.
  • Vigil - The Christian practice of beginning a major celebration at sundown of the day before, following the Jewish calendrical tradition in which the “day” begins immediately after sundown during the prior evening.


Glossary of Islamic Terms

  • Allah - The Arabic proper name of the One God, the Creator and Lord of the universe, the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and all the prophets.
  • Allahu Akbar - God is greater than all else. Recited by Muslims in the adhan (call for prayer), in their prayers, and as supplication and praise of God at any time.
  • Asma’ u l-husn - The Most Beautiful Names. The 99 descriptive attributes of Allah which are mentioned in the Quran.
  • Assalamu Alaykum - Islamic greeting (literally, peace be upon you)
  • A ‘than Call for prayers.
  • Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Raheem - In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. This is the most commonly recited phrase in the Quran.
  • Dawud - (David) Prophet David who was the father of Prophet Sulayman (Solomon) (peace be upon both). Prophet Dawud made Jerusalem the capital of the land he ruled. The revelation he received is Zabur (Psalms.)
  • Eid Feast or Festival - Muslims have two eids, the first celebrating the completion of the fast of Ramadan, the second commemorating Prophet Abraham’s obedience to God. Muslims celebrate these eids with special congregational prayers, acts of charity and gathering of friends and family.
  • Fatwa Religious - opinion issued by a reliable scholar of Islam.
  • Hadith - The recorded oral tradition of the prophet Muhammad, memorized and written down by his companions and later complied in various collections. Of these Bukhari and Muslim are the two most authentic. Sometimes referred to as “tradition,” hadith is the second major source of Islamic law after the Quran. The science of hadith is scrupulous in ascertaining the authenticity of any hadith of the Prophet and the reliability of those reporting it.
  • Hajj - The pilgrimage to Makkah and Kaaba, which is the first House built for worship of God by Abraham and his son, Ishmael. Hajj concludes with the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid ul Adha) and is mandatory for all Muslims who can afford the journey to Makkah physically and financially, at least once in life.
  • Ijithad - Lit. “Striving”, in Islamic law it means putting forth maximum effort through juristic reasoning in regard to a problem or issue, to ascertain the injunction of Islam and its real intent, especially when no specific guidance in original sources (the Quran andSunnah) is available.
  • Imam - The leader of a congregational prayer or the selected ruler of a community.
  • Injil - The New Testament, revealed by God to Prophet Jesus for the guidance of the Children of Israel. Parts of the Injil are included in the Bible.
  • Islam - Lit. “Peaceful Submission” or “freely surrender,” Islam also means “peace,” underlining the fact that it is only through obedience to God that man can achieve real peace with himself with other forms of God’s creation around him. Those who believe and practice Islam are Muslims. The Quran teaches that all God’s prophets, since the creation of man, were in this sense Muslims, and that their core message to mankind was Islam or the message of peace and obedience to God.
  • Jihad - Lit. Struggle. Denotes the struggle in the cause of God, whether it is directed at betterment of one’s morals, reformation of one’s character, or struggle in a wider circle to curb evil and help promote good, peacefully and through beautiful exhortation, the use of force is the last resort when tyranny and injustice prevail, depriving man of human dignity, freedom of thought, belief, and expression.
  • Ka'ba - Lit. A cube shaped building; the Kaaba was the first House of worship built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael in Makka, for the worship of God.
  • Musa - (Moses) Prophet Musa who liberated the Israelites from the tyranny of Pharaoh and received the Torah, as guidance and mercy to mankind.
  • Nuh - (Noah) A Prophet of Allah who witnessed the Great flood.
  • Quran - The last book revealed by God as a guidance and mercy to all mankind. The Quran confirms the previous authentic revelations of God, guided mankind to the worship of God, instructs humanity about His true nature and His will for humankind, and explains the reality and purpose of our life on earth. It was revealed to the prophet Muhammad through Angel Gabriel over a period of twenty-three years.
  • Ramadan - The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which healthy adult Muslims must fast from food, drink, and conjugal relations from dawn to dusk. Ramadan falls eleven days earlier each year, a blessing which enables that Muslims in either Northern or Southern hemispheres will be permanently required to fast for longer or shorter hours.
  • Salah - The formal five mandatory prayers in Islam, during which Musilms recite portions of the Quran, bow and prostrate in worship. Salah puts Muslims in continual communication with their Creator, while providing a constant reminder of their higher moral spiritual mission in life.
  • Sawm - Fasting. Sawm is obligatory for Muslims during the month of Ramadan and a recommended optional practice during the rest of the year. Fasting trains Muslims in obedience to God, patience in times of hardship and compassion for the poor. As a form of worship, sawm is an intensely spiritual experience that enables conscientious Muslims to deepen their relationship with God.
  • Shahadah - The declaration of faith or the statement that there is no god but the One True God and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger. The only prerequisite to becoming Muslim is to recite the shahadah with sincere conviction.
  • Shari’ah - The Islamic law, derived from the Quran, the Sunnah of the prophet Mohammad, and juristic reasoning (ijithad) in matters not specifically delineated in the other two sources.
  • Shi’a (Shi’ite) - Lit. Partisan. Denotes the minority of Muslims who believe that Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, was his legitimate successor rather than Abu Bakr (the first caliph) or others. While agreeing with other Muslims in the basic principles of Islam, the shi’a have nonetheless retained their identity as a distinct religious group.
  • Shura - Mutual consultation. Muslims are ordered by the Quran to make decisions through the process of shura, which involves the selection of leaders through public mandate and leaders’ consulting with those they represent when making decisions that will affect them. Muslims governments are obliged to follow the methodology of shura. There is no place for dictatorship in Islam.
  • Sulayman - (Solomon) A Prophet who was the son of Prophet Dawud (David.)
  • Sunnah - Lit. “The practice” or “example,” Sunnah comprises the actions and statements of the prophet Muhammad, and is a major source of Islamic law.
  • Taqwa - Piety, Allah-consciousness.
  • Tawbah - Repentance.
  • Tawhid - The most basic doctrine of Islam is the absolute Oneness and uniqueness of God.
  • Wudu - Ablutions. For Muslims every salah is an audience with their Lord, and they prepare for that audience by renewing their physical and mental state of purity with wudu, washing their hands, arms, face, and feet with clean water, and wiping heads and neck with wet fingers, while intending worship and adoration of God.
  • Ya’qub (Jacob) - A Prophet of Allah, also called Israel who was the father of Prophet Yusuf and the Israelites. He is the son of Isaac and the grandson of Prophet Abraham.
  • Zakah - Lit. Purification and growth. Zakah is also mandatory for all Muslims possessing wealth beyond their legitimate essential needs. They must give away 2.5% of any remaining money over and above their own legitimate needs to the poor and the needy.
  • Zakariyya (Zachariah) - A Prophet of God and the father of John the Baptist (Yehya) and Mary’s (Maryam) uncle.
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