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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.

Filed in Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism

Eastern Catholic churches

Eastern Catholic churches are self-governing churches within the Roman Catholic Church. They have their own codes of canon law. They stopped referring to themselves as “rites” in the 1980s. In their traditional lands in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, married men are ordained to the Eastern Catholic priesthood, but in 1929 the Latin bishops of the United States persuaded the pope to forbid the ordination of married men for Eastern Catholic churches in North America. Several Eastern Catholic churches in the U.S. are trying to persuade Rome to re-establish the married priesthood, and some send married candidates overseas to be ordained. There are five major groupings of Eastern Catholic churches: Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Byzantine and Chaldean.

Filed in Catholicism

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.

Filed in Orthodoxy, Religious titles


A book of wisdom in the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament whose author represents himself as King Solomon. Some of its phrases, such as To every thing there is a season, have become part of Western culture.

Filed in Christianity, Judaism


Spirituality combined with ecological and environmental awareness and activism.

Filed in Religion and culture


A modern theological and social term referring to the effort to promote understanding and cooperation among diverse Christian groups. The adjective, ecumenical, refers to interaction between Christians of different traditions. It is also linked to a 20th-century religious movement to bring a variety of denominations under a single Christian umbrella, such as the World Council of Churches.

Filed in Catholicism, Christianity, Interfaith, Protestantism


Foundational texts of Ásatrú. The Prose Edda, compiled by Snorri Sturluson circa 1220, contains the major surviving myths of the Norse gods and goddesses and preserves pre-Christian poems not attested elsewhere. The Poetic Edda, an anonymous manuscript from circa 1270, is the most important source of Old Norse mythological and heroic poetry; the poems it contains were composed in the centuries preceding the formal conversion of Iceland to Christianity in 1000.

Unlike holy books of other traditions, the Eddas were transcribed by writers who were not part of the religion and are notable for Christian interpolations.

Filed in Other faiths

Eid al-Adha

Pronounced “EED-uhl-ad-ha.” Known as the Feast of Sacrifice, it concludes the annual observance of the pilgrimage to Mecca known as hajj. Muslims everywhere observe Eid al-Adha with community prayers and a feast, whether or not they are on hajj. Eid al-Adha shifts dates every year because Muslims use a lunar calendar that only includes about 354 days. Eid al-Adha commences with the sighting of the new moon. See hajj.

Filed in Islam

Eid al-Fitr

Pronounced “EED-uhl-FIT-uhr.” A joyous Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. It is observed with communal prayers, donations to charity and special meals. Fasting is forbidden on this day. Eid al-Fitr shifts dates every year because Muslims use a lunar calendar that only includes about 354 days. Eid al-Fitr commences with the sighting of the new moon. See Ramadan.

Filed in Islam

Eightfold Path

In Buddhism, eight practical steps taught by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, to end craving and thus eliminate suffering. The steps are right understanding, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Together with the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path constitutes the foundation of Buddhist thought; also referred to as the Noble Eightfold Path.

Filed in Buddhism

emerging, emergent church

A late 20th-century movement within evangelical Christianity that emphasizes youth, small communities, a drive to make Christianity relevant in a postmodern world, frustration with traditional church structures, social justice, and embrace of culture. Congregations are highly decentralized, with many preferring not to be called churches. Some refer to the emergent church as a conversation instead of a movement. Emergent Christians, who are predominantly evangelical and mainline Protestants, are found primarily in North America and Western Europe. See postmodern.

Filed in Christianity, Protestantism


Literally a “circular letter,” an enyclical is generally addressed to the whole church by the pope on matters of moral, doctrinal or disciplinary concern. Since Pope John XXIII (who died in 1963), popes have periodically addressed encyclicals to all people “of good will.” An encyclical does not carry the weight of an infallible or ex cathedra statement, but it is the most common use of a pope’s ordinary authority. As such, Catholics are expected to assent to its teachings, even though there can be debate on exactly how the teachings in an encyclical are to be applied. The title of an encyclical, which is almost always written in Latin, comes from the letter’s opening words, which describe its theme. The first encyclical of John Paul II was Redemptor hominis, “On the Redeemer of Man.” A new pope often issues an encyclical within a year of his election, and it is sets the tone of the pontificate. There are several other types of papal documents of lesser authority, such as an apostolic exhortation or a motu proprio, which is Latin for “on his own (the pope’s) initiative.” Such documents can be newsworthy but tend to address a more specific matter than an encyclical.

Filed in Catholicism

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.”

Filed in Adventism, Anglican/Episcopalian, Baptist/Southern Baptist, Catholicism, Christianity, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Judaism, Mormonism, Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, Protestantism


The goal of life in both Buddhism and Hinduism. For Hindus, it is union with God and self-realization. For Buddhists, it is realization of the truth about reality, achieved by following a system of practices (which may especially include meditation), in accordance with the particular school to which an adherent belongs. See Four Noble Truths.

Filed in Buddhism, Hinduism

Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion. Officially called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Episcopal Church is acceptable in all references. Two bodies govern the church nationally — the permanent Executive Council and the General Convention, which meets every three years. One bishop holds the title of presiding bishop. The General Convention determines national policies, and all acts must pass its House of Bishops and House of Deputies. Under the council are provinces, dioceses or missionary districts, local parishes and local missions. A province is composed of several dioceses and has a synod made up of a house of bishops and a house of deputies. Within a diocese, a bishop is the principal official and is helped by the Diocesan Convention, which is made up of all clergy in the diocese and lay representatives from each parish. A vestry, composed of the rector and lay members elected by the congregation, governs the parish or local church.

Among Protestant churches, the Episcopal Church has titles that are particularly challenging. Capitalize titles before a name but lowercase otherwise. Note that some positions have more than one title or honorific. Because some U.S. congregations have broken ties with the Episcopal Church and affiliated with Anglican bishops, be sure to make clear in stories about such disputes whether a bishop is Anglican or Episcopal.

The presiding bishop is the chief pastor and primate who leads the national Episcopal Church. She is addressed as the Most Rev.

All other bishops use the title the Rt. Rev. before their name. Priests and deacons use the title the Rev. Priests who head a chapter, or governing body of a cathedral, are called deans and are addressed as the Very Rev. Archdeacons are addressed with the honorific the Venerable, as in the Venerable Jill Smith. Women and men in religious communities are called brother or sister and may be ordained.

Filed in Anglican/Episcopalian, Religious titles

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

Filed in Anglican/Episcopalian, Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism


A member of the Episcopal Church. Episcopalian is a noun and Episcopal is an adjective. It is improper to refer to the church as the Episcopalian Church or to refer to one of its members as an Episcopal.

Filed in Anglican/Episcopalian


Pronounced “AE-roov.” A symbolic enclosure in which observant Orthodox Jews are permitted to perform tasks that would otherwise be forbidden, such as carrying items on the Sabbath and other holy days from one “domain” to another. (The area surrounded by the eruv is considered to be a single “domain.”) Dictated by Jewish law, eruvin (the plural form) are unbroken boundaries rabbis erect by attaching strips of plastic or cloth to public utility poles. They occasionally have been the subject of lawsuits by non-Jews.

Filed in Judaism


A meeting within Wiccan and other occult communities that is timed around the lunar cycle; includes social and business engagements rather than major holy days. See also: sabbat.

Filed in Paganism/Wicca


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.

Filed in Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Religion and culture

esoteric spirituality

A type of belief system that focuses on an individual person’s specific efforts to reach deep personal spiritual understanding.

Filed in Other faiths


The field of knowledge requiring specialized information to understand; Western esotericism is generally considered belief in occult knowledge.

Filed in Religion and culture

Establishment Clause

One of two clauses in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that address religion. It reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …” The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the clause to mean that the federal government is prohibited from declaring and financially supporting a national religion, preferring one religion over another, or even religion over non-religion. Religious conservatives argue that the specific wording of the Establishment Clause does not prohibit the federal government from engaging in certain religious activities, such as promoting prayer in public schools or posting the Ten Commandments in public spaces. On the other side is the argument that the Establishment Clause carries a broader meaning as set out in the writings by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison that suggest “a wall of separation” between church and state. See Free Exercise Clause.

Filed in Government and politics


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.

Filed in Anglican/Episcopalian, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism


By definition, all Christians are evangelicals. The word evangelical is derived from the Greek evangelion, which means “good news” or “gospel.” But the term evangelical has generally come to mean Protestants who emphasize personal conversion; evangelism; the authority, primacy — and, usually — inerrancy of the Bible; and the belief that Jesus’ death reconciled God and humans. Evangelicals tend to be conservative theologically, but the terms evangelical and conservative Christian are not synonymous, though they both may apply to the same people. Fundamentalists, who generally separate themselves from what they see as a sinful culture, are distinct from evangelicals, who tend to embrace culture and use it to build up the church. In the early 21st century, religious identification surveys show that between a quarter and 40 percent of the U.S. population claims the evangelical label. Many, though not all, also identify with a specific tradition or denomination, ranging from mainline Protestant denominations to the Roman Catholic Church. In Europe, evangelical is a generic word for Protestants. Uppercase only when part of a formal name.

Filed in Christianity, Protestantism, Religion and culture

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. ELCA is acceptable on second reference. Do not confuse it with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which is smaller and more conservative. See Lutheran.

Filed in Protestantism


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.

Filed in Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism


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.

Filed in Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism

ex cathedra

Latin for “from the chair,” in reference to the chair or throne of a bishop that sits near the altar of his principal church (known as a cathedral). It is from this chair that bishops in the early church would issue solemn teachings or decisions. In modern times the phrase is generally confined to papal pronouncements of the highest authority. Thus the term ex cathedra is in practice used in the same context as papal infallibility and faces the same high threshold of application. Used by itself, the noun cathedra can refer to the bishop’s throne in any cathedral. See papal infallibility.

Filed in Anglican/Episcopalian, Catholicism


The movement, mostly found in conservative Christianity, that purports to change the sexual orientation of people from same-sex attraction to opposite-sex. It is also referred to as reparative or conversion therapy. It is highly controversial. Several major medical associations have rejected such therapy when it views homosexuality as a mental disorder or sickness, or assumes that homosexuals’ sexual orientation is something that must be changed. Ex-gay should never be used without explaining the term and the controversy associated with it. See gay.

Filed in Catholicism, Christianity, Gender and sexuality, Judaism, Mormonism

exorcise, exorcism

The ritual of ridding a supposedly possessed person or thing of demons. Popularly associated with the Roman Catholic Church, which has a formal exorcism ritual, with each diocese allowed to designate a priest as an exorcist. However, the church’s use of the ritual has diminished due to a greater understanding of medicine and psychology. Some Christian churches, such as Pentecostals, also perform exorcisms, although the rituals are not as elaborate and formal as the Roman Catholic ritual. Islam also has traditions that speak of exorcisms.

Filed in Catholicism, Pentecostalism


One who performs exorcisms.

Filed in Catholicism, Pentecostalism

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