Christianity started about 2,000 years ago and shares roots with Judaism. It takes its name from Christ [Christ = the Lord’s Anointed], a name attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. Christ was born in Bethlehem, in today’s West Bank, in what Christian tradition considers to be the year zero. He declared himself the Savior and Redeemer, who comes to free man from sin and show him the kingdom of God. He was not, however, considered the Messiah prophesied by the Hebrew scriptures, who would come and deliver the kingdom of Israel from centuries of foreign oppression.
The Gospels, attributed to Christ’s disciples, tell of his life and works. They are an important part of the Christian Bible, which also includes most of the Hebrew Bible as well as other letters and writings by the disciples. According to the Gospels, Jesus was both human and divine. The son of the Virgin Mary, who was married to the carpenter Joseph, he was conceived by a manifestation of God called the Holy Spirit. More or less when he was 30, Christ started preaching in Palestine. He announced the arrival of the kingdom of God, and spoke of the value of loving one’s neighbor. He praised humility and the meek, and spoke of suffering as a means of redemption from evil. Jewish and Roman authorities were extremely hostile to his ideas, and he was executed by crucifixion. Three days after his death, he returned from the dead and ascended into heaven.
Christianity is monotheistic, meaning it is based on faith in a single god. Christianity differs from other monotheistic religions in that it believes that God became a man in the form of Christ. Christianity conceives of God as one being in three forms, called the Trinity, composed of the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Christ brought a message of salvation for all men. He believed that even the most evil individuals could have eternal life if they repented their sins. Performing charity, or acts of kindness, would provide one with salvation.
Christians were initially persecuted, and were allowed to worship in the Roman Empire only in 313 AD. Christianity then spread throughout the whole world, despite the schisms and infighting that led to the creation of separate Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Anglican churches. Christians have their own rituals and prayers. The celebration of Christ’s sacrifice, known as Mass, Holy Communion, or Eucharist, is central to almost all confessions. The main Christian holidays are Easter, commemorating Christ’s resurrection, and Christmas, remembering his birth. Today, Christmas has acquired a secular dimension and is celebrated in many parts of the world.