Glossary of Christian & Religious Terms
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Monk's costume.


Home of the dead beneath the earth in Greek Mythology; euphamism for hell.


A Muslim who has memorized the Qur'an.

Hag (Hagge)

Originally a female demon or evil spirit; witch or enchantress; an ugly, vicious old woman.

Haggadah (Haggada)

Derived from the Hebrew haged, "to narrate" -- basically, non-legal portions of rabbinic literature, such as legends, stories, homilies, ethics, history, medicine, poetry, theosophy, theology, folklore, etc.; an anecdote or parable that explains or illustrates some point of law (Halachah) in the Talmud; the part of the Talmud devoted to such narratives; a narrative of the Exodus read at the Seder during Passover, called the Seder Haggadah shel Pesach, "Order of the Narrative of Passover"; a book containing this narrative, called a Midrashim, and the Seder ritual. In the 16th century, all the haggadic material from the Babylonian Talmud was extracted and compiled by Rabbi Jacob Ben Solomon Ibn Habib in a work entitled En Yaakob. Samuel Jaffe likewise collected the Haggadah from the Palestinian Talmud and compiled it into the Yifeh Mareh. H. N. Bialik and J. H. Rawnitzki made a collection of the Haggadah of the Talmud and Midrashim, called the Sefer Haggadah. Professor Louis Ginzberg made a more scientific collection of the Haggadah from the Creation to Esther, published as The Legends of the Jews.


Greek hagios,"holy" -- prefix meaning holy, sacred, or saintly.


Rule by priests, saints, or others considered holy; theocracy..


From the Hebrew kethabhe haqqodhesh, "writings of holiness" -- those books of the Old Testament not in the Law or the Prophets, comprising the third and final part of the Jewish Scriptures.


Historical science which studies documents or writings about holiness, holy persons, and saints, particularly the narratives or biographies. For example, early Christian churches honored the anniversaries of martyrs, of which lists were kept with the dates of each martyrdom along with narratives and biographies. Eusebius of Caesarea (cerca A.D. 260-340) compiled two known books of martyrs documenting their passions. These types of accounts came to be catogorized as Passionaries or Legendaries. The processes involved in Hagiography include establishing the original composition of the texts and determining their historical value. The founder of the more modern science of Hagiography in the early 17th century was Heribert Rosweyde.


Sacred writings or literature about the lives of saints, particularly their legends; a published collection of such legends or a catalog of saints.


Narrow opening in an inside wall of a medieval church to allows those in a side aisle, or transept, see the main altar.

Hail Mary (Ave Maria)


Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca expected of every Muslim to make at least once in their lifetime. Hajji is a title given to a Muslim who has made this pilgrimage.


A ruler, judge, or governor in Islamic regions; a doctor or physician in Islamic regions.

Halakha (Halacha)

Hebrew, rule by which to go -- any of the laws or ordinances not written down in the Scriptures but based on an oral interpretation of them and documented in the Talmud.

Halidom (Halidome)

Archaic term for a holy place or sacred relic.


Traditional loaf of rich white bread, usually twisted or braided, eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays.


The recital or singing of Psalms 113 to 118 as part of Jewish religious services during certain festivals.

Hallelujah (Halleluiah)

Hebrew exclamation, "Praise the Lord!" (Greek hallelouia, or Latin alleluia.)


To make holy or sacred; sanctify; concecrate; venerate; devote.


All Hallows' Eve, the evening of October 31, followed by All Saints' Day (Allhallows or Hallowmas).


Greek halos, "round disk," as of a threshing floor or a heavenly body; the ring of light that appears to encircle luminous objects, such as the sun or moon, resulting from the refraction of light through ice particles in the atmosphere; nimbus -- a symbolic ring or disk around the head of a holy person or saint depicted in art, representing splendor, glory, virtue, innocence, etc.


A dark-skinned descendant of Ham, Noah's second son (Genesis 6:10), whose origins are Northeast Africa, particularly Egypt.

Hanukkah (Hanuka)

Hebrew, "dedication" -- Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 B.C. and celebrated for eight days beginning the 25th day of Kislev.


Hebrew haphtarah, "conclusion" -- any of the readings from the Prophets, following a reading of the Pentateuch, in synagogue services on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

Hare Krishna

Hindi Hari, one of the names of Vishnu: Hindu cult founded in 1966, involving certain Vedic beliefs and stressing devotion to Krishna.


Archaic term to enter hell and rescue the righteous, said of Christ.


Latin, "inspector of entrails" -- any of a class of lesser priests and soothsayers in ancient Rome who professed to foretell the future by interpreting the entrails of sacrificial animals.

Hacidic Jew (Hasadim)

From the Hebrew hasid, a pious person -- members of a sect of Jewish mystics (Hasadim) founded by Baal Shem Tov (born Israel ben Eliezer, 1700-60) in 18th century Poland, who emphasize joyful worship of an immanent God.


Goddess of love, joy, and mirth from Egyptian Mythology, usually represented as having the head or ears of a cow.

Hazzan (Hazan)

Hebrew khazan, a cantor in a synagogue.


In relation to human anatomy, the region of the heart -- the central part, essence, or core; source of emotions, feeling, and innermost nature; inmost thought, consciousness, or conscience.


A member of any nation or people not worshiping the God of Israel; pagan; irreligious; uncivilized or unenlightened.


The dwelling place of God and his angels and where the blessed will live after death; Providence; the space which overarches the earth in which the stars, sun, and moon appear; firmament; visible sky.


A member of any nation or people not worshiping the God of Israel; pagan; irreligious; uncivilized or unenlightened.


Hebrew ibhri, "one from across" (the river) -- member of a group of Semetic peoples descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; an Israelite or Jew; the ancient Semetic language of the Israelites in which most of the Old Testament was written. The Hebrews called their language "the speech of Canaan," since it was adopted from the language spoken by the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. It was later to be referred to as the Judean language of the Kingdom of Judah, although slightly different than the language spoken by the northern Kingdom of Israel (see Judges 12:5-6 for an example). After the destruction of Judah in 586 B.C., Hebrew became a holy and classical language as it was eventually replaced by Aramaic as the spoken and written language. The modern, Western Eurpoean, form of the traditional, rabbinic, Hebrew language is the official language of the current state of Israel.


Greek hekatombe (hekaton, hundred + bous, ox) -- the large-scale sacrifice of cattle in ancient Greece, specifically the slaughter of one hundred cattle at a time; any large-scale sacrifice or slaughter.


Scottish heigh, exclamation and euphamism for hell.

Heder (plural, Hedarim)

Yiddish hedher, "chamber" -- a Jewish religious school for young children.


From the Greek hedone, "delight" -- in philosophy, an ethical doctrine that pleasure in the form of happiness of the individual or society is the principle good; in psychology, a theory that a person always acts to seek pleasure and avoid pain (hedonics is a branch of psychology dealing with pleasurable and unpleasurable feelings); in general, the self-indulgent pursuit of pleasure as a way of life.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

German philosopher (1770-1831) who held that every existent idea or fact belongs to an all-embracing mind in which each idea or situation (thesis) evokes it opposite (antithesis) and these two result in a unified whole (synthesis), which in turn becomes a new thesis.


Arabic hijrah, "separation" or "flight" (also hajara, "to leave") -- the forced journey of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina in A.D. 622, from which the Islamic era dates; any journey made as an escape or for the sake of safety; flight.


From the Greek hegeisthai, "to lead" -- the elected head of a monastery in the Eastern Orthodox Church (corresponding to an abbot in the Roman Catholic Church).


Worship of the sun. The Ancient Egyptians worshiped the sun god Ra.


Old English hel, "hidden, unseen place" -- generally identified with the Hebrew Sheol or the Greek Hades, the place where the spirits of the dead are; the place where the devil and evil spirits live and to which the spirits of the unsaved are doomed to everlasting punishment after death (2 Peter 2:4), much like the Roman Tatarus, which, according to pagan mythology, was situated as far below Hades as Hades was from the sun. The word "hell" in the New Testament was used interchangeably in the King James Version for Sheol, Hades, and Tartarus. It is also used for the Hebrew Gehenna, "Valley of Hinnom" -- traditionally a deep gorge in the vicinity of Jerusalem where refuse was continually burned (also a location in 2 Chronicles 28:3 where King Ahaz burned his children in sacrifice to the pagan god Molech), which has become in Christianity a place of fiery torment. This idea of hell (Ghenenna, or Greek geenna) as a place of everlasting fire reserved for sinners was used primarily by Jesus (Matthew 5:22, 5:29-30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 23:33, Mark 9:43-47, Luke 12:5). Jesus also referred to Hades in Luke 16:23 as a place of fiery torment. Hell as a place of punishment can be traced to prophecies in the Old Testament (compare Daniel 12:2 with Matthew 24:46). In Norse Mythology, Hel was the daughter of Loki and goddess of death and the underworld where the dead not slain in battle were sent.


Greek Hellenistes, "imitator of the Greeks" -- a non-Greek who adopted the Greek language and customs, such as the Jews of the Diaspora; a specialist in the Greek language and learning. From the word Hellene (Greek Hellen), the ancient Greeks, particularly from the eighth century B.C. to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. Hellenic is of the Hellenes, a term for Greek. Hellenism is the character, thought, culture, customs, language, or ethical system of ancient Greece; adoption of the ancient Greek ways of life. Hellenistic os of or characteristic of the Hellenists or Hellenism; of Greek history, language, and culture after 323 B.C. Hellenize is to make Greek or Hellenistic


A Swiss Protestant or adherent of Zwingli; Helvetian, of Helvetia (Latin name for Switzerland), an ancient Celtic country of Central Europe in Western Switzerland.


Belief in one god, without denying the existence of others (coined in 1860 by Max Müller).


Greek heptateuchos (hepta, seven + teuchos, tool or book) -- first seven books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges).


The state after death or life after death.


Latin haeresis and Greek hairesis, a sect or school of thought -- a religious belief opposed to the orthodox doctrines of a church, especially a belief specifically denounced by the church; rejection of a belief that is part of church dogma. A heretic is anyone who holds to beliefs opposed to established church dogma.


Science of interpretation, particularly the study of the principles of Biblical exegesis or the interpretation of Biblical texts.


A recluse or one who lives a secluded life for religious motives


Any one of a line of Judean kings descended from Edom who ruled parts of Palestine under Roman authority, beginning with Herod the Great, son of Antipater II, who reigned from 37-4 B.C. and reconstructed the Temple in Jerusalem with a 35-acre outer court. Herod the Great, himself part Jewish and who considered himself to be king of the Jews, ordered the death of all infant boys in and around Bethlehem in an attempt to kill Jesus as recorded in Matthew chapter 2, who was prophesied as the coming king of the Jews. A number of descendants of Herod the Great adopted the name Herod, three of whom were also mentioned in the New Testament. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was a tetrarch with three brothers who himself ruled over Galilee from about 4 B.C. to A.D. 39., who tried to kill Jesus during his ministry (Luke 13:31-33), had John the Baptist imprisoned and beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:17-29, Luke 3:19-20, 9:7-9), and became friends with Pilate during the persecution of Jesus (Luke 23:6-12, Acts 4:27). Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, ruled Judea from A.D. 37-44, persecuted the early Christians, had James put to death by the sword and had Peter imprisoned (Acts 12:1-19), and was struck down by an angel of the Lord and eaten to death by worms (Acts 12:21-23). Herod Agrippa II, son of Agrippa I, ruled Judea from A.D. 53-100, and rejected Paul's testimony during his trial under Festus (Acts 25:13-26:32).


Inclining toward heresy; unorthodox; departing from or opposed to established doctrines.


Arian theory that God the Father and God the Son are different in substance.


Greek hexaemeros, of or in six days -- the Biblical account in the first chapter of Genesis of the six-day period of the Creation, or a treatise on this subject.


Origen's edition of the New Testament, composed of six versions arranged in parallel columns.


Greek hexteuchos (hexa, six + teuchos, tool or book) -- first six books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua), assumed by some scholars that the Book of Joshua is a continuation of the Torah.


System of church government by priests or other clergy in graded ranks (hierocracy); the officials of such a system (in the Roman Catholic Church, this includes the Pope, metropolitans, archbishops, bishops, priests, and deacons); the chief priest and high priests who preside over sacred rites; a theological term for any of the three divisions of angels; angels in general.


Greek hieros, sacred + glyphein, to carve or hollow out -- a picture or sysmbol representing a word, syllable, or sound used by some ancient civilizations, particularly the Egyptians, often carved in stone or other hard materials; picture writing, often difficult to decipher.


The religious lore and literature of a people.


A member of any of the hermit orders named after Saint Jerome.


Formerly, a priest who presided at sacred mysteries, especially the high priest of the Eleusinian mysteries; an interpreter of sacred mysteries or esoteric principles.

High Church

That party of the Anglican Church which emphasizes the importance of the priesthood and traditional rituals and doctrines (as opposed to Low Church or Broad Church).

Higher Criticism

The study of the books of the Bible, their authorship, dates, meaning, etc., using such methods as archaeology, literary criticism, comparative religion, etc.

High Holidays

The period encompassing Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in the Jewish calendar.

High Mass (Solemn Mass)

A sung Mass in the Roman Catholic Church, usually celebrated with the complete ritual and with incense, at which the celebrant is assisted by a deacon and subdeacon.

High Priest

Chief priest of the ancient Jewish priesthood.


Jewish rabbi and scholar in Jerusalem (cerca 60 B.C. to A.D. 10).


Ancient Hebrew liquid measurement, equal to about 1 1/2 gallons.


Sanskrit, "lesser vehicle" -- Buddhist branch which stresses the original monastic discipline and the attainment of nirvana through meditation, developed mainly in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia.


From the Persian Hindu, land of the Indus River (India) -- the peoples of India who speak an Indic language or, more specifically, the people of Hindustan who speak Hindi; the religion and social system of the Hindus, developed from Brahmanism, with elements from Buddhism and Jainism.


Goblin or an elf; frightening apparition.


Sanctimonious or self-righteous to an annoying degree.


Title of the Pope.

Holistic (Holism)

The view that an organic or integrated whole has a reality independent of and greater than the sum of its parts.


Greek holokauston, "burnt whole" and Latin holocaustum, "whole burnt offering" -- burnt offering; great or total destruction of life, particularly by fire; the systematic destruction of over six million European Jews by the Nazis before and during World War II.


Belonging to or coming from God; divine; dedicated to religious use; concecrated; sacred; hallowed; spiritually perfect or pure; untainted by evil or sin; sinless; saintly.

Holy Day of Obligation

Any major Roman Catholic festival during which members are obliged to abstain from nonessential manual labor and attend Mass.

Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost)

Latin Spiritus Sanctus -- the third person of the Trinity.

Holy Grail

Medieval legend of the cup or platter used by Jesus at the Last Supper and by Joseph of Arimathea to collect drops of Jesus' blood at Crucifixion.

Holy Innocents' Day

December 28, commemorating the slaughter of all male children two years old and under within the vicinity of Bethlehem by Herod the Great in an attempt to kill Jesus, the prophesied king of the Jews (Matthew 2:16).

Holy Land


Holy Office

Former name for a Roman Catholic tribunal for the protection of faith and morals and the suppression of heresy.

Holy of Holies

Hebrew qodesh haqadoshim -- the innermost part of the Jewish tabernacle and Temple where the ark of the covenant was kept.

Holy Orders

The sacrament or rite of ordination; the position of being an ordained Christian minister or priest; ranks or grades of ministry in various Christian churches, such as the Major and Minor Orders of the Roman Catholic Church or bishops, priests, and deacons in the Anglican Church.

Holy Roller

Member of a religious sect or Evangelical Christian church who expresses spiritual emotion by shouting and moving about during services.

Holy Roman Empire

The Christianized Roman Empire of West Central Europe, comprising Northen Italy and Germany. Some scholars consider it to have begun in A.D. 800 with the crowning of Pope Charlemagne, while others start it in A.D 962 with the crowning of Otto I. It ended in 1806, with the resignation of Pope Francis II of Austria.

Holy Rood

The cross on which Jesus was crucified; any cross or crucifix symbolizing Christianity.

Holy Saturday

The Saturday before Easter.

Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost)

The Spirit of God and third person of the Trinity.

Holy Synod

Administrative council of any branch of trhe Orthodox Eastern Church.

Holy Thursday

Maundy Thursday or Ascension Day.


Archaic term for a holy season, or a day or period of religious observance.

Holy Water

Water blessed by a priest.

Holy Week

The week before Easter.

Holy Writ

The Bible.


Sermon. Homilietics is the theological study of the writing and preaching of sermons.


An adherent to the theological theory that God the Father and God the Son are neither identical nor different in substance, but similar.


An adherent to the theological theory that God the Father and God the Son are identical in substance.


A feeling of certainty that what is wanted or believed in will happen; desire accompanied by expectation; trust


Biblically, an emblem of glory, strength, or honor.


From the Greek horoskopos, observer of the hour of birth -- astrological observation of the position of the planets and stars in relation to one another at the time of a person's birth, used to determine their destiny; an astrological forecast of an individuals' future based on a chart of the zodiacal signs and position of the heavenly bodies. Horoscopy is the practice of drawing up horoscopes.


Ancient Egyptian sun god, represented as having the head of a hawk; son of Osiris and Isis.


Greek term from the Hebrew hoshi'ah nna, "save, we pray" -- an exclamation of praise to God.


Traditionally, a place of shelter for travelers maintained by monks.


A concecrated wafer of the Eucharist.


Any of the beautiful nymphs of the Muslim Paradise, among the rewards of faithful Muslims.


Protestants in the Calvinist Reformation in Geneva; general term regarding any French Protestant of the 16th or 17th century. Originally a supporter of a group in Geneva opposing annexation to Savoy, lead by Hugues Besançon; a confederate or ally of such a group.


Having what may be considerd the best qualities of mankind (civility, mercy, kindness, sympathy, etc.).


Any system of thought or action based on the nature, dignity, interests, and ideals of man; a modern, nontheistic, rationalist movement which holds that man is capable of ethical conduct and self-fulfillment without recourse to supernaturalism; the intellectual, cultural, and secular movement based on the study of classical literature and culture during the Middle Ages which helped give rise to the Rennaisance; study of the humanities (literature, philosophy, history, classical languages such as Greek and Latin, etc.). A humanist is basically a follower of humanism.


The ethical doctrine that man's obligations are limited to the welfare of mankind and that man may perfect his own nature without divine aid; the theological doctrine that Jesus was not of divine nature, but of a soley human nature; philanthropy, in a general sense.

Humeral Veil

A scarflike cloth worn over the shoulders by a priest during certain litergical functions.


Any member of a group of Anabaptists, originally from Moravia, who live communally in the Dakotas, Montana, and Alberta, Canada, and hold beliefs like those of the Mennonites; named after Jacob Hutter, a 16th century Austrian religious reformer.

Hutzpah (Chutzpah)


Greek hylo, matter + zoe, life -- doctrine that all matter has life or that life is inseparable from matter.


Collection of hymns, which are songs of praise to God. The singing of hymns is a hymnody. Hymnology is either the composition or the study of hymns.


A special homage in the Roman Catholic Church paid to the Virgin Mary as holier than any other created being.


From the Greek Hypnos, mythological god of sleep (Roman god Somnus) -- a sleeplike condition, physically induced, in which the subject is in a state of altered consciousness and responds to the suggestions of the hypnotist. Hypnogenesis is the inducing of hypnosis. Hypnology is the scientific study of sleep and hypnosis. Hypnoanalysis is the use of hypnosis or hypnotic drugs in combination with psychoanalytic techniques. Hypnotherapy is the treatment of disease by hypnotism.


Latin hypocrisis, "mimicry" and Greek hypokrisis, "acting a part" -- pretending to be what one is not, or to feel what one does not feel; pretense of virtue or piety; pretended sanctity. Hypocrite is someone who pretends to be what they are actually not, particularly one who acts more pious than they really are (from the Latin hypocrita, "stage actor" and Greek hypokrites, "actor").


Aside from its medical and genetic terms, a theological study of the unique essence or nature of the Godhead and the three persons of the Trinity; the personality of Christ as distinguished from his two natures, human and divine. Philosophically, the underlying principle of nature (essence or substance).


Unproved theory, proposition, or supposition, tentatively accepted to explain certain facts. A working hypothesis is a theory that provides a basis for further argument and/or investigation. To hypothesize is basically to assume or suppose.


Hebrew ezobh, a fragrant, blue-flowered plant (Hyssopus officinalis) of the mint family, used in folk medicine as a tonic or stimulant. Its branches were used for the sprinkling of blood in certain ancient Jewish rites.

        I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying tp pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galations 1:6-9)

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  Reference Sources: Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, published by Prentice Hall Press, ©1986 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.; Collier's Encyclopedia, ©1968 Crowell-Collier Educational Corporation; Larson's New Book of Cults, ©1982 and 1989 by Bob Larson, printed by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; Jewish Virtual Library (