Christmas is just around the corner and a recent trip to Armenia taught me a great deal about religion, which I did not know. Having been raised Roman Catholic, I naturally assumed it to be the oldest Christian religion on the planet, and boy, was I off base.
First off, we should dig a little further into the annals of worship. The oldest religion on earth, which is still practiced today, is Hinduism. Centered in India, Hinduism has been around for 7,500 years. I was recently in India and learned that it takes about 10% of the planet’s resources to feed domesticated animals. The Hindus decided a long time ago, that if they don’t eat meat they would have much more food to feed people.
Another old religion is Judaism, which dates back 3,500 years. This is the faith of the Jewish people, and includes most of the heroes of the Old Testament. Jews believe that God appointed them to be his chosen people in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behaviour to the world. A branch of this religion split off with the birth and teachings of Christ, who, when he became baptized, started Christianity, or at least his followers did.
If you look about 600 years before the birth of Christ you will see the origin of the Buddhism belief. Buddha, who was born Siddhartha Gautama, a prince who gave up all his worldly goods, began his search for enlightenment. He did not actually start the religion, but after his death, his followers continued his traditions.
Followers of Buddha believe in living their life to the fullest, and with each successful passing of a good life, you are escalated to the next level. This continues until you reach the highest plateau of enlightenment.
When Christ was crucified, many followers were still skeptical about his claim to be the son of God. The resurrection however, cemented the theory when more than five hundred people saw him at various times, right after he disappeared from the tomb, making it a pretty plausible majority.
In 101 CE (formerly AD) the Armenian people, who lived among the Caucus Mountains, were visited by Bartholomew and Thaddeus, two apostles of Christ. They organized all the believers into what became the first official Christian religion. 200 years later, the country of Armenia formally adopted the Apostolic faith as an official state religion. Again, the first in the world.
In 380 AD the Roman Catholic religion became the official faith of the Roman Empire. The Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox religions spread quickly.
Around 600 CA the Prophet Muhammad lived in Mecca (now Saudi Arabia). He preached the word of God and his followers began what is now the Islamic faith.
Between 1,100 and 1,300 CE the crusades, a series of holy wars, orchestrated by Popes with the promise of indulgences for those who fought in them against external and internal enemies of Christendom for the recovery of Christian property and in defense of the Christian people. This led to a confrontation with the Islamic believers, as well as several Catholic groups, who left Catholicism and ventured out on their own.
The history of our faiths has an interesting past. Whether it’s Diwali, Ramadan, Yom Kippur, Vesak or Christmas, I wish each and every one of you a very safe and happy one.