General Information Folio: Christian Identities

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UWA Cultural Diversity and Inclusive Practice (CDIP) toolkit

General Information Folio: Christian Identities

Religious freedom and mutual respect for different religions is an integral part of the UWA community. Acknowledging and respecting Christian identities as one of several religions/belief systems followed by students and staff at UWA requires, in part, a basic understanding of what Christianity and being a Christian is about.

Christians in Australia

Australia operates within a dominant Christian framework. However, while many staff and students accept Christian values, many are not church attendees.

  • The history of Christianity in Australia began with the arrival of European settlers in the 1800s who brought their own faiths to Australia. Included were the Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Lutheran and Baptist churches.

  • By 1901, approximately 40% of the population was Anglican, 23% Catholic and 34% other Christian. About 1% followed non-Christian religions.

  • The profile of Australian religious affiliations has since diversified, largely due to waves of migration that have taken place in the following decades.

  • Following World War Two, the impact of migration from Europe led to increases in followers of the Orthodox churches. The Greek, Macedonian, Serbian and Russian Orthodox Churches have significant numbers in Australia.

  • Christianity remains the dominant religion in Australia although it is trending downwards. 58% of Australians identified as being Christian in the 2011 Census, as opposed to 64% in the previous one (2006).

  • As the dominant religion in Australia, holiday periods usually follow significant Christian dates such as Easter and Christmas.

About Christianity

The major source of faith and practice for Christians is the Bible which is comprised of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).

For Christians, the central message is that God (who Christians have traditionally called “Father”) loves the whole world. This love is perfectly revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (God’s “anointed one”, which in Greek is “Christ”). Through Christ people are invited into personal relationship with God and are given gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to respond to the command to love their fellow humans as themselves.
Christian practices include working for the common good. Some interpret this as doing welfare/support activities or as preaching their message.
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew and early Christianity was a Jewish sect. Christianity separated from Judaism within the first hundred years of the death and resurrection of Jesus almost 2,000 years ago.
The main denominations within Christianity include:
      1. Roman Catholicism

The primacy and authority of the Pope is a characteristic feature of the Roman Catholic Church. His authority is ascribed by unbroken apostolic succession from St Peter, one of the first apostles. (The Orthodox and Anglican Churches also consider themselves “apostolic” in origin.) Until the Middle Ages, Catholicism dominated in Europe.

Roman Catholic clergy are always male and are not permitted to marry.
      1. Eastern Orthodox Church

In the 5th century governance of the church split into western and eastern components, the Roman Catholic in the west and the Eastern Orthodox in the east. Originating from the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Orthodox Church is not a single church but rather a group of self-governing bodies each associated with a particular country. Common Orthodox nations include Russia, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, the Ukraine and Armenia.

Most Eastern Orthodox religions follow the teachings of Saint Basil. Three characteristic features of Eastern Orthodox religion are liturgical worship, fasting and the reverence of icons in both public and private worship.
Parish priests are expected to be married. Bishops are not permitted to marry.
      1. Oriental Orthodox Churches

Oriental Orthodox Churches are distinct from the Eastern Orthodox Church. During the 5th century, Oriental Orthodox Churches split from the Roman Catholic Church after ritual and doctrinal differences.
Examples of Oriental Orthodox Christianity include the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in Egypt, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Indian Orthodox Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church.
      1. Protestantism

The Protestant branch of Christianity split from Roman Catholicism during the Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. The reasons for this split are complex and involve theological and political factors. Protestantism is characterised by valuing a direct unmediated relationship between the individual and
God, and a high value placed on one’s capacity to hear God speak directly from the Bible to the individual without any need to submit to the teaching authority of the church. Churches of the reformation also broke away from the central authority of the Pope and eventually divided into many denominations.
Some of the larger denominations include Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal and Baptist. In the 1970s, the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches in Australia united to form the Uniting Church in Australia.
Protestant clergy are permitted to marry. Women can act as clergy in some denominations.
NOTE: You might wish to visit the ABC’s The Sacred Site for an overview of other denominations.

Christian religious observance

Place and style of worship

The church is the place of Christian worship although Christians can worship God anywhere. Worship at church involves prayer, singing of hymns and listening to the priest or ministers cite and explain passages from the Bible. Holy Communion, characteristic of most Christian Churches, is a ceremony of remembrance of the self-giving death of Christ. Some Christian denominations require private or public confession and forgiveness (reconciliation) from sin.

Christian church services in Australia are usually on Sunday, but may take place on other days as well.

Christian symbols

Christian symbols include the crucifix which depicts an image of Jesus crucified on the cross, and a cross without the figure of Jesus symbolising his Resurrection.

Religious text

Most Christians follow the teachings of the Bible, which is also called the Holy Bible, Scriptures or Word of God. It is divided into two parts, the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). The Christian Scriptures consist of four Gospels (different accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus) and various letters to early churches.

Christian dress code

Western and Orthodox Christianity do not prescribe a dress code for lay Christians. Traditional clerical dress within Western Christianity includes the wearing of black with a special white collar. These days, many clerics and nuns dress in ‘civilian’ clothing. Orthodox priests wear a black tunic and headdress or hat.

Dietary requirements and restrictions

Some Christian denominations invite members to abstain from some or all foods on prescribed days or periods of the church year (e.g. Lent). Fasting is considered by some Christian denominations as a way of improving one’s self-discipline and appreciating the sufferings of the poor.


In Western Christianity, Lent is a period of 40 days (plus Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Traditionally it is marked by fasting from food and a more intentional simplification of life. It is a period of study and reflection in preparation for celebrating Easter.

Great Lent

The term ‘Great Lent’ is used to distinguish Orthodox Christian Lent from Western Christian Lent. During Great Lent, Orthodox Christians must abstain from consuming animal products, olive oil, spirits and wine.

Significant religious dates and events

While different Christian denominations celebrate and observe different holy days, most denominations observe the following feast or holy days:

Christmas Day

Christmas Day marks the birth of Jesus Christ and is celebrated with church ceremonies, carols and the exchange of gifts amongst family and friends.

Western Christian Churches follow the Gregorian calendar while Orthodox Churches follow the Julian calendar. Therefore, they celebrate Christmas (and Easter) at different times. For Western Christianity, Christmas falls on 25 December while for Orthodox Christianity, Christmas falls on 7 January.


The Epiphany celebrates the revelation of God to all humankind through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It falls on 6 January each year. It is not usually recognised as a public holiday but some Christians may spend time in religious activities.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs 46 days before Easter. On Ash Wednesday, which always falls on a Wednesday, worshippers have a cross made of ash marked on their foreheads by a priest or minister, symbolising repentance and purification.

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy or Great Thursday, is the Thursday before Easter Sunday. It commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles.


Easter is the most important Christian festival and season. Good Friday (Easter Friday) commemorates Jesus’ suffering on the cross. In Australia, Good Friday is a public holiday and most shops are closed. Many Christians go to church on this day.

Easter Sunday commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. In Western Christianity, Easter falls sometime between 22 March and 25 April. In Orthodox Christianity, Easter falls between 4 April and 8 May. The Easter season extends for 50 days through to the festival of Pentecost.
In Australia, there is a public holiday on Easter Monday. This is not a religious holiday.


The Ascension refers to the belief that the risen Jesus ascended to heaven, in the presence of his disciples. This is taken literally in some denominations and metaphorically in others.


Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the first disciples of Jesus on the occasion of the Jewish festival of Pentecost – which occurs 50 days after the Passover. Christians therefore (re) locate this event to 50 days after the Resurrection of Christ. Some Christians may engage in religious activities on this day.

Western Christianity and Orthodox Churches base their dates on different calendars. For specific dates, see the UWA Interfaith Calendar at
The UWA Interfaith Calendar is designed to:

  • raise awareness of the religious diversity at UWA

  • assist heads of departments/supervisors to plan and manage times when religious observance may conflict with work or study requirements of staff and students at UWA.

Some common misconceptions about Christianity:

  • The Easter Bunny is not a Christian concept.

  • Father Christmas/Santa Claus is a mythical and not a Christian figure.

Spiritual dimensions at UWA

UWA provides a range of services and groups which support the spiritual life of students and staff and provide opportunity for interchange and discussion between individuals and groups.

Information on events, facilities and groups/clubs is available at

Religious observance

Where it is reasonable and practicable to do so, flexible work and study arrangements can be made to accommodate the religious obligations of staff and students at UWA. Examples include:

  • negotiated flexible work/study arrangements between heads of departments/supervisors and staff and students whose religion requires them to pray at certain times of the day or to attend other religious ceremonies at particular times of the year

  • consideration of the main religious festivals when determining examination dates, assessment dates, field trips and arranging placements

  • consideration given to student requests for extensions to accommodate religious observance.

Original author: Anna Kalaitzidis, Flinders University, 2006.

Adapted for UWA, 2009, Revised 2013.

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