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|Church of the Holy Light|
|Main leader||Archbishop Benedictus|
|Secondary leaders||Hylan, Leander, Neheri|
|Race(s)||Mostly Humans, Dwarves, and High elves|
The Church of the Holy Light can be found just about everywhere on Azeroth. They are based out of Stormwind City where the Church leaders gather in the Cathedral of Light. The Church sends its people all over the world, spreading the wisdom and comfort of the Holy Light. They also do what they can to help people with more practical matters, from building homes to settling family disputes to scaring off enemies. It is all very noble, of course, but that fits with the Holy Light's teachings of making the world a better place and making oneself better by helping other people. The Church has everyone's best interests at heart, and they really do their best to help everyone. It is a religion that is all about making people happy, not to mention a religion whose practitioners show clear evidence of divine blessing.
Even those determined to doubt are forced to admit that the Light grants its followers impressive powers to combat the darkness. Nobody really knows how the Church got its start. For that matter, no one knows when people first discovered the Holy Light — or were discovered by it — either. People started preaching about it at some point, explaining how this great and benevolent force existed and sought out mortal spirits interested in helping others and protecting life in general. The Holy Light is a strange philosophy (it's really more a philosophy than a religion) because it doesn't involve reverence for a person or even a being — the Light is more of a force, really, and honesty and good deeds are more important than money or wine or any other form of sacrifice. There's also a lot of study and contemplation involved, particularly on how to make oneself a better person in order to commune with the Light more completely. They likely had libraries before they had churches, and the one simply grew out of the other. Eventually all those churches started working together, and then wound up with the Church of the Holy Light.
For a long time, the Church was the dominant human religion. The followers of the Holy Light were everywhere, supporting civilizations and building cities and founding temples and generally bringing light and hope and help to everyone. Then the First War began. And there were the members of the Church, right in the thick of things, using their Light-given gifts to hold back the Horde. It was impressive — awe-inspiring, really. Unfortunately, to some, most of the priests focused on defending people rather than taking the fight to the Horde. And there just weren't enough priests to go around.
The leader of the Holy Order of Northshire Clerics during the war was Archbishop Alonsus Faol, and his apprentice was a devout lad named Uther. After the First War, Uther knew that that the Church needed to do more when the orcs came again—its people needed to stand up and fight instead of just healing and defending. They needed to go after the darkness and actively prevent it from harming anyone, rather than waiting for it to come to them. He issued a call to all the bravest knights to join his new order, the Knights of the Silver Hand, and thus the paladins were born. They saw their first battles in the Second War and were instrumental in the Alliance's victory. The church in Northshire was known as Church of Light at the time.
Some claim that the Third War was the best thing that could have happened to the Church. The Church finally gave up its old habits and started to change. Some of the younger priests suggested that the Church take this opportunity to rebuild itself, setting aside many of its older traditions and starting new ones. They claimed that the Church had strayed from the path of the Three Virtues and needed to pare back down to essentials. According to these younger priests, their elders had lost touch with the Light and it was time to reclaim that holy communion.
There are rumors of a break within the Church itself, dating to about that time. It is said that the members are fighting amongst themselves about whether to cling to the old traditions or forge new ones. It didn't help that most of the Church's texts were lost and so people have been writing new ones — some of them writing about the same things but without comparing notes or checking sources. It is said that the Church is finally organizing again and looking at all these texts for consistency and accuracy, but it's unknown if that's true. It is known that the Church is stronger than it's been in centuries. It's rebuilding, regaining ground, and speaking out against the Scourge and other evils.
The Church has an archbishop which is in charge, and he has a council of bishops to advise him. Usually the archbishop was a bishop himself before he was selected, and once he's been chosen he's in charge until he dies or chooses to step down. The bishops do more than advise the archbishop, of course. Each bishop has charge of a region, in some cases an entire continent. The regions are based more on population than area, so in some cases a bishop might only be responsible for a large city, while others have an entire countryside. Stormwind City has its own bishop, as does Northrend. Priests work for the bishops, and they do most of the actual community work: preaching, tending to the wounded, teaching the children, and so on. They lay priests as well, who aren't ordained and cannot preach, but handle most of the daily chores around the temples and monasteries.
The Church of the Holy Light can only get so much through donations. In order to feed the priests, the religious institution has to make money. It has farms all over the countryside, most of them housing monasteries, and the priests there raise crops and cattle and whatever else the Church needs, and sell the surplus. In some regions the Church owns land and rents it to farmers, merchants or businessmen. They don't keep much of the profit, though — and the Church is always giving food, clothing and tools to the poor. It also teaches people about prayer, about health and farming, and generally how to be a good person.
Before the First War, the Church had three major locations: Northshire Abbey in Azeroth's western countryside, the Temple of Light in Stratholme, and Cathedral of Light in Stormwind City. The Horde destroyed Northshire Abbey in the First War, tearing it apart and burning the rubble. The Temple of Light fell with the rest of Stratholme to the Scourge. Only the Cathedral of Light remains, and this has become the Church's headquarters. A grand structure with many wings and spires, the Cathedral houses Archbishop Benedictus, the bishop of Stormwind City, and various other priests. It also contains the Grand Chamber, a vast meeting room where the council of bishops meets with the archbishop to discuss issues and plot the Church's actions. The Northshire Abbey was later rebuilt, but is only an outpost of the Cathedral of Light.
Church of Light organizations
Anyone can follow the path of the Holy Light, and anyone who follows the Holy Light is welcomed by the Church. Most of its members are human, but the Church does not discriminate. High elves and Ironforge dwarves have long been members.
Though anyone can become a member of the Church, becoming an actual priest is a long and difficult process. First come various classes, taught by lay priests, all about the Church's history, principles and activities. If the applicant does well in class he graduates to the next level, taking personal instruction with a priest, learning prayers and other devotions. Most applicants become lay priests, working for the Church while studying. They can spend several years in instruction, until the priest feels they're ready. Then there's an audience with the bishop, and a stay in one of the Church's monasteries — several months to several years away from everyone except other faithful. During this time many of them experience true communion with the Light for the first time. If the applicant maintains his faith and still seems suitable, the monastery's head priest sponsors him for ordination. Once a priest is ordained, his life belongs to the Church. The council decides where he goes and what he will do, whether that's working a farm or preaching in a city. Most priests stay with the Church until they die, though as they get older they do more studious and clerical work and less physical labor. A few lose faith and break away, forsaking their vows. Those who do stay, and who distinguish themselves spiritually and politically, can rise through the ranks and eventually become a bishop.
After the Second War, the Church of the Holy Light had very few members — in large part because so many died in Lordaeron — and most temples had a single priest or were actually shut down. People have begun applying again since the Third War, however, and now the temples are all fully staffed again.
The council has many bishops, though naturally not all of them can attend every meeting. Many handle their own regions well but are quiet during meetings, expressing opinions with nods or frowns and voting without a word. Others are more boisterous, more aggressive, and more political. Three of these have formed their own power bases within the council, and they and the archbishop are the true powers of the Church — some might say the three bishops are the power and the archbishop dances desperately among them, attempting to prevent a schism.
|Archbishop Benedictus||Cathedral of Light, Stormwind City|
|Hylan||Cathedral of Light, Stormwind City (RPG)|
|Leander||Cathedral of Light, Stormwind City (RPG)|
|Neheri||Cathedral of Light, Stormwind City (RPG)|
The Three Virtues
The philosophy of the Holy Light boils down to the three teachings, called the Three Virtues. These virtues — respect, tenacity and compassion — are each defined into a principle and a lesson.
The first virtue taught is respect. While the Holy Light teaches that awareness of the self and the universe is a goal, one must also see the connection between others and the universe. Destroying other's happiness and severing other's connections with the universe is not serving the world's well being, and therefore not your own. The practitioners of the Holy Light are not naive, however, and understand that trial, conflict, war, and suffering do happen; but they strive to make the universe a better place in spite of these hindrances.
The second virtue is tenacity. The adherence to this virtue is, incidentally, the part of training under the Holy Light that weeds out the unfaithful, as true dedication takes years. Fresh-faced acolytes often lose hope and the true meaning of the Holy Light when they realize that it takes a lifetime to serve the philosophy. The world is much bigger than one lone soul; and while the world can change a soul in a day, it takes much more time to change the world. Only through tenacity can a servant of the Holy Light hope to affect the universe. If some young students feel like this is an impossible task, others take heart in the realization that if you truly believe there is a connection between the self and the universe, one cannot help but affect the other, no matter the size. Affecting the world can include anything from teaching and instilling hope in others to joining with other like-minded individuals to work together to create a bigger change.
After the first two concepts are mastered, the student can take on the final virtue: compassion. The connection between the self and the universe is strong, but it still is only one connection. If a follower of the Light serves another to increase his happiness, his bond with the universe grows stronger. The happiness he receives by helping someone also strengthens himself and the universe, and he is able to affect the universe even more.
Compassion is perhaps the most powerful — and yet most dangerous — virtue.
If someone is too compassionate, he can give help where none is needed — or wanted. This oversight can hinder one's growth and happiness. For example, one may help another with a seemingly impossible quest, when such a quest is not actually out of the abilities of the one making the attempt. Thus, Compassion (However well intentioned) has resulted in that person's inability to grow as the quest was essentially "done for them", hindering their growth and happiness.
Some helpers can be awkward and do more harm than good with their actions, increasing the suffering and unhappiness in the world. A well meaning follower of the Light may rush to the aid of an adventurer(s) and wind up gaining too much interest of those attacking, and thus force those they try to help to rush to the follower's aid.
This is why compassion is taught last; only the wise and those fully understanding compassion may identify who is truly in need and who can grow on their own.