Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered greetings to Orthodox Christians and all Russians on Christmas as celebrated according to the Julian calendar on Jan. 7.
"My sincere congratulations on Christmas. This holiday brings joy and hope to millions of believers, disseminates spiritual traditions among them," said Putin, Russia's Sputnik news agency reported.
Putin said the Christmas celebration, "unites around everlasting Christian values, centuries-old historical, cultural heritage of our people."
Putin said he appreciated the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations for their efforts in maintaining peace and unity in Russia and developing inter-religious and international dialogue.
State television channels showed a live broadcast of the Mass from Moscow's enormous and elaborate Christ the Savior Cathedral.
The church was demolished during Josef Stalin's dictatorship, but reconstructed after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, The Japan Times citing AP and Reuters reported.
RUSSIAN PATRIARCH KIRILL
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill conducted the ceremonies at the Moscow site before hundreds of worshippers, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as well as several other Russian government and parliamentary officials, Radio Free Europe said.
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill conducted the ceremonies at the Moscow site before hundreds of worshippers, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as well as several other Russian government and parliamentary officials.
Kirill also sent greetings to the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) via a video linkup from the Christ the Savior Cathedral.
Addressing Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov, he said, "You are our heroes. You represent Russia up there, in orbit," according to the TASS news agency.
The ISS crew also includes NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Joe Acaba, and Scott Tingle, as well as Norishige Kanai of Japan.
Orthodox Christians in Russia and most other Orthodox countries celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar on Jan. 7, two weeks after most Western Christian churches that use the Gregorian calendar.
FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY
This comes at the same time when Western Christians observe Epiphany to recall the three wise men who followed a star to Bethlehem find the baby Jesus .
Jan. 7 is a national holiday in Russia, as well as in Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Ukraine. The Armenian Orthodox Church celebrated on January 6.
In Egypt, the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, led midnight Mass in the cathedral of the nation's new administrative capital on Saturday.
The Christmas Eve service was attended by President Abdel-Fatteh el-Sisi, who is a Muslim.
Sisi told the packed cathedral outside of Cairo on the Orthodox Christmas Eve that "you are our family. We are one and no one can divide us."
His appearance at the cathedral along with Coptic Pope Tawadros II came as tens of thousands of soldiers and police were deployed outside churches in Egypt to secure against attacks by Islamic militants.
They have targeted Christians for the past two years in bomb attacks that have killed about 100 people.
In Bethlehem, Palestinians Christians, expressed anger at church land sales to Israelis, scuffling with Palestinian police, as they attempted to block the arrival of the Holy Land's Greek Orthodox patriarch for Christmas celebrations.
Demonstrators banged on the sides of police escort vehicles, but Patriarch Theophilos III managed to safely move in his limousine to the Church of the Nativity for the traditional Orthodox Christmas eve observance.