7 January 2016

Orthodox faithful mark Christmas with services, celebration

People dressed in traditional Russian clothes dance during the celebration of Orthodox Christmas in St.Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Russian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas by the Julian calendar on Jan. 7.
For much of the Orthodox Christian world, Thursday is celebrated as Christmas Day. Believers in Russia, Ukraine, and parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East flocked to churches for the holiday.
Some Orthodox churches follow the liturgical calendar observed by the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches and celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25.
A look at Christmas events throughout the world Thursday:

RUSSIA
As Christmas approached across the sprawling country's nine time zones, Russians flocked to churches for long and solemn Masses. At Moscow's enormous Christ The Savior Cathedral, the service began at 11 p.m. on Wednesday and stretched two and a half hours, led by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, with the devout standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
President Vladimir Putin attended a midnight service at a church in the village of Turginovo, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Moscow, where his parents were baptized.
Soldiers taking part in Russia's airstrikes in Syria attended a nighttime service in a tent on the Russian air base. The tent's walls were lined with icons and a few strings of purple lights were festooned at its entrance.
An actor dressed as Grandfather Frost, the Russian Santa Claus, walks next to a statue of Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin during celebration of Orthodox Christmas in St.Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Russian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas by the Julian calendar on Jan. 7.

In his Christmas greetings to the nation, Putin said: "It is very important in these days that the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian confessions in Russia continue the traditions of responsible service, help people find belief and give them force in life. They participate actively in upbringing of the growing generations, in development of the institutes of family, maternity and childhood."
EGYPT
Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas Eve across the mainly Muslim country amid tightened security for fear of militant attacks, which have exponentially increased following the military overthrow of an Islamist president.
Roadblocks were set up before churches nationwide and cars and motorcycles were temporarily banned from idling in front of them, police Maj. Gen. Gamal Halawa said. In Cairo alone, police searched over 300 churches for explosives.
Egypt's Orthodox Coptic Christians fervently supported the 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Ever since, Christian homes, businesses and churches have been more targeted.
"We have been late in restoring and fixing what has been burned.... Everything will be fixed... Please accept our apologies for what happened," President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who as military chief led Morsi's overthrow, told the crowd on Wednesday at Cairo's St. Mark Cathedral, the papal seat, in a rare public apology and acknowledgement of the attacks. Egyptian presidents never attended Christmas masses, making el-Sissi's visit this year, the second of its kind, doubly appreciated.
A woman dressed in traditional Russian clothes strokes a goat during the celebration of Orthodox Christmas in St.Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Russian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas by the Julian calendar on Jan. 7.

The heightened security measures were in part a preparation for the Jan. 25 anniversary of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Officials including el-Sissi have voiced concern about attempts to mark the anniversary of the revolt with protests in recent weeks.
Egypt's Orthodox Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the country's 90 million people.
GEORGIA
In Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, the main avenue was crowded with colorfully dressed marchers in the traditional Christmas Day procession, collecting gifts and goods to donate to the needy.
The tradition, called "Alilo" (Glory to God), dates back centuries, when people would go out to collect alms for charity after Christmas Mass. It was banned during Soviet times, and restored only in 2000.
The procession included people dressed in robes displaying Georgia's national emblem of a red cross on white background and others in outfits symbolizing scenes of the Nativity. Some rode in carts pulled by donkeys or cattle, and other carried animal mock-ups including a camel and giraffe.
People dressed in traditional Russian clothes dance during the celebration of Orthodox Christmas in St.Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Russian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas by the Julian calendar on Jan. 7.

"This procession is an attempt to share the happiness with all those people who could not celebrate Christmas because of illness or poverty. We will go to all of them and bring gifts," said Father Kakhaber Gogotishvili, a priest who took part
UKRAINE
President Petro Poroshenko and his family attended Christmas services at a village church in the Ivano-Frankiivsk region in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. According to the presidential press service, Poroshenko and others prayed for peace and reconciliation "on all Ukrainian land."
Conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine persists, although the intensity has diminished in recent months. Rebels said on Wednesday that they were prepared to release some of the conflict's prisoners on Christmas, but Ukrainian authorities made no direct public response and there were reports Thursday of a release taking place.
MACEDONIA
In Macedonia, where about 65 percent of the population identify themselves as Orthodox, people gathered in churches before eating traditional Christmas dinners at home.
The country's church leader, Archbishop Stefan, in a Christmas message urged the faithful to strive to "strengthen spiritual and national unity" — following months of political turmoil that ended with an agreement between the two largest political parties for early elections in the spring.
Hands holding burning candles are pictured after a holy Christmas liturgy, in front of St. Clement's Cathedral church in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Macedonian Christian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas by the Julian calendar.

"As Orthodox Christians we have an opportunity to examine our faith. The Holy Church, invites us, especially on this day, to show goodwill and strive to peace with all nations," Stefan said.
Observing tradition, children around the country went door to door singing carols Thursday, while large bonfires were lit in neighborhoods overnight. 
(AP) 
A girl holds at a candle after the holy Christmas liturgy, in front of St. Clement's Cathedral church in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Macedonian Christian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas by the Julian calendar.
A girl holds at a candle after the holy Christmas liturgy, in front of St. Clement's Cathedral church in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Macedonian Christian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas by the Julian calendar.  
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, left, crosses himself as he attends the midnight Christmas Mass in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Wednesday, Jan 6, 2016. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, in accordance with the Julian calendar.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, left, crosses himself as he attends the midnight Christmas Mass in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Wednesday, Jan 6, 2016. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, in accordance with the Julian calendar. 
Macedonian Christian Orthodox Archbishop Stefan, right, gives Communion to a priest during a holy Christmas cermony in St. Clement's Cathedral church in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, in accordance with the Julian calendar.
Macedonian Christian Orthodox Archbishop Stefan, right, gives Communion to a priest during a holy Christmas cermony in St. Clement's Cathedral church in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, in accordance with the Julian calendar. 
Macedonian Christian Orthodox Archbishop Stefan holds a crucifix during holy Christmas liturgy in St. Clement's Cathedral church in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Macedonian Christian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas by the Julian calendar.
Macedonian Christian Orthodox Archbishop Stefan holds a crucifix during holy Christmas liturgy in St. Clement's Cathedral church in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Macedonian Christian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas by the Julian calendar.  
A woman breaks traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside.
A woman breaks traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside.  
People gather to receive a piece of traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside.
People gather to receive a piece of traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside. 
A woman breaks traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside.
A woman breaks traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside.  
People gather to receive a piece of traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside.
People gather to receive a piece of traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside.  
People gather to receive a piece of traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside.
People gather to receive a piece of traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside. 
People break traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside.
People break traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside. 
People gather to receive a piece of traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside.
People gather to receive a piece of traditional Christmas bread to mark the Orthodox Christmas Day festivities in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2016. Children traditionally scramble for a piece of the bread, searching for a gold coin, hidden inside. 
A Palestinian worshipper of the Greek Orthodox community prays during Christmas Eve Mass at St. Porphyrios Church in Gaza City, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016.
A Palestinian worshipper of the Greek Orthodox community prays during Christmas Eve Mass at St. Porphyrios Church in Gaza City, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016.

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