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  • » 01/07/2016, 00.00


    As St Petersburg’s cathedral reopens, Orthodox mark Christmas swimming in frigid waters and praying for migrants

    For the first time since the Russian Revolution, St Isaac Cathedral in St Petersburg, the world’s largest Orthodox church, opens on Christmas Eve. In Istanbul, the faithful leap into the frigid waters of the Golden Horn to retrieve a wooden cross thrown by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. In Moscow Kirill calls for peace in Ukraine, whilst in Greece people pray for the victims of human trafficking.

    Moscow (AsiaNews) – Today, some 230 million Orthodox celebrated Christmas around the world swimming in frigid waters, praying for the victims of human trafficking and pleading for peace in the world’s hotspots.

    Pope Francis had already began the celebrations in yesterday’s Angelus for the day of Epiphany, by expressing his "spiritual closeness to the brothers and sisters of the Christian East, Catholic and Orthodox, many of whom will celebrate the Lord's birth tomorrow. To them, we extend our best wishes for peace and good tidings!”

    By far, the most impressive celebrations were held in Russia, homeland of the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest Orthodox community in the world, which currently has more than 30,000 churches and 800 monasteries in almost 70 countries.

    Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia led the Christmas Eve liturgy at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. For the first time ever, the service was held with open Holy Doors to symbolise the openness of God’s word for all.

    In his message, the Patriarch called on the faithful to pray for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. "The fratricidal conflict which has arisen in the land of Ukraine should never divide the Church’s children by sowing enmity within peoples’ hearts," he said.

    Christmas Eve celebrations were also held in St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St Petersburg, the largest Orthodox church in the world.

    The landmark 19th Century cathedral was turned into a museum under the officially atheist Soviet regime. After the USSR’s collapse in 1991, it remained a museum, but the Russian Orthodox Church has used it periodically for services. However, yesterday’s was the biggest ever.

    In Turkey, the faithful met in Istanbul’s Fanar district, see of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, for a service led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

    Renewing with an ancient tradition, a group of faithful leaped into the frigid waters of the Golden Horn to retrieve a wooden cross thrown by Bartholomew. Nicolaos Silos (pictured), a 28-year-old visitor from Greece, was the first to reach it.

    In the latter’s home country, a ceremony was held on the island of Lesbos, the gateway to Europe for many immigrants and refugees, to remember all those who died making the crossing from Turkey.

    A floral wreath in the shape of the peace sign was thrown into the sea. The president of the Refugee Club in Lesbos, Makis Venetas, says it honours drowned refugees.

    "We honour the memory of the small refugee children that have drowned. They're not to blame, no matter if they're Orthodox, Muslim or Catholic. They're small children that drowned in the Aegean Sea, and that's really shocking to us."

    In Egypt, police deployed scores of agents around Cairo’s Coptic churches against possible terrorist threats.

    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited some places of worship and promised to fix all Coptic churches damaged in sectarian violence that followed the ouster of his predecessor, Mohammed Morsi, in 2013.

    As per tradition, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III celebrated Christmas Mass in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, welcomed by hundreds of worshippers in Manger Square.

    In his address, the patriarch called on them to "live and work for the peace of the Lord."

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    See also

    07/01/2015 RUSSIA
    Ukraine and Russia celebrate a wartime Christmas
    In the Donbass region, parishes cancelled Vigil celebrations, holding liturgical services only today. Moscow patriarch focused his message on peace in Ukraine. He also urged the faithful to be orthodox in everyday life, not only in public opinion polls.

    27/12/2004 INDONESIA
    Inter-religious solidarity for quake and tsunami victims

    07/01/2005 RUSSIA
    Orthodox celebrate Christmas
    The Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations play a crucial role in society, says Putin. Some 11,000 people attended Midnight Mass at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow.

    30/12/2015 CHINA
    Concerts and e-cards: the mission to explain the birth of Jesus in China
    Protestant congregations used social media and e-invitations to draw family and friends to events on 24 and 25 December. Artistic performances and concerts are tools “to spread the Gospel”. Slides and carols express the true meaning of Christmas. “Snow? Gifts?” The real meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus.

    27/12/2006 INDONESIA
    Muslim commitment ensures peaceful Christmas
    Representatives of the country’s most influential Muslim organizations participated in Christmas celebrations held by Christians and supplied 1,500 volunteers to patrol places of worship.

    Editor's choices

    Pope in Egypt: Egypt called to condemn violence and poverty in the Middle East

    In his address to Egyptian authorities, Francis stressed Egypt’s role and responsibility in the future of the region. "In the fragile and complex situation of today’s world, which I have described as ‘a world war being fought piecemeal’, it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God.”

    A Muslim writes to the pope: Dear Pope Francis . . .

    Kamel Abderrahmani

    He admires the charity shown by the pontiff towards Syrian Muslim refugees, and his push in favour of love and against hatred. Islamic scholars are not like this, he says, they do not denounce Daesh’s hatred and do nothing for Christians. He calls on the pontiff to press President to Sisi and Al Azhar to reform Islam. Without this Al Azhar risks being the academy of world fundamentalism. Here is the letter from our friend and collaborator Kamel Abderrahmani.


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