01/07/2005, 00.00
RUSSIA
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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.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – About 300 million Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas in accordance with the Julian calendar.

Moscow's Orthodox Patriarch Aleksij II presided over Midnight Mass in the Russian capital's Christ the Saviour Cathedral. About 11,000 people, including Russia Prime Minister Michail Fradkov, took part in the ceremony.

In his remarks, the Patriarch prayed for peace and alluded to the victims of the Beslan school slaughter.

"May God send peace and joy, brotherhood and virtue, wisdom and hope to all people," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended Midnight Mass at the Nativity of the Mother of God, a 600-year-old village church in Gorodnia, 150 km north of Moscow.

In his Season's Greetings, Mr Putin said that "the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional Christian faiths play a most important role in the preservation of the spiritual foundations of the society, in the strengthening of civil peace, in the upbringing of a new generation".

Eastern Slavs, who are largely Orthodox, celebrate Christmas festivities according to the old Julian calendar which is at present 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in force in the rest of the Christian world.

After the 1917 Revolution, the new Soviet state adopted the "Western" calendar and the Orthodox Christmas became just another January working day.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Christmas was once again a statutory holiday celebrated according to the Julian calendar, on January 7.

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