01/07/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Russian Orthodox Christmas: silence on martyrdom, a call to patriotic values

by Nina Achmatova
In his homily the Patriarch makes no reference to the persecution of Christians, the call to prayer for "national unity" and the "homeland". President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin present.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - More than 150 million faithful, in about 30 thousand churches and 800 Russian Orthodox monasteries in 60 countries around the world celebrate Christmas today. Last night in Moscow, Patriarch Kirill celebrated the traditional liturgy of the Vigil in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in the presence of thousands of faithful and the President of the Russian Federation Dmitri Medvedev. In all, about more than 11 thousand faithful attended the liturgy in the capital. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as per tradition, participated in the Christmas Mass in a church in the province.

The Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated according to the Julian calendar. This is 13 days  "behind" the Gregorian calendar, adopted by Catholics, Protestants, some Orthodox – such as the Ecumenical Patriarchate - and the secular world. In Russia, January 7 marks the end of abstinence from meat, sweets and alcohol, which began Nov. 28, and is a national holiday.

It is also a day of high alert after recent warnings of terrorist attacks against Christians throughout the world, especially the Copts in Egypt. 7 thousand security agents were mobilized in the capital alone. All places of Orthodox worship in the city, 286 churches and monasteries are patrolled by canine units, as well as the main underground stations.

Kirill and silence on Copts

There was widespread anticipation for Patriarch Kirill’s  homily in the light of New Year's bloody attack against the Coptic church in Alexandria. In his traditional greeting for the Orthodox Christmas, Kirill did not make any reference to the attack which killed 23 people Dec. 31. On 3 January, however, in a letter to the Coptic Pope Shenouda III, the Patriarch expressed his spiritual support to the community in the hope that "the terrorists are found and appropriately punished." But in his homily last night there was no reference for the Coptic brothers. The Patriarch instead focused attention on the need to pray for values such as the "homeland", "national unity" and "the Christian soul." He stressed  that people "now more than ever need the help of God, His love and His mercy." "We believe and know that in answer to our prayers, our sincere faith, God enters into man’s life, holds him by the hand, strengthens the mind, body and soul."

Politics and faith

The values to which the Patriarch referred are dear to the Kremlin. Christmas, especially in the last decade of Putin, an occasion for political and Church leaders to come together. The feast gives the opportunity to reaffirm an ever-closer collaboration that unites them in the name of a strong and united Russia.

Medvedev was present with his wife Svetlana in the cathedral in Moscow, where he exchanged greetings and gifts with Kirill. A few hours earlier he had sent greetings to all Russian citizens via Twitter. "Christmas brings us to the timeless values of love and goodness - the president said - these were used for centuries to strengthen the moral values and unity of the Russian people." "These values even today are the foundations upon which our society can build a peaceful and constructive development of Russia."

Prime Minister Putin, meanwhile attended the Christmas liturgy in the Church of the Veil of the Mother of God, patron of Turginovo in the village, north of Moscow in the Tver region, where his parents originally come from.
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