RFE/RL – 7/1/18
Russian President Vladimir Putin helped usher in the Orthodox Christmas at services at the Church of Saints Simeon and Anna in St. Petersburg.
The Russian leader arrived after the session had begun late on January 6 and joined in the services as the clock turned to January 7 — the date the Russian Orthodox Church observes Christmas.
Russian state television channels showed a live broadcast of the Mass from Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill Patriarch conducted the ceremonies at the Moscow site before hundreds of worshippers, including several Russian government and parliamentary officials.
January 7 is a national holiday in Russia, as well as in other countries, including Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Ukraine. The Armenian Orthodox Church celebrated on January 6.
In Bethlehem, Palestinians Christians — angry with church land sales to Israelis — scuffled 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.
In Istanbul, the Greek Orthodox Christian community celebrated Epiphany with the blessing of the waters.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians around the world and the archbishop of Constantinople, led the liturgy at the Patriarchal Church of St. George.
The Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates Jesus’ baptism on Epiphany. Most Christian religions observe Epiphany to recall the three wise men who followed a star to find baby Jesus.
In Egypt, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi attended an Orthodox Christmas service at a new church in a symbolic act of solidarity with his country’s embattled Christian community, the Copts.
Sissi, a Muslim, 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 church 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, who have targeted Christians for the past two years in several bomb attacks that have killed about 100 people.
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