MOSCOW, Jan. 7 (AP) — Orthodox Christians packed churches for Christmas Eve services Friday night, a holiday darkened by bitter conflict between Orthodox neighbors Russia and Ukraine.
Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the world’s largest Orthodox denomination, presided over an elaborate ceremony at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, with dozens of priests and officials in ornate vestments waving smoking censers and chanting With worship service.
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A day earlier, Kirill called for a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine, which President Putin agreed to, but Ukrainian officials dismissed it as an attempt to regroup Russian troops. Reports of sporadic fighting in Ukraine on Friday could not be immediately confirmed.
Hours after the ceasefire began, Kyiv residents ventured out of the light snow to buy gifts, cakes and groceries for a Christmas Eve family celebration.
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In a video message, President Volodymyr Zelensky praised Ukrainians for their “unprecedented unity” and lamented that the conflict had forced many to abandon Christmas folk traditions that ban sewing and hunting.
“Sewing and knitting are forbidden, but we weave camouflage nets, sew body armor, and defeat evil. In those days, our ancestors did not go hunting, but we fought to not be prey and to defeat wild beasts,” he said.
Ukrainians, like Russians and Orthodox Christians in some other countries, traditionally celebrate Christmas on January 7. But this year, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which does not align with the Russian Church, and one of two branches of the country’s Orthodox Church, agreed to allow worshipers to celebrate on Dec. 25. Many did, but others stuck to the old ways.
Putin attended the ceremony at the Cathedral of the Annunciation, one of several churches inside the Kremlin.
In Serbia, observers follow traditions such as burning dry oak branches at night and prepare for midnight services in churches, with the main service to be led by Patriarch Porfirije of the Temple of St. Sava, Belgrade’s largest church.
While much of his traditional Christmas message focused on the status of Serbs in Kosovo, which is dominated by Albanians, the Serbian patriarch said he was praying for an end to the war in Ukraine, which he said was fueled by the outside world .
“It is with sadness that we look at the conflict and the victims of war, in which different actors were involved openly or covertly,” Porfirije said. “The consequences of a tragic, fratricidal conflict fomented daily from outside are dire, and the flames of war threaten the entire world like never before.”
The Serbian Orthodox Church has close ties to the Russian Church and is strongly critical of the West and its policies.
Bells rang over the biblical town of Bethlehem on Friday as crowds carried crosses through rain-soaked streets in celebration of Orthodox Christmas.
Dozens of boys and girls marched through Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank for the annual Boy Scouts parade, playing the Palestinian national anthem and religious hymns with bagpipes and giant drums. Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Theophilos III joined the faithful as they flocked to the Church of the Nativity, revered by Christians as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. Similar celebrations took over the Christian quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
In Egypt, where Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the country’s 104 million people, one of the most festive holidays of the year is fraught with grave uncertainty about the country’s economy.
In Sobra and other Christian centers on the northern outskirts of Cairo, golden lights and Christmas-themed decorations adorned the streets. While Shobra is usually bustling with gift-buying families ahead of Orthodox Christmas, this year shopkeepers are reporting a drop in sales. The Egyptian pound weakened against the dollar, hitting fresh lows earlier this week as the country faces a foreign exchange shortage sparked by Russia’s deployment of troops to Ukraine.
Speaking at a Coptic Christmas Eve mass in Cairo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi highlighted the detrimental impact of the fighting in Ukraine on the country.
After the current crisis, the world will not be the same as the one we saw before this. If the war continues this year or longer, this economic crisis will affect many countries,” el-Sissi said.
El-Sissi took part in several Christmas Eve ceremonies organized by the country’s Coptic Orthodox minority, a public event of interfaith solidarity. In predominantly Muslim Egypt, Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the country’s 104 million people and face restrictions including on interfaith marriages and church building.
The Christmas mass in Duhuk, Iraq’s Kurdish region, drew Armenian devotees from across the city.
Worshipers prayed together and sang hymns for health and peace in an old stone church. Christians used to be a sizeable minority in Iraq, estimated at around 1.4 million. But their numbers began to decline during the post-2003 unrest, when Sunni militants routinely targeted Christians. They were hit further when the extremist Islamic State group swept across northern Iraq in 2014.
“I congratulate all Iraqis from all denominations, from the north and south of the country,” said Sahak Pedros, an Armenian Christian from Baghdad. (AP)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)