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Orthodox Christians Celebrate Easter in Russia - 2003-04-27

Orthodox Christians across Russia are celebrating Easter - the holiest event in the Christian calendar. Shortly after the end of all-night Easter services in Russia's churches, the country's president, Vladimir Putin, sent his greetings to Russian Christians.

In a message distributed by the presidential press service, Mr. Putin expressed his wishes for good health, happiness, and wellbeing to Orthodox Christians.

Mr. Putin also said that such large-scale celebrations of Easter in Russia are a clear sign that Christian traditions are being revived across the nation.

The Russian president praised the Russian Orthodox Church for calling for mutual understanding and tolerance, strengthening the family, and helping to bring up Russia's younger generation.

Mr. Putin, who was on a visit to Tajikistan, attended the Easter service at the Orthodox St. Nicolas Cathedral in the country's capital city, Dushanbe, late Saturday.

Worshipers also gathered for midnight Easter services at 16,000 churches across Russia.

The nation's main service was held at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. A delegation of priests and dignitaries carried oil lamps, which were said to contain holy fire from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, believed to be located on the burial place of Jesus. The fire was reportedly transported to the Cathedral straight from the airport after arriving from Jerusalem in a special container designed for the Olympic Flame.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II, did not lead the service this year. According to Russian media, the 74-year-old patriarch is still recovering from flu and pneumonia, and doctors advised him against taking part in the hours-long liturgy.

Easter service marks the end of the 40-day Orthodox Fast, with believers joining family and friends early Sunday to eat Easter cakes and colored eggs.