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Putin Celebrates Orthodox Christmas With Surprise Church Visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, attends midnight Orthodox Christmas Mass in a church in the village of Turginovo, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Turginovo, Russia, late Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to a Russian church in the Tver region Wednesday to celebrate the Orthodox Church's Christmas Eve.

Eastern Orthodox Christians, many of whom live in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Greece, follow the old Julian calendar and celebrate religious holidays 13 days later than non-Orthodox Christians.

While worshipers may have been shocked at the unexpected presence of the president in their midst Wednesday, Putin appeared calm and thoughtful as he lit a candle and participated in prayers at the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God in Turginovo, where his parents were baptized more than a century ago. He was photographed surrounded by children and candlelight as he took part in the midnight service.

Putin, who usually celebrates Easter in Moscow but travels outside the city for Christmas services, last visited this church in 2011. It is about 200 kilometers northwest of Moscow.

Earlier in the day, the president took part in a game of ice hockey in the Olympic town of Sochi.

Orthodox Christmas services also took place in Georgia, Serbia, Greece, and in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born.