Millions of Orthodox Christians from Russia and the Balkans to Ethiopia are celebrating Christmas Sunday, marking the birth of Jesus on the Julian calendar.

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin issued a statement congratulating worshippers. He called Christmas "a time for charity, mercy and attention to all those in need of sympathy, help and care."

In a Christmas eve address, Russian Patriarch Alexy noted church growth since the fall of communism, while bemoaning what he called violence and cruelty in the world.

Serbian Patriarch Pavle called on Serbs to overcome internal divisions, and urged the Serbian minority in Kosovo to remain steadfast amid tensions.

In Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus, several thousand worshippers braved heavy rains Saturday to view the traditional Christmas parade. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos the third, celebrated Mass at the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square.

Russian celebrations were marred by news of the murder of an Orthodox priest. Russian news reports say thieves killed the priest during a robbery in a Ural mountain village, Neivo-Shaitansky. Two suspects were reported in custody. Prosecutors say 21 religious icons stolen in the robbery have been recovered.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.