Church and state leaders have joined ordinary citizens in Russia in marking Orthodox Christmas Eve.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy, urged believers to mark Christmas with good deeds. Russia's Itar-Tass news agency says he urged the faithful to pool their efforts to allow the joy of Christmas to enter every home.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a Christmas Eve service at a cathedral in the Siberian city of Yakutsk. In a message to citizens, Mr. Putin urged them to follow the Christmas tradition of helping those in need.

In Rome, Pope Benedict extended Christmas greetings to Orthodox Christians as Roman Catholics marked the feast of the Epiphany - the Three Kings or Wise Men who tradition says brought gifts to Jesus following his birth.

Many Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on the Julian calendar - about two weeks later than most other Christians.