Russian Orthodox patriarch praises church's growth in Christmas message
By Jim Heintz
3:14 p.m. January 6, 2007
MOSCOW The head of the Russian Orthodox Church
praised the growth of the church in a Christmas
Eve message Saturday, and later presided over
services at a Moscow cathedral that symbolizes
the faith's revival after Soviet rule.
The Russian Orthodox Church, like some other
Orthodox churches, including the one in Serbia,
observes Christmas on Jan. 7 because it follows
the Julian calendar for its liturgical schedule
instead of the Gregorian calendar, adopted by
Roman Catholics and Protestants and commonly used
in secular life around the world.
Patriarch Alexy II, dressed in golden robes and
an elaborate miter, presided over Christmas Eve
services at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral,
which was torn down in 1931 under Soviet dictator
Josef Stalin and reconstructed in the 1990s.
In a message released earlier in the day, Alexy
expressed satisfaction with the growth of the church.
Ever more people are returning to the homeland
faith, churches are filled with parishioners of
all ages, millions of people are reading
spiritual literature and taking part in church affairs, Alexy said.
The Russian church has seen a strong revival
since the collapse of the officially atheist
Soviet Union in 1991. It now claims more than
27,000 parishes and 700 monasteries throughout the former USSR.
During Soviet rule, the church continued to
operate under tightly constrained conditions.
Many Russian Orthodox believers overseas
considered the Moscow-based church essentially a
Kremlin pawn and formed a splinter denomination,
the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
But those two churches reconciled last year, and
in May plan to sign a formal reunification.
In his message, Alexy also expressed concern about tensions in the Middle East.
The tragic events in the Holy Land have caused
great pain in the hearts of all believers. There,
where 2,000 years ago the angels announced 'Glory
to God in the highest and peace on Earth,' the
blood of the innocent has been spilled anew, he said.
Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, meanwhile,
urged Serbs to overcome senseless internal
divisions, and called on Serbs in Kosovo to be steadfast amid tensions.
Orthodox Serbs consider Kosovo, although today
predominantly ethnic Albanian and Muslim, the
heart of their ancient homeland. Since the end of
a 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian rebels
and Serb forces, Kosovo's minority Serbs have
lived in guarded enclaves under fear of attack at
the hands of Albanians, and many Orthodox
churches and monuments there have been destroyed or vandalized.
In the end, the oppressed will defeat the
oppressors, Pavle said. We pray for our enemies
so they see that doing evil can bring no good.
Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since
1999. Its final status, expected to be decided
this year, is an issue of high tension.
Alexy, in a meeting with journalists on Friday,
decried the destruction of churches in Kosovo,
saying they are being destroyed with the
reticent agreement or silence of those who should
raise their voice in defense of these holy
places, according to the church Web site.
Associated Press Writer Jovana Gec in Belgrade,
Serbia, contributed to this report.