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Russian Patriarch praises church's growth in Christmas message

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/world/20070106-1514-russia-orthodoxchristmas.html Russian Orthodox patriarch praises church s growth in Christmas message By
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 6, 2007
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      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.
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