Putin greets Russians on Orthodox Christmas

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Moscow, Jan 7 (UNI) Russian President Vladimir Putin today greeted all Russian citizens on the Nativity of Christ, the presidential press service reported.

''This feast has brought the light of faith, hope and love for centuries. It turns us to eternal spiritual values that unite millions of people, values that play a special role in the Russian history and feed our national culture,'' Mr Putin said in his Christmas greetings to Orthodox believers.

''The Russian Orthodox Church and followers of other Christian confessions pay most serious attention to strengthen the moral health of our society, propping up moral foundations, family and child care and help for the needy. This work deserves sincere recognition and respect,'' he said.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which follows the Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on January 7, 13 days behind that following the Gregorian calendar. It celebrates New Year on January 13.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia urged Orthodox Russians to live to their faith.

''As we bid farewell to the outgoing year, we should look back at the year that we have lived and to thank the Lord for all the mercies that the Lord has granted us,'' Mr Alexy told the congregation during a regular New Year's eve service for Russia's well-being.

Mr Alexy, who led the service, made special mention of the reunification of the Moscow-based Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia, an event that took place in Moscow on May 17.

''Now that we are standing on the threshold of the New Year, the future is a secret to us,'' he said at the service, held at the Epiphany Cathedral in Moscow.

''But we must rely on the will of God,'' he said.

Alexy II also congratulated Kremlin-backed presidential candidate Dmitry Medvedev during an Orthodox Christmas service at the Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow last night.

Yury Malenchenko, the Russian flight engineer during the current expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), said yesterday that he and his two American fellow ISS crewmembers, ISS commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Daniel Tani, would celebrate Orthodox Christmas today.

''As for Christmas, we will definitely celebrate it. It is a festive occasion for the entire Russian people, it is part of our culture and history,'' Mr Malenchenko told reporters through television from orbit, Interfax news agency reported.

UNI XC PD ND1850

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