Putin attends Orthodox Easter with his wife Lyudmila

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Moscow, Apr 27 (UNI) Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin today attended the Russian Orthodox Easter service with his wife Lyudmila in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on the banks of the Moskva River in the central part of the city.

Mr Putin's appearance was rare as he attended the Easter service with his wife, in the wake of his denial of a tabloid report recently that he was going to marry a former gymnast Alina Kabayeva, 25, born to a Muslim father in Uzbekistan. In the two four-year terms of his presidency, he attended the service without his wife.

President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, Mr Putin's chosen successor, was also present at the service, clutching candles close to the altar.

Easter celebrations revived in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with both practicing Christians and non-believers celebrating the holiday.

Many people started Easter Sunday with jubilant greetings ''Christ has risen!'' and ''He has indeed risen!'' followed by three kisses and the exchange of Easter eggs.

Both the pious and non-believers have long family feasts with paschal delicacies, including Easter cakes and generously spiced and sweetened cream cheese, or barbeques.

Easter begins on Holy Saturday evening, with a long church vigil commemorating the buried Christ.

The service lasts into the early hours of Sunday and culminates in a grand midnight procession, which is often attended by non-believers attracted by its majestic pageantry.

Politicians and top officials are now often seen at church services on religious holidays.

Many Russians started Easter Sunday by visiting the graves of their departed loved ones, although the church does not quite approve of the tradition, saying Easter is a time of joy rather than sad reflection.

UNI XC SKB PM1740

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