Orthodox Russians celebrate Easter with night service in Moscow Cathedral

MOSCOW (AP) — Faithful, including the president Vladimir Poutine Moscow’s iconic Cathedral of Christ the Savior was sold out for an Easter night service led by Patriarch Kirillhead of the Russian Orthodox Church and staunch supporter of the Kremlin.

The traditional singing service began on Saturday evening, with Kirill conveying his wishes to Orthodox believers which was broadcast on Russian television. A procession of white-robed clergy then circled the vast cathedral, rebuilt in the post-Soviet era and widely seen as a symbol of Russia’s rejection of its atheist past, while brandishing smoking censers and while singing the liturgy.

Most Western churches celebrate Easter on March 31, but the Russian Orthodox Church follows a different calendar.

In his Easter speech, Cyril wished “God’s blessing on Russia”, on its people and on all the countries where the Church is present.

In a written message published on the Church website on Saturday, Kirill noted that “awareness of God’s love… gives us the strength to overcome the most difficult mental states and difficult circumstances, elevates us to- above the hustle and bustle of everyday life, helps correct past mistakes and destroys discouragement.

This year, the Patriarch seemed to avoid political declarations, unlike last April when he deplored “the serious events taking place on our historic Russian land”, referring to Moscow’s military actions in Ukraine and reinforce the Kremlin’s narrative that the Ukrainian state is essentially a fiction.

The service, featuring a mixed-voice choir and standing worshipers holding thin red candles, was scheduled to continue until Sunday.

Putin was pictured among the worshipers, standing next to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin as the two joined in traditional Easter greetings. The Russian leader was later seen exchanging celebratory gifts with Kirill.

Earlier on Saturday, Orthodox Russians visited churches to receive baskets of festive food, including hand-painted eggs and traditional Easter cakes, blessed by a priest.

Putin has been quick to present himself as defending the “traditional values” espoused by the Russian Orthodox Church in the face of what he repeatedly calls “degrading” influence from the West. The country has taken an increasingly conservative turn, with attempts to restrict abortion and blanket bans against LGBTQ+ activism and gender transition which have received the support of the Church.

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