It’s Christmas for 150 million Orthodox in the world

Posted On January 7, 2007

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Today Orthodox Christians in Russia, the Holy Land and some eastern Churches are celebrating Christmas according to the Julian calendar.

The Patriarch of Moscow: the joy of the birth of Christ, the tragedy of the Holy Land. Even Putin delivered greetings. The Christmas period has been an opportunity for rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox.

Moscow > Around 150 million Christian Orthodox are celebrating Christmas today according to the Julian calendar. The Pope yesterday recalled “our beloved brothers and sisters of the eastern Churches” and “with affection” wished them “abundance of peace and Christian prosperity”.

Russian Orthodox Christians of the Holy Land and of some other eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas as per the Julian calendar, 13 days later than the Gregorian calendar adopted by Catholics, Protestants, some Orthodox and the secular world. On 7 January, the secular and religious world in Russia meet, abstinence from meat, sweets and alcohol that started on 28 November is over and Christmas is celebrated as a national feast.

Yesterday the Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, Alexei II, celebrated the Liturgy of the Vigil at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in the capital. In his Christmas message, the Patriarch called on the faithful to “welcome in their hearts the joy of this birth” and to experience the beauty and strength of faith in daily life, public, and private. He also expressed concern about the “tragic events that have overrun the Holy Land where the Saviour was born 2,000 years ago”. “Let us pray to God that the land sanctified by the birth, life, passion and resurrection of Christ may become, in time, a land of peace”, said the message published on 5 January.

President Putin, in a message of greetings to the nation, said: “This feast brings joy and hope to millions of people and unites us around traditional moral values, reinforcing the moral foundations and harmony in society.” He also invited Russians to look to the future with “hope”. 

In reality, Christmas is also a time when security is on maximum alert especially in Moscow. The city administration deployed 9,000 policemen on the night of the Vigil and for all of today. There are 254 churches under surveillance; officers are also controlling the stands of means of public transport.

The Christmas period in Russia, even with the calendar differences between Catholics and Orthodox, has provided the opportunity to reiterate the commitment of the two sister churches towards more substantial rapprochement. In a press conference on 26 December, Mgr Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Archbishop of the Mother of God Archdiocese in Moscow, invited Catholics and Orthodox to “remain united and to help each other in the face of current challenges”. Igor Vyzhanov, secretary for inter-Christian relations at the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations, said much the same. During a recent meeting with priests and religious of the Mother of God Archdiocese, the representative of the patriarchate said: “We should not be rivals but should seek to attain, even at the level of the clergy, that mutual comprehension we already have about many issues at official level.” He added that the Russian Orthodox were ready to collaborate with Catholics, especially in the social sector and works of charity.

Orthodox Christmas Celebrated

Posted On January 7, 2007

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From Russia to Ethiopia, Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas today

In Moscow, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Aleksy II, celebrated a midnight Mass for 5,000 people at Christ the Savior Cathedral. The five-hour service was broadcast on Russian national television, Radio Free Europe reports.

Orthodox Christmas was not officially recognized by the communist regime, but became a public holiday in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Communists demolished thousands of churches, including Christ the Savior Cathedral, which was rebuilt in the late 1990s.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, began Christmas ceremonies for Greek, Syrian, and Coptic churches at the ancient Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on January 6.

The rites were attended by locals and tourists, but in lower numbers than in previous years. Security concerns contributed to a drop in tourist numbers. The town is cut off from neighboring Jerusalem by Israel’s security barrier. People are also concerned about internecine violence that has peaked in recent days in Palestinian areas.

Meanwhile, Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo celebrated Christmas in the shadow of an imminent UN decision on the fate of the breakaway Serbian province, where the Albanian majority demands independence. Kosovo’s remaining 100,000 ethnic Serbs are looking to the future with uncertainty.

“I can’t say it’ll be the last Christmas in Kosovo, because I’m an optimist and I believe there will be even more in Kosovo,” Slavisa Stefanovic, who lives in Kosovska Mitrovica, told Reuters television. “No offence to anyone, but Christmas is always most beautiful in Kosovo.”

Father Milija Arsic from the St. Dimitrije church on Miner’s Hill above Mitrovica, told Reuters that Serbs will remain in Kosovo. “We know we are on our own ground, and we will try to stay,” Arsic said. “Here was the Serb state, and if God wants it will remain so.”

Christmas celebrations in Russia were marred by news of the murder of an Orthodox priest. Interfax reported that the priest was murdered; religious icons stolen, and his church burned down on January 6 in a village near the Ural Mountains. Twenty-one religious icons, some over 100 years old, are missing from the church. The news agency reported that several suspects had been detained.

The Russian Orthodox Church, like some other Orthodox churches including those in Ukraine and Serbia, observes Christmas on January 7 because it retained the Julian calendar for its liturgical schedule when countries switched to the Gregorian calendar.

The Russian Orthodox Church, all but banned under the Soviet Union, has experienced a major resurgence since 1991, with the church claiming that two-thirds of Russia’s 144 million people are observant.

At Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was torn down in 1931 under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and then reconstructed in the 1990s, Alexy led a Christmas Eve service attended by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and parliament speaker Boris Gryzlov. President Vladimir Putin celebrated Orthodox Christmas early Sunday in a monastery outside Moscow as senior government figures attended a service in the capital’s main cathedral led by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

A highly Orthodox Christmas Day

Posted On January 7, 2007

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It is Christmas Day today for Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was in the village of Istra near Moscow for Midnight Mass. Around two thirds of Russian Christians are members of the Orthodox Church.

In Bethlehem, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, believers flocked to the Church of the Nativity. Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas joined the congregation. Greek Patriarch, Theofilos the Third presided over ceremonies.

Earlier, an Orthodox Christmas tradition dating back to the Byzantine era took place in Constantinopole, today’s Istanbul in Turkey. His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew I, threw a crucifix into the Bosphorus, and divers raced to retrieve it.

This is a tradition of the Greek and other Orthodox church which on January 6 celebrate the Epiphany or Theophania, the Baptism of Jesus Christ into the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist. These Churches follow the Gregorian calendar.

Crowds gather together in Bethlehem’s Manger Square to celebrate Orthodox Christmas

Posted On January 7, 2007

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Bethlehem Nativity Celebrations  Bethlehem > Heavy rains mixed with the tears of joy on Saturday and Sunday in Manger Square despite the abysmal internal situation, the ongoing blockade and the Israeli occupation. Children’s eyes lit up at the Christmas parade, while crowds rushed to greet the Roman Patriarch’s convoy.

For eastern Christmas the Patriarch’s first stop on his way to the Church of Nativity from Jerusalem was at the Mar Elias Monastery in Beit Jala. The mayors of Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and Bethlehem all came out to greet him, as did representatives of Bethlehem organizations and dignitaries in the Orthodox Church.

Some Israeli officials in the Civil Administration occupying the central West Bank Bethlehem District also came to greet the Patriarch as he passed through the Wall.

The procession moved into the streets lined with well-wishers from the Wall at the military installation of Rachel’s Tomb in northern Bethlehem. Israeli forces opened the gate that separates Bethlehem from itself. The Patriarch was greeted by Palestinian police and other security bodies who escorted him in a parade through the streets of Bethlehem and into the dizziness of the crowds in Manger Square.

Bethlehem’s Mayor, Dr. Victor Batarsa, and the Bethlehem District Governor Salah Tamari, several members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and officials in the security services, stood together as Boy Scout troupes of all ages sang their traditional tunes and the drum corps marched through. The crowd was estimated at being several thousand and the heavy rain added to the feeling of togetherness.

Inside the Church the Patriarch gave a special prayer as a prelude to Midnight Mass, which was attended by President Abbas. Mayor Batarsa said that the mood throughout Palestine is sad with the Israeli siege increasing in severity, while the Tourism Minister said that the people would prevail due to their deep faith and the justice in the Palestinian cause.

The Patriarch condemned the Israeli Wall and said that he hoped the new year would bring peace, security and stability to the holy land.

Eastern Christmas gets underway in Bethlehem

Posted On January 7, 2007

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Eastern Christmas Celebration gets underway in Bethlehem, as parades arrive at the Church of the Nativity

Bethlehem Christmas Celebrations

Bethlehem > Christian sects who follow the eastern calendar have, on Saturday, began celebrating Christmas in rainy weather, which is providing much-needed relief for the scorched earth of Palestine’s farmland.

In the morning, the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox church in Palestine and Jordan, Marseorios Malky Murad, arrived at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Following him was the parade of Dr Abraham, the Patriarch of the Qubti sect in Jerusalem. Both Patriarchs were accompanied by knights and scouts, who marched between the crowds on both sides on the road to the churchyard.

The parades were received by the mayors of the cities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, Dr Victor Batarsa, Raji Zeidan and Hani Al-Hayik, in addition to the governor of Bethlehem, Salah Al-Ta’amari, the director of the police department and other clergy and civic dignitaries.

More Patriarchs are expected to arrive to the church of the Nativity as representatives of eastern Christian churches.

Note > Not all Christians, and particularly those of the Middle East follow the Vatican calendar. The Orthodox Christians follow a calendar that is two weeks later than that of the Vatican. For these Christians, Christmas Day falls on January 7. A traditional Orthodox Christmas greeting is “Christ is Born!” The response is “(All) praise to him”.

Marines run with Christmas Spirit

Posted On January 7, 2007

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CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq > Christmas is a time for giving, a time for families to get together and share happiness. For deployed service members, the ‘family get-together’ is a little bit different.

Troops from all around Camp Taqaddum gathered on Christmas Eve to celebrate the holiday by running a 5-kilometer race. It was the fourth of five races making up the Camp Taqaddum Road Series. The events were organized to boost morale, said Capt. James R. Uwins, environmental and safety officer of 1st Marine Logistics Group.

For some service members, the race presented a chance to showcase their physical ability and endurance: “I am running this for myself and to do better than I did the last race,” said Cpl. Leif L. Dawson, a supply clerk with Headquarters Company, Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). “It gives me a sense of pride, especially when I beat everyone that works with me.”

For others, the competition was friendlier and provided an opportunity to meet new people: “Today was great for meeting people you don’t get to see because of the shift you work,” said Cpl. Davis J. Reichel, 22, a nuclear, biological and chemical specialist with 1st MLG (Forward) and a native of Staples, Michigan.

After each participant finished the race, they were treated with snacks, drinks and a free T-shirt. The T-shirts were provided by Marine Corps Community Services, an organization that supports Marines and their families.

“I run this race not only to finish first in my shop, but also to get the cool t-shirt,” said Dawson, 20, a Las Vegas native. “I am trying to run all five races while I am out here and have all five shirts to show for it.”

“MCCS has allowed us to shape a race series because of the support and sponsorship,” said Uwins, 30, a native of Pasadena, Calif. “The t-shirts not only helped us organize the race, but gave the servicemembers somewhat of a souvenir as well.”

The top participants from each group received medals supplied by Moral, Welfare and Recreation (MWR), a support program that provides service members around the world with entertainment and recreation. The participants were divided into groups by age, and approximately 250 runners competed.

The first military male to finish was Sgt. James R. Tijerina, 26, a helicopter crew supervisor with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), and a native of Katy, Texas, with a time of 18 minutes, 46 seconds. Lance Cpl. Valerie N. Ramirez, a 19-year-old supply clerk with Unmanned Air-Vehicle Squadron, 3rd MAW, and a native of Houston, was the top female competitor with a time of 22 minutes, 7 seconds.

The day came to a close after the award ceremony, and the competitors replenished their energy with a rewarding Christmas meal.

“This has been a neat experience because we are able spend time and eat with our (military) family on Christmas,” said Cpl. Caleb L. Jones, a member of Headquarters and Service Company, 1st MLG, and a native of Twin Falls, Idaho. “On Christmas it’s great for us to come together and celebrate the holiday.”

World welcomes New Year

Hundreds of thousands of revellers flooded New York’s Times Square to watch the famed crystal ball as it dropped to mark the New Year.

It was a scene repeated, with some variations, around the world as millions cheered impressive fireworks celebrations while others saw 2006 capped with bombings and death.

Preparations for the Times Square countdown had begun days in advance, complete with the cheering and the kisses. Partygoers, projected to reach a million, were in high spirits, cheering and joking in the unseasonably warm evening. The New York festivities include a star-studded line-up, including performances by singers Christina Aguilera and Toni Braxton, rap group Three 6 Mafia and country band Rascal Flatts.

Security was tight in and around Times Square and spectators passed through police checkpoints while bomb-sniffing dogs roamed the crowd. Texas band Radiant kicked off the event, when the famously flashy New Year’s Eve ball was raised to the top of a flagpole.

Across the globe, the countdown to the New Year was marked, in parts, with a combination of joy, tears, prayers and hopes.

In Rio de Janeiro, nearly 21,000 police officers fanned out across the Brazilian city, many patrolling impoverished slums ruled by gangs, to guarantee the safety of tourists and revellers at a huge New Year’s Eve bash on the famed Copacabana beach. The show of force comes after gang attacks left 19 dead last week in Rio.

In Sydney, fireworks exploded over Harbour Bridge as a million onlookers celebrated the New Year. The display was to celebrate the bridge’s 75th anniversary.

Hundreds of thousands of others cheered in London as Big Ben rang in 2007. The chimes were relayed by sound systems along the River Thames and the onlookers lined its banks near the Houses of Parliament to watch a light show countdown projected on to the 443ft London Eye wheel. The countdown was followed by a 10-minute fireworks display “big enough and loud enough to be seen … all over the capital”, mayor Ken Livingstone said.

In India, police arrested two suspected Islamic militants about half a mile from the site of New Delhi’s main public New Year’s Eve celebrations, a report said.

Pope Benedict XVI prayed at a New Year’s Eve service at the Vatican City in Rome that 2007 would bring the world “peace, comfort, justice”.

In Romania and Bulgaria, midnight marked a historic milestone, with the two countries becoming the newest members of the European Union. Fireworks thundered through the sky in the Romanian and Bulgarian capitals, which were decorated with the EU’s blue-and-gold flags.

Bad weather dampened celebrations in other parts of Europe. In Belfast, an outdoor concert that was to feature soul singer Beverley Knight and rock band The Thrills was called off because of the threat of gale-force winds. In Glasgow high winds and rain had forced officials to cancel traditional Hogmanay New Year’s celebrations.

No official celebrations were planned in Paris, but thousands were expected to congregate around the city’s most famous avenue, the Champs-Elysees, to welcome 2007.

In the Philippines, where many believe noisy New Year celebrations drive away evil and misfortune, police threatened to arrest anyone setting off oversized firecrackers.

In Japan, thousands climbed mountains, some scaling famed Mount Fuji, to greet the first dawn of the year. Police expected crowds at the summits to reach 15,000.

In Iraq, New Year’s Eve was another day marked by death, following the burial of executed former leader Saddam Hussein. The US military announced the death of a US soldier in Iraq, raising to 3,000 the American death toll in the country since the war began.

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