Orthodox Christmas in Moscow and Bethlehem

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Orthodox Christians around the world are celebrating Christmas today.  During the Christmas service at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow last night, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, praised  the Russian people saying that their country had made progress, in spite of the global financial crisis.

Addressing the congregation, which included Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his wife, the Patriarch said:  "We have not rolled back... It just that our move forward has slowed down,"  the Patriarch said, adding that the last year proved that people and the authorities "can jointly undergo trials." 

The Russian, Jerusalem, Serbian and Georgian Orthodox churches, Athos monasteries, all celebrate Christmas on January 7 in line with the Julian calendar.

There are more than 800 Orthodox churches in Moscow, and over 29,000 subordinated to the Russian Orthodox Church across the globe.

In Bethlehem, celebrations by were marred by Christian groups protesting that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem, Theophilos III  has sold and leased land in the West Bank to Israeli organisations.

At least 100 protesters gathered with banners saying: "The Holy Land is not for sale," ahead of  the Christmas Eve  service. f

The Council of Arab Orthodox Institutions and Organisations in Palestine said that  the current patriarch, Theophilos III,  like his ousted predecessor, was continuing to allow Israeli investors to lease Church land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The area was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, and is where the Palestinians want their future state.

The Christian groups mentioned one specific strategic piece of land, in the Bethlehem area, near the Israeli settlement of Har Homa, but said it was part of a wider pattern of deals set up under the previous patriarch.

Patriarch Irineos was ousted in 2005 over his alleged involvement in the leasing of Church land in Jerusalem's heavily contested Old City to Jewish investors.

There were remarkable scenes as the current patriarch arrived, escorted by Palestinian security guards clad in riot gear, the BBC reported.

Scout groups marching bands who would usually welcome the patriarch with bagpipes were silent as the church leader arrived.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who would also usually be present, is travelling overseas and it is unclear whether he was officially boycotting the event.

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