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Saturday, April 10, 1999 Published at 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK

World: Europe

Orthodox Easter under the bombs

Observing the darkest, most sombre hours in the Orthodox Calendar

By Religious Affairs Correspondent Jane Little

Nato air strikes have continued into the Easter weekend of the Orthodox Church despite repeated calls for a ceasefire.

Kosovo: Special Report
The intensification of military action during the Orthodox Calendar's holiest time could fuel existing resentment against the West.

Churches are brimming with pilgrims all over the Orthodox world from Russia to Greece to Serbia as the darkest, most sombre hours in the Orthodox Calendar are observed.

The services commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ before his resurrection on Easter Sunday are perhaps the most moving and dramatic of any.

Themes of sacrifice and martyrdom

[ image: No respite in bombing]
No respite in bombing
Believers flock to vigils lasting hours at a time before re-enacting the gospel story in long, mournful processions.

This year the occasion is more charged than ever as the themes of sacrifice and martyrdom, so pronounced in the Orthodox tradition, are in the minds of many believers given dramatic resonance in the Nato bombing campaign.

Orthodox leaders have been almost unanimous in condemning the Nato action and solidarity among ordinary believers for their Serb Orthodox brethren remains strong.

Churches in Cyprus have been organising collections specifically for Serb refugees. Bombs at Easter may only deepen existing anti-Western, anti-Nato sentiment.

But while angry at Nato, the Orthodox Churches are far from united behind President Milosevic.

His offer on Tuesday of a unilateral ceasefire in Kosovo in recognition of the Orthodox Easter, was condemned by one Russian priest as an 'awful misuse' which 'polluted' genuine calls for an Easter ceasefire.

In Albania, the Orthodox Church has kept a low profile and has conspicuously not condemned the Nato action.

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