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Sunday, 7 January, 2001, 15:34 GMT
Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas
Russian archbishops and bishops in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow
Senior Orthodox clerics in Moscow
Orthodox Christians around the world are celebrating Christmas on 6-7 January. The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, said it was the first time Christmas had been celebrated in the Balkans in peace and freedom for 50 years.

There was tension between the rival Serbian and Montenegrin churches, but elsewhere Russian Patriarch Aleksiy II and other church leaders were able to send out more traditional greetings.

Serbian Patriarch Pavle sent his greetings to Serbian Orthodox Christians on Christmas Eve:

"Many people suffered in this period only because they believed in Christ. Many of them had to leave, and for the next 50 years suffer in foreign lands, shedding tears for their lost homeland, which was at the crossroads and exposed to demonic ideologies, dictatorships, violence and lack of freedom.

"We would like to firmly believe that we have now put this time of suffering, destruction and hatred behind us and that, for our people and our Church, the beginning of the new century and the new millennium is a time for rebuilding and joy and the time for love.

In the new era we expect the Church to be allowed to fulfil the role it has had for centuries

Serbian Patriarch Pavle

"We appeal to those who will shape the political, economic, educational, legal and all other aspects of our common life to be guided in their work exclusively by the principle of selflessness, to think about the welfare of their neighbours and the well-being of all of us.

"In the new era we expect the Church to be allowed to fulfil the role it has had for centuries. With these thoughts we bow before Christ 2,000 times and send our Christmas greetings to all of you in the homeland and to all of you, wherever you may be now: Peace be with you, Christ is born!"

The Serbian Bishop of Montenegro and the littoral, Amfilohije, gave thanks that tensions with the separatist so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church had not spilled over into violence. He was speaking in the old Montenegrin capital, Cetinje:

"My dear Montenegrins, difficult are the times we live in, there is much sin and rejection of God in these Balkan mountains. Thank God that the majority of Montenegrin people did not let Satan seduce them onto the path of wrongdoing. Pray to the almighty, and do not let hatred burn in your souls."

The Montenegrin separatist church did not comment, but the director of Montenegrin TV, Velibor Covic, defended his decision to cover the church service, despite criticism from the Serbian Church:

We shall be a witness of our time, we shall not accept narrow-mindedness, intolerance or ultimatums

Montenegrin TV chief Velibor Covic
"The media cannot decide on what is canonical, who is a priest and who is a defrocked priest. We simply cannot just pass by several thousand people who have gathered around the Montenegrin Orthodox Church and close our eyes as if nothing is happening. These are facts as far as we are concerned.

"I would like to reiterate that Montenegrin TV will not ban any church, religious community, priest or defrocked priest from its programmes. We shall be a witness of our time, we shall not accept narrow-mindedness, intolerance or ultimatums."

Bishop Artemije, the Serbian Orthodox Church bishop of Raska-Prizren diocese, greeted the Orthodox of Kosovo at the Gracanica monastery south of Pristina, accompanied by around local 100 Serbs:

"Let us this evening be filled with joy and let God grant us our wish to see next Christmas Eve and next Christmas in even greater freedom, peace and harmony."

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksiy II gave his Christmas blessing at Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral:

"One of the fathers of the ancient Church, Leo the Great, has said: May the virtuous rejoice, for his reward draws near, may the sinner also rejoice, for he is to be forgiven.

"My heartfelt congratulations on the occasion of the holiday - the birth of our Lord - to all the church clergy and believer of the Russian Orthodox Church, all the peoples of Russia, our compatriots in the near and far abroad. Merry Christmas. May the newborn Lord touch you with his divine hand and bring you peace, health, help in every good beginning."

The Pope of the Coptic Church of Egypt, Shenouda III, sent Christmas greetings to expatriate Copts:

We should never lose hope in anyone, no matter how distant they might be from the Church

Coptic Pope Shenouda III
"Dear sons in the Diaspora, God's peace and benediction be upon you! Greetings to you on the birth of Christ and the New Year! We should always remember that the story of the birth of Christ is a story of love.

"Our New Year message should therefore be that we care for everyone in order to redeem them, as Holy Writ teaches us. We should never lose hope in anyone, no matter how distant they might be from the Church and no matter how long that distance might endure. Happy New Year to you all!"

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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07 Jan 01 | Europe
In pictures: Orthodox Christmas
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