Orthodox Christmas in full swing

Believers at home and abroad are getting ready for Orthodox Christmas Day – one of the major festivals in the Church calendar.

Late on Christmas Eve, a special Mass was celebrated at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in central Moscow, led by acting head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Kirill.

About 3,000 churchgoers came to the service, also attended by the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and his wife Svetlana. The Metropolitan blessed the Russian leader and wished him spiritual strength in tackling the economic crisis.

The Orthodox Christmas celebration follows a 40-day fast, only broken on Christmas Eve when the first star appears.

Russians mark Christmas Day on the January 7, in keeping with the Julian calendar.

Along with Russia, Orthodox Christmas is marked across Eastern Europe and by Orthodox churches around the world.

A Christmas address by Patriarch Aleksy II, written and signed shortly before he died in December, has been read out in cathedrals across the nation.