MOSCOW (AP) — For much of the Orthodox Christian world, Thursday is celebrated as Christmas Day. Believers in Russia, Ukraine, and parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East flocked to churches for the holiday.
Some Orthodox churches follow the liturgical calendar observed by the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches and celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25.
As Christmas approached across the sprawling country's nine time zones, Russians flocked to churches for long and solemn Masses. At Moscow's enormous Christ The Savior Cathedral, the service began at 11 p.m. on Wednesday and stretched two and a half hours, led by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, with the devout standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
President Vladimir Putin attended a midnight service at a church in the village of Turginovo, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Moscow, where his parents were baptized.
Soldiers taking part in Russia's airstrikes in Syria attended a nighttime service in a tent on the Russian air base.
In his Christmas greetings to the nation, Putin said: "It is very important in these days that the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian confessions in Russia continue the traditions of responsible service, help people find belief and give them force in life. They participate actively in upbringing of the growing generations, in development of the institutes of family, maternity and childhood."