MOSCOW (AP) -- As Russian Orthodox believers marked Christmas under reckoning of the old Julian calendar, President Vladimir Putin toured the ''Golden Ring'' of historic religious towns east of Moscow and extolled Orthodoxy in a Christmas message to the nation.
''Orthodoxy, which occupies a special place in Russian history, continues to play a paramount role in preserving the moral pillars of social life,'' Putin said.
''The Russian Orthodox Church, acting closely together with members of other traditional religions and creeds, makes remarkable efforts to improve the spiritual health of our compatriots, foster patriotism and strengthen civil peace and accord.''
Patriarch Alexy II, Russian Orthodoxy's leader, celebrated a five-hour Christmas Eve service that was broadcast live on RTR state television. The locale was the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was blown up by order of Stalin, then rebuilt and consecrated in 2000.
''In our turbulent world, people are again fighting against each other, and thousands of civilians in different countries have fallen victim to the evil will,'' Alexy's annual Christmas message said. ''But even in the worst of circumstances, Christians must never forget the savior's words, 'Don't be afraid and keep believing,' addressed to each of us.''
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