MOSCOW/CAIRO – Orthodox Christian believers across Russia have crowded into churches for Christmas Eve midnight Masses.
The Russian Orthodox, like several other Orthodox denominations, observe Christmas on Jan. 7.
President Vladimir Putin attended a Mass at the Church of Sts. Simeon and Anna in St. Petersburg, his hometown.
State television channels showed a live broadcast of the Mass from Moscow’s enormous and elaborate Christ the Savior Cathedral. The church was demolished during Josef Stalin’s dictatorship, but reconstructed after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
In Egypt, the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, led midnight Mass in the cathedral of the nation’s new administrative capital on Saturday. The Christmas Eve service was attended by President Abdel-Fatteh el-Sissi.
The Mass was the first to be held in the newly built cathedral and took place amid tight security. El-Sissi was cheered by worshippers as he entered the building.
The new Egyptian capital, announced in March 2015, is intended partly to reduce crowding in Cairo. Some 45 km (28 miles) east of Cairo, the city, which has not yet been given a name, will be home to government ministries, housing and an airport.
The celebrations were held days after attacks on a Coptic church and another Christian-owned shop that left more than 10 people dead.
Egypt’s large Christian minority has increasingly been targeted in recent years by Islamist militants including Islamic State, which is waging an insurgency in the north of the remote Sinai Peninsula.