Medvedev Gets Christmas Greetings

APDmitry Medvedev greeting Alexy II during a Orthodox Christmas service at Christ the Savior Cathedral on Monday.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II offered Christmas greetings to First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during a candlelit service at the Christ the Savior Cathedral.

"May the joy of this holy feast give you strength and courage in your service for the good of our long-suffering people and fatherland," the patriarch told Medvedev at the service early Monday.

Medvedev, who is all but certain to be elected President Vladimir Putin's successor in March, was prominently shown in state-controlled television's live broadcast of the service.

Alexy II also said he hoped that Medvedev's life path be "brightened by light from the star of Bethlehem."

Christmas falls on Jan. 7 for Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, Russia and other Orthodox churches that use the old Julian calendar instead of the 16th-century Gregorian calendar adopted by Catholics and Protestants and commonly used in secular life around the world.

Alexy II presided at the country's most symbolically important mass, at Christ the Savior Cathedral in central Moscow. The cathedral, a reconstruction of the church dynamited under the officially atheist Communist regime of Josef Stalin, embodies the Orthodox Church's resurgent importance in the post-Soviet era.

Putin attended a Christmas service at a smaller church in Veliky Ustyug, about 650 kilometers northeast of Moscow in the Vologda region.

By tradition, Veliky Ustyug is considered the home of Ded Moroz, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus. But if Putin was seeking gifts, he was too late this year -- gifts from Ded Moroz are given out on New Year's Eve.