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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russians Celebrate Easter, Eye Closer Church Ties

Russian Orthodox faithful joined Christians of Western confessions in Easter celebrations on Sunday, the first time in 11 years that the two traditions have marked the holiday on the same date.

Some saw significance in the first Easter of what Russia considers the start of a new millennium being celebrated at the same time by both Eastern and Western churches, and pressed for a resolution of conflicts that have divided them for centuries.

"Joint Easter celebrations this special year are a good sign, and yet another reminder that Christians should find a way to work together," Interfax quoted Metropolitan Kirill, head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, as saying.

Eastern and Western churches will next celebrate Easter at the same time in 2004.

President Vladimir Putin added to the spirit of reconciliation on Sunday with holiday greetings to the nation's Catholics, in addition to those to Orthodox believers.

"With all my heart I congratulate Russia's Catholics on Easter," the president said in his greetings.

"I believe that Easter celebrations will prove beneficial to the development of an interconfessional dialogue, attainment of mutual understanding and tolerance among people," he said.

At an Easter vigil mass on Saturday at the gold-domed Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Patriarch Alexiy II praised Putin for his lightning trip to the rebel Chechnya region earlier in the day.

The Easter vigil, which began with the ringing of bells at more than 400 churches across the city, was the first held in the cathedral since it was rebuilt some 50 years after being destroyed on the orders of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

During the service Alexiy approached Putin, who was standing with his wife Lyudmilla, and told the Russian leader that he had carried out "a greatly needed step" by visiting Chechnya, which has been ravaged by war for the last 19 months.

Then, after giving Putin and his wife gifts of traditional coloured Easter eggs, he invited the president to the church's main altar to receive communion.

Kirill said there was growing support in the Russian Orthodox church for an interfaith dialogue that could lay the groundwork for joint celebrations of Easter, the main Christian holiday, every year.

The tone struck by the church was more congenial than just a few weeks ago when its head, Alexiy, criticised plans by Pope John Paul II to visit Ukraine in late June.

Alexiy said that the trip would aggravate already complicated relations and that disputes over church buildings in western Ukraine and Catholic efforts to convert Orthodox believers should be addressed before such a visit.

Alexiy has fiercely opposed an often-proposed papal visit to Russia and has refused to meet the Catholic leader, although he has said such a meeting could eventually happen