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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Reaffirms Faith on Christmas

APPresident Putin listening to Father Nikita after a Christmas service at the New Jerusalem monastery on Sunday.
President Vladimir Putin celebrated Orthodox Christmas early Sunday in a monastery outside Moscow as senior government figures attended a service in the capital's main cathedral led by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Putin, dressed in a black suit and shirt, was shown in footage broadcast on national television crossing himself and lighting a candle. The New Jerusalem monastery was closed and turned into a museum after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and only regained its religious status in the 1990s.

Despite his career as a KGB officer in the officially atheist Soviet Union, Putin has publicly been seen as a devout Orthodox Christian and has cultivated links with the powerful Russian Orthodox Church and its leader, Patriarch Alexy II.

Putin attends Christmas services every year. In 2005, he became the first Russian head of state to visit the 1,000-year monastic community of Mount Athos in Greece, a place revered as one of the most important sites of Orthodox Christianity.

In a message to his fellow Russians, Putin wished them a Merry Christmas. "This holiday brings joy and good expectations in the homes of millions of people, unites everyone on the basis of traditional moral values and strengthens moral principles and accord in society," he said in a message released by the Kremlin.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in his Christmas Eve message Saturday, expressed satisfaction with the growth of the church and called for peace in the Middle East.

"Ever more people are returning to the homeland faith, churches are filled with parishioners of all ages, millions of people are reading spiritual literature and taking part in church affairs," Alexy said in his message, issued by the church.