ISTANBUL, Turkey – Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated Easter Sunday, worshipping at candlelit services from Russia to Ethiopia before gathering families for outdoor feasts.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of 200 million Orthodox Christians, led prayers on Easter eve in the crowded Church of St. George in Istanbul. A flame brought from the site of Jesus' grave in Jerusalem was passed from candle to candle.
The patriarch called for peace, telling the congregation, "We call for an end to the killing of one another, and we denounce the violence and fanaticism that threatens life."
In Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher, hundreds of Orthodox Christians gathered for Mass. Candles glowed around the tomb where many Christians believe Jesus was buried, and hymns filled the cavernous grotto-like church.
Orthodox Christians use a different calendar from Roman Catholics and Protestants, so their celebration of Easter usually falls on a different date from the rest of Christianity and always after the Jewish festival of Passover. Coptic Christians in Egypt and some 25 million Ethiopian Christians also celebrated Easter on Sunday.
At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI joined Orthodox religious leaders' calls for peace and offered prayers for victims of flooding along the Danube River.
"In the joyous atmosphere of these days, I cannot not recall that many of these peoples, in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, are suffering because of the flooding," he said, speaking from his window overlooking St. Peter's Square to tens of thousands of pilgrims.
The disaster has forced thousands from t gives millions of Russians joy and hope," Putin said.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said he hoped moderation would prevail in tough negotiations to form a governing coalition as well deep division between the nation's Ukrainian-speaking, nationalistic west and pro-Moscow, Russian-speaking east.
"God will give us wisdom and lead us down the correct path," he said.
Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski promised to promote "religious and ethnic tolerance" in the tiny Balkan country strained by tension between majority Macedonian Slavs and minority ethnic Albanians.
And Greek President Karolos Papoulias called on neighbor and traditional rival Turkey to step up political and human rights reforms aimed as part of its candidacy obligations to join the European Union.
Patriarch Pavle, leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, said the dwindling Serb community in war-scarred Kosovo province should "stay in their ancestral land" despite "terrible suffering and living in uncertainty."