Eastern and Western Churches Celebrate Easter as Dates Coincide

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From Moscow to Washington, Rome to Jerusalem, Christians of the Orthodox and Western faiths celebrated Easter on Sunday, prayed for a better future and relished ancient rituals on the same day this year as their religious calendars coincided.

The alignment of the Easter calendars, based on equinox and moon phases, occurs every few years, and this year's overlap made the narrow streets in the Holy Land especially crowded.

At the Vatican, the Eastern Christian celebrations of Easter resounded across the steps of St. Peter's Basilica when black-robed clerics intoned a long chant from the Byzantine liturgy during Pope Benedict XVI's outdoor Mass for tens of thousands of faithful. St. Peter's Square was ablaze with color from tulips, tiger lilies, hyacinths and azaleas from the Netherlands.

Benedict, head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, tempered his message about Easter joy with a litany of suffering in the world today, including what he decried as "continual slaughter" in Iraq and bloodshed in parts of Africa and Asia.

Click here for a photo essay of Easter celebrations.

In Washington, D.C., a dawn crowd gathered for an Easter service at the Lincoln Memorial. Bundled up in blankets, scarves and hats, the worshippers sang "God Bless America" as the sun's rays glimmered on the reflecting pool.

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A bagpiper played Amazing Grace and led a pre-dawn crowd of more than 200 up Mt. Davidson, San Francisco's highest peak, which is topped with a 103-foot concrete cross. Pastors from churches of several denominations led prayers for soldiers in Iraq.

Bethany Baptist Church in Boulder, Colo., used graffiti, nails and an interactive prayer labyrinth with nine stations to tell the story of the crucifixion. Pastor Rob Stout said labyrinths were created in the Middle Ages as a way of symbolizing the journey to Jerusalem.

"Graffiti has an interesting history to it. I call it vandalism. Some call it art. We wanted to use it because the story of the passion and the crucifixion of Christ is a very raw story," Stout said.

After weeks of Lenten sacrifice and fasting in preparation for Easter, many Christians in Eastern Europe enjoyed holiday meals including brightly colored hard-boiled eggs and various sweet breads. Roast lamb was featured on many tables in the Balkans as well as in Italy.

Cries of "Christ is risen!" went up in Macedonia after midnight, when priests symbolically announced Jesus' victory over death. Archbishop Stefan, head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, called for peace "in our homeland and among all the people in the world."

While Christians are a tiny minority in Turkey, for historical reasons the Orthodox patriarchate has its home in Istanbul, ancient Constantinople, and the spiritual leader of the world's 200 million Orthodox, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, is based there.

Most of the worshippers packing the Church of St. George at a Saturday night Easter vigil service were visitors from Greece.

Pope Benedict has been pushing for greater unity among Christians, especially between Rome and the Orthodox world. Tensions between Orthodox, especially in Russia, and the Vatican kept the late Pope John Paul II from realizing his desire to visit Moscow.

In the Pacific's predominantly Christian Solomon Islands, struggling with earthquake and tsunami losses, frightened villagers descended from the hills to celebrate Easter.

"Maybe it's a punishment from God," said one worshipper, Furner Smith Arebonato. "Before, there were few people in church. Now, after [the] earthquake, the church is filled with people, some of them never went to church before," she said.

Benedict mentioned the Solomon Islands' tragedy in his message, as he lamented: "How much suffering there is in the world."

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