The Russian Orthodox Church started celebrating Easter with a divine service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow yesterday. The service was led by Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksi II.
The Cathedral of Christ the Savior is considered the main cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church. Russia’s top politicians, including the president usually attend church services held at the temple for Easter. President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and many other officials, cultural activists and foreign guests were present at the Easter Service at the cathedral. A religious procession was held on the cathedral’s territory before the divine service started. Holy Fire was delivered to the cathedral from Jerusalem soon after.
Pope Benedict XVI baptized eight people during a candlelit Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica early Sunday, saying they had "a new beginning in life" as he ushered in the most important event of the Christian Church calendar, The Associated Press said.
The Church considers the period between Good Friday, which commemorates Jesus' crucifixion, and Easter Sunday, which marks his resurrection, as the most important of all vigils.
"This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are free," Benedict said in his homily. "In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil."
Benedict opened the three-hour-long Mass by blessing a large white candle, which he then carried down the main aisle of the darkened basilica amid Latin chants. Slowly, the pews began to light up as his lone flame was shared with candles carried by the faithful until finally the whole basilica twinkled.
During the service, Benedict baptized eight people - six adults and two children - part of the joyful renewal Christians associate with Easter.
"Baptism is more than a bath, a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community," Benedict said. "It is a new birth. A new beginning in life."
Benedict, who turns 80 later this month, appeared to tire by the end of the Mass, which finished at 1 a.m. and capped a busy Holy Week. On Good Friday, Benedict presided over two, long back-to-back public ceremonies, including an afternoon service and a late-night Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum to mark Jesus' suffering and death.
He will have just a few hours of sleep before he celebrates Easter Mass on Sunday in St. Peter's Square before tens of thousands of people and delivers his "Urbi et Orbi" message from the basilica's central balcony overlooking the square. The message "to the city and to the world" is an occasion for pontiffs to talk about international crises, moral issues and other concerns of the Church.
After Sunday's events, Benedict is scheduled to head to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, in the Alban Hills south of Rome, for a few days of rest.
When he returns to Rome, Benedict will have two more important events on his calendar: his 80th birthday on April 16, and the second anniversary of his election as pope three days later.