Beliefnet
ISTANBUL, Turkey, April 30 (AP)--Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter across the world Sunday with signs of reconciliation between rivals Greece and Turkey, calls for peace in the strife-ridden province of Kosovo and appeals for the reunification of Cyprus.

Serbs celebrated Easter in an unusually joyful mood in a 16th-century monastery outside the Kosovar capital, Pristina, where U.N. chief administrator Bernard Kouchner joined worshipers.

``It's a day when we should think about reconciliation,'' Kouchner said, referring to the need to end hostilities, now mostly directed against ethnic Serbs, that have plagued the region even after the arrival of international peacekeepers and the U.N. mission.

Kouchner cracked eggs according to an old custom with a merry crowd of Serbs after the service.

In the adjoining Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro, political divisions split the Orthodox faithful, who attended two separate Easter services held in Podgorica by the rival Serbian Orthodox and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches.

Montenegro is divided between those who favor independence and attended an open-air service by the emerging Montenegrin Orthodox Church, and those who want to retain the alliance with Serbia and celebrated Easter in a service by the mainstream Serbian Orthodox Church.

The Serbian Orthodox Church traditionally covers both Serbia and Montenegro, the two republics that make up what is left of the Yugoslav federation.

A clear sign of reconciliation was seen in Istanbul, where a larger than usual crowd of Greeks--attracted by the recent warming in relations between regional rivals Greece and Turkey--came to hear Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I proclaim the resurrection of Christ.

Bus-loads of Greeks filled the patriarchate on the shore of Istanbul's Golden Horn, leaving many outside its gates during a candlelit procession led by Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world's 350 million Orthodox Christians.

``Everyone calls us brothers. They are very friendly,'' said Katerina Despotidou from the Greek town of Naoussa, on her first visit to Istanbul.

Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, was observed Sunday by Orthodox Christianity, which follows a different religous calendar than do Western churches. Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrated Easter last week.

Across the Aegean, thousands of Greek families gathered on sidewalks and in parks to eat the traditional Easter meal of roast lamb. The leader of Greece's Orthodox Church, Archbishop Christodoulos, said Easter gave an opportunity Greeks to renew their faith.

``The resurrection is not a subject of scientific investigation,'' he declared. ``It is lived through faith built on the individual's relationship with Christ.''

In Cyprus--one of the key subjects dividing Greece and Turkey--political and religious leaders called for the reunification of the divided island.

``On this joyful day of Resurrection our thoughts turn to our desecrated, dark and silent churches in our enslaved towns and villages,'' said Cyprus Archbishop Chrysostomos, referring to the churches in the northern third of Cyprus governed by a self-declared Turkish Cypriot republic.

Cyprus has been divided in ethnic Greek and Turkish sectors since the 1974 invasion by Turkish troops, which came in the wake of an Athens-backed coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are scheduled to hold their third round of U.N.-sponsored talks in New York in May.

Meanwhile, Russian Orthodox Christians held Easter services amid the ruins of a church in the heart of Chechnya's devastated capital Grozny on Sunday--one of thousands of celebrations across Russia.

About 100 people gathered in the remains of the church, which was destroyed in fighting in predominantly Muslim Chechnya that began in 1994, the ITAR-Tass news agency said. Flowers were laid before small, slightly charred icons that had been saved from the church.

Priests conducting the service came from outside Grozny. The church's leaders had been either kidnapped or killed during the conflict and several years of lawlessness in Chechnya, ITAR-Tass said.

Orthodox Christianity has seen a major revival in Russia since the 1991 Soviet collapse. Attending church services on major holidays like Easter and Christmas has also become a ritual for many Russian leaders. The Russian Orthodox Church has about 80 million members.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended services in St. Petersburg in the morning, then flew to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to celebrate Monday's May Day holiday, his spokesman said.

Other Russian leaders went to services in Moscow's giant Christ the Savior Cathedral, which was rebuilt in 1997. The original cathedral was destroyed by Soviet leader Josef Stalin and the grounds turned into an outdoor swimming pool in 1931.

The cathedral has become a symbol of the Orthodox Church's revival and its close relationship with the state in recent years.

Former President Boris Yeltsin, who resigned on Dec. 31, went to services with his wife Naina and daughter Tatyana at a church outside Moscow.

Yeltsin and the church's senior priest exchanged gifts and shared a meal after the service, according to a report on ORT television.

``First we congratulated each other at home, then came here to our favorite church,'' Yeltsin said. ``We always come here to celebrate great holidays. Today is a great holiday for all Russians, a special holiday, a sacred holiday.''

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