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Orthodox Christians offer Easter prayers for peace

ISTANBUL -- Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated Easter Sunday, worshiping 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's 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 church.

Orthodox Christians use a calendar different from that of 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 about 25 million Ethiopian Christians also celebrated Easter.

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 their homes, yet Orthodox Christians still managed to celebrate Easter. Romanian refugees held services outdoors in the flood-stricken village of Rast, where priests used an improvised altar in an open tent.

Similar services in other flooded Eastern European villages were accompanied by fireworks and even celebratory gunfire.

In Cyprus, youths around the island lit traditional Easter bonfires to burn effigies of Judas -- the disciple thought to have betrayed Jesus.

In Greece, Orthodox leader Archbishop Christodoulos said the church remains a source of defiance against the negative effects of globalization and dominance of major world powers.

''The church is our hope for the future," Christodoulos said in his Easter message. ''It is the living and new resistance against the murderous world order which throws every independent voice, every protest of conscience and reasonable opposition into the meat grinder."

Christodoulos's remarks were seen in part as a reference to the United States, ahead of demonstrations planned this week by antiglobalization and other groups against a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Political and religious leaders used Easter messages to appeal for national unity.

''Easter gives millions of Russians joy and hope," said President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

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