MOSCOW -- The Russian Orthodox Church has said it will mark St. Patrick's Day and more than a dozen other days commemorating saints who lived in the west before the Great Schism that divided Christianity into east and west in 1054.
Spokesmen said the church selected western saints who are viewed positively by Orthodox believers, and that in recognizing their saint days it hoped to show how Christianity was united during its first thousand years.
The move to recognize the saint days will also likely give renewed spirit to celebrations of the most recognizable of the 16 chosen by the church -- St. Patrick. But there is a twist.
The Russian Orthodox Church will mark the day for Ireland's patron saint in line with the Julian calendar on March 30, rather than the Gregorian calendar's date of March 17.
Since the Soviet collapse, St. Patrick's Day has garnered a small following in Russia, where an annual parade was set up in Moscow in 1992. This year it is marking its 25th anniversary.
The parade had the backing of former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and was held in central Arbat Street on the route to the Kremlin. Since his removal in 2011, the parade has often been held in Sokolniki park in northeast Moscow, where this year it will be held on March 18 prior to a concert.
In comments to the Govorit Moskva radio station, the Irish Embassy said it welcomed the Orthodox Church's intention to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, and invited Russians to join a series of events being held from March 15 to March 30.
Saint Patrick was a key figure in Ireland's conversion to Christianity during the fifth century.
The list of 16 western saints whose days will be marked by the Russian Orthodox Church includes many who lived in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries. Among them are Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris; Germain of Paris; and the Czech saint Procopius of Sazava.
Vladimir Legoyda, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, told the Interfax news agency that they selected saints who were venerated by Orthodox followers in Western European dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church.
They also chose saints whose names do not appear in polemical works against the Russian Orthodox Church, Legoyda said.
Priest Stefan (Igumnov), the secretary for inter-Christian relations in the church's department for external relations, said he hoped the move would show how the two Christian traditions once developed in concert.
"[It] reminds us how, in the period of an undivided church life, two parts of the Christian world developed in line with the general spiritual practice that has borne many saints of God," Interfax quoted him as saying.