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Ukrainian, Russian Church Leaders Trade Accusations On Easter

Ukrainian Orthodox Church Patriarch Filaret (file photo)
Ukrainian Orthodox Church Patriarch Filaret (file photo)
As millions of Christians around the world began celebrations for Easter, the heads of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches made critical statements over the crisis in Ukraine.

It is the first time in many years that Easter -- the day on which Christians believe Jesus was resurrected -- occurs at the same time for both Catholics and Orthodox followers.

Thousands of Christians gathered on the evening of April 19 for major Easter church services and ceremonies in Rome and Jerusalem.

Pope Francis urged Catholics to rediscover the roots of their faith in an Easter Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Thousands also gathered in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the traditional "Holy Fire" ceremony at the place Christians believe Jesus was crucified more than 2,000 years ago.

In Kyiv, the head of Ukraine's Orthodox Church condemned Russian "aggression" during his Easter message to the church's followers and said Moscow's "evil" will be defeated.

Patriarch Filaret said there has been aggression against "peace-loving" Ukraine, which "voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons."

Filaret's comment referred to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Russia, the United States, and Britain gave security assurances to Kyiv in return for it giving up its nuclear arsenal.

Ukraine accuses Russia of failing to uphold its pledge after it seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula last month.

The Ukrainian government and its Western allies now accuse the Kremlin of fomenting separatists to occupy government buildings in eastern and southern Ukraine where a standoff has developed between pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine forces.

In Moscow, Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill said during Easter eve services in the Christ the Savior Cathedral that God should put "an end to the designs of those who want to destroy holy Russia."

He added that Ukraine is "politically" separate but is "spiritually and historically" one with Russia.

Kirill said he prayed that Ukraine could benefit from government officials who are "legitimately elected."

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev took part in the service.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have sunk to new lows since Russia's seizure of Crimea.

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said in an Easter message that people should hope for better days.

He told Ukrainian that "we are living in a fateful time when the Ukrainian people have decisively affirmed their striving for freedom and justice."
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, ITAR-TASS
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