By HARMONIE TOROSOrthodox Christians celebrate Easter with calls for peace, reconciliation
ISTANBUL, Turkey (April 30, 2000) - Orthodox Christians across the world observed their Easter Sunday with signs of reconciliation between Greece and Turkey, calls for peace in Kosovo, and a service held in the remains of a church destroyed by war in Chechnya's capital, Grozny.
Serbs celebrated in an unusually joyful mood in a 16th-century monastery outside the Kosovar capital, Pristina, where U.N. chief administrator Bernard Kouchner joined worshippers.
"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 crowd of Serbs after the service.
Elsewhere in Kosovo, Easter 2000 was a stark reminder of what warfare and its consequences have done to the Serbian province. At the 13th century monastery in Pec, a town 45 miles west of Pristina, just 50 people, including 10 Serbs from surrounding villages and Italian peacekeepers, attended the service.
"It was terribly sad," said Jovan Culibrk, a monk from the adjoining republic of Montenegro, "like having an empty cathedral in Canterbury."
Normally hundreds would have attended, but the area's Serbian population has almost entirely fled, fearing revenge attacks from ethnic Albanians.
In 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.
The Serbian Orthodox Church traditionally covers both Serbia and Montenegro, the two republics that make up what is left of the Yugoslav federation. Orthodox faithful who support breaking the political tie with Serbia have rallied to the Montenegrin church.
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 traditional 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, and joined in a candlelit procession led by Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world's 200 million Orthodox Christians.
"Everyone calls us brothers. They are very friendly," said Katerina Despotidou from the Greek town of Naoussa, who was making her first visit to Istanbul.
Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is observed by the world's 200 million Orthodox on Sunday. Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrated Easter last week.
In Greece, 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 Greeks an opportunity 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 - where divisions between Greeks and Muslim Turks remain raw - political and religious leaders called for the reunification of the divided island.
In the heart of Chechnya's devastated capital, Grozny, about 100 people gathered in the remains of a church destroyed in fighting with Russia that began in 1994, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.
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 the breakaway Russian republic, ITAR-Tass said.
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.
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.