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Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter

Orthodox Christians are marking Easter celebrations throughout eastern Europe and the Middle East, as thousands gather at holy sites to mark the holiday.

Orthodox Christian pilgrims hold candles during the procession of the Holy Fire.

Orthodox Christians believe the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to be the site of the crucifixion

Orthodox Christians packed into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City to celebrate Easter services this weekend.

The church marks the location Christians traditionally believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. It is a site that is shared uneasily by six denominations of Christians: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Egyptian Copts and Syrian and Ethiopian Orthodox.

Easter, or Pascha, is the holiest feast in the Christian calendar. About 10,000 worshippers gained entry to the Holy Sepulcher Church on Saturday to attend the holy fire ritual, which is celebrated on the eve of Orthodox Easter and honors the belief that a holy fire appears spontaneously from Jesus' tomb as a message that he has not forgotten his followers.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, his wife Svetlana, left, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stand with candles during Easter service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.

Russian leaders and their wives joined the crowds for the Orthodox service

In previous years scuffles have threatened to disrupt the celebrations as different denominations of Orthodox believers battle over the rights to enter the tomb first.

Light from the holy fire follows a route from Jerusalem to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Christian tradition holds Jesus was born, and is then carried aboard special flights to Athens and other cities.

In the Russian capital, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev attended an overnight service led by the newly elected Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in central Moscow.

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill holds the Orthodox Easter service at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow.

Russian Patriarch Kirill celebrated an Easter service in Moscow

The Russian Orthodox Church enjoys a position of influence in the country and is expected to increase its members since the election of the charismatic patriarch. Some 4.5 million people across the country attended Easter services, which traditionally last several hours over Saturday-Sunday night.

Greek Orthodox, Armenians and other Eastern Orthodox Christians mark Easter a week after Protestants and Catholics as the Orthodox Church follows a different calendar.

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