, MOSCOW, Apr 19 – Russia’s ruling tandem of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev stood side-by-side on Sunday at a church service to mark Orthodox Easter.
The two most powerful men in Russia held a single lit candle each as they attended an overnight service in the giant Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in central Moscow, television pictures showed.
"The great festival of Easter symbolises a spiritual renewal, the triumph of life and the noble moral ideals," said Medvedev, who attended the service with his wife Svetlana, in a statement.
The Russian Orthodox Church has grown enormously in power since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when it was the target of widescale repression, and Russian leaders now regularly attend major church services.
The service at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was led by the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a charismatic and telegenic figure elected earlier this year and expected to further bolster the church’s power.
Putin, an ex-KGB spy now often seen in churches, praised in his Easter statement "the great contribution made by the Russian Orthodox Church in consolidating state and society".
In a sign of the continued popularity of the Orthodox Church, the interior ministry said 4.5 million people across the country attended Easter church services, which traditionally last several hours over Saturday-Sunday night.
Some 82,000 police were on hand nationwide to ensure the ceremonies passed without mishap, the Interfax news agency cited the interior ministry as saying.