Orthodox Christians Celebrate Easter

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, led worshippers in a candlelight procession early Sunday to celebrate Easter.

A dimmed Cathedral of St. George slowly became brighter as Bartholomew lit the candles of worshippers to represent the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

"Christ is risen," Bartholomew said, with bells ringing in celebration.

In his annual Easter message, Bartholomew said the resurrection offered humanity hope for peace in a world beset by bloodshed and hatred.

"May the Risen Lord heal all brokenness of contemporary humanity and grant peace and life to all human beings, removing all hatred and bloodshed, and exchanging them with peaceful cooperation for the good of all," Bartholomew said in Greek.

Bartholomew also warned those in power against seeking to dominate others. The patriarch had repeatedly spoken out in favor of a peaceful solution to the standoff in Iraq.

"There have been many who destroyed prosperous empires in their desire to make them greater, many who became self-destructive in setting before them aims of conceited pride ... many who destroyed others in their desire to lord and dominate over them," he said.

More than 1,000 people, including many from neighboring Greece, packed into the church.

Bartholomew, a Turkish citizen, directly controls several Greek Orthodox churches around the world, including the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He is also considered the spiritual leader of 14 autonomous Orthodox churches, including those of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Russia and Serbia.

Turkey only recognizes him as head of its dwindling Greek Orthodox community.

"Here is the heart of the Orthodox Church," said Chris Zorbas, a 30-year-old graphic-designer from Athens.

The patriarchate has had its seat in Constantinople, today's Istanbul, since the time of the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire.

In Jerusalem on Saturday, thousands worshipped peacefully at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christianity's holiest site, after Israeli police brokered a last-minute deal between feuding church factions.

Police had told representatives of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Churches to resolve a dispute over who leads the Holy Fire ceremony or they would bar attendance to all but a few hundred worshippers. At last year's ceremony, attended by 10,000 people, clergymen from the rival congregations exchanged blows.

After a week of negotiations, Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy brokered an understanding in which both sides agreed to refrain from violence. Police were concerned that thousands of lit candles could present a danger to the public if the ceremony was held in a tense environment; the church has only one exit.

The ancient basilica was darkened as church leaders descended into what is believed to be Jesus' tomb. The first flicker of fire from within the chamber — which religious leaders say spontaneously appears — provoked a roar from the festive crowd, which quickly lit their candles from the passing flame until the entire church was illuminated.

Most Catholics and Protestants follow a different liturgical calendar and celebrated Easter on April 20.