January 7, 2012
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attended an Orthodox Christmas service Saturday at the church in his hometown of Saint Petersburg where he said he was secretly baptized as a baby in Soviet days.
Both members of the Russian ruling tandem, Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, attended services for Orthodox Christmas, which is celebrated on the night of January 6 and on Jan 7, a public holiday.
Putin, who hopes to win a third presidential term in March elections, went to a midnight service in a cathedral in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg and was shown on television standing in the front row of believers.
After coming out of the cathedral, he told journalists: "This is a special cathedral for me. I was baptized here," in comments published on his official website.
He said that his mother and a neighbour took him secretly to be baptized, fearing the disapproval of his father, a member of the Communist Party, which promoted atheism as the official state ideology.
Putin was born in 1952, a year before the death of Stalin.
"My father was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He was a consistent, strict person. They did this in secret from him - or at least they thought it was in secret," Putin said in unusually personal comments.
He added that funerals for his mother and father were held in the same cathedral.
Putin served as a member of the Soviet KGB secret service, which also frowned on religious beliefs, but has openly talked of his faith since becoming a politician and often meets top church officials.
In a Christmas message released on Saturday, Putin called for the Church to continue "developing constructive cooperation with state and public institutions" in spheres including "counteracting extremism."
Medvedev and his wife Svetlana attended a midnight service at the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, led by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.
The Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas and other religious holidays according to the Julian calendar, while other Christian churches have adopted the later Gregorian calendar.