Vladimir Putin has sung a hymn of praise and thanks for Christians and their part in reviving the traditional spiritual and moral values of Russia.
In a message released for the Orthodox Christmas celebrations on Saturday, President Putin said Christians are playing a "huge, truly inique role" in reviving the nation's ethical and moral values along with its spiritual traditions.
"The Christmas days are shining a special joy onto our lives, awakening the kindest feelings, turning us towards spiritual sources and traditions. This is the time for good thoughts and deeds, sincere care for our loved ones and those who need help and support," Putin said in his message, according to Interfax.
"The Russian Orthodox Church, other Christian denominations are playing a huge, truly unique role in reviving the high ethical, moral values, guarding our rich historical and cultural heritage. They increasingly cooperate with state and public organisations in the cause of education, enlightenment and charity, in strengthening the institution of family and bringing up the young generation," the president said.
He continued: "Of course, they are doing a great deal for harmonisation of the inter-ethnic and inter-religious dialogue, preserving civil peace and accord in our country," he said. "Such a big and constructive effort deserves deep gratitude and respect."
Putin concluded: "My best wishes of health, success and well-being to Orthodox Christians and all Russian citizens celebrating Christmas."
The Russian Orthodox Church is favoured by the Putin regime because of its message of patriotism and social conservatism, and has seen a massive expansion of its presence in the country in recent years. Since the accession in 2009 of Patriarch Kirill, a Putin loyalist, around 5,000 more churches have been built or recovered from secular use, 10,000 more clergy have been recruited and 122 monasteries have been founded. In Moscow, 160 new parishes have been founded.
While Putin makes a point of including "other Christian denominations" in his Christmas message, many Russian Christians have deep concerns about the effects of the "Yarovaya Law" passed last year, a sweeping expansion of anti-terror and public safety measures. Among its effects are a draconian clampdown on evangelism and missionary activity.