Putin praises church

On the eve of Wednesday's Russian Christmas, President Vladimir Putin praised the nation's Christian churches.

"The activities of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian faiths traditional for our country contribute to the promotion of moral values in society," Putin said, according to the Kremlin. "Russian citizens have deep respect for this important work."

Putin extended good wishes to all believers observing Christmas, which he called "a joyous and holy holiday that fills people's hearts with faith, hope, love and kindness."

Russian Christmas follows the ancient Julian calendar, while Western nations celebrate the holiday on Dec. 25, in accord with the Gregorian calendar.

In a separate message, Putin thanked Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II for his leadership and said the government supports "the promotion of inter-religious peace."

Roughly two-thirds of the 144 million Russians are considered Orthodox, but many do not worship regularly despite the post-Soviet revival of organized religion.