Putin attends Easter service led by head of Russia's Orthodox Church

(Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin and scores of other Moscow worshippers attended an Easter service on Sunday, led by the head of Russia's Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, a staunch supporter of the Russian leader and his war in Ukraine.

Putin, in a dark suit, white shirt and a dark red tie, stood in the capital's main church, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, together with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, each holding a lit red candle, video of the service showed.

The Russian leader crossed himself several times during the traditionally sung service that begun late on Saturday and lasted into the early Sunday hours. When Kirill announced "Christ is risen", Putin joined the other believers with the reply "He is risen indeed". He otherwise did not speak.

Kirill has strongly backed the war in Ukraine, now in its third year. Tens of thousands have been killed and millions driven from their homes since Putin ordered the invasion of Russia's smaller neighbour in February 2022.

At the service the patriarch prayed for the protection of the “sacred borders” of Russia, expressing hope that God would stop the "internecine strife" between Russia and Ukraine, the TASS state news agency reported.

Orthodox Christians, including the Russian Orthodox Church, follow the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar and celebrate Easter this weekend, while most Western churches observed the major holiday on March 31.

Putin, for whom the Orthodox faith is central to his worldview, always attends services during major church holidays. At Christmas, he usually attends more intimate services in churches outside Moscow.

On Easter, he traditionally goes to the gold-domed Christ the Saviour Cathedral, which was rebuilt in post-Soviet times and has become a symbol of the state's symbiotic relationship with the Orthodox Church.

The church under Kirill has been clamping down on internal dissent, with one priest facing expulsion for refusing to pray to God to guide Russia to victory over Ukraine and another suspended for presiding over memorial services at the grave of Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who died in an Arctic prison in February.

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)