Orthodox Christians around the world have begun their celebration of Christmas, two weeks after other Christians held their observance of the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
Orthodox churches in Russia, Bulgaria, Armenia, Macedonia and Greece, among others, began their Christmas eve celebrations Thursday.
The churches follow the ancient Julian calendar, which has Christmas falling on January 7.
The Roman Catholic Church and others celebrate Christmas on December 25.
In an appearance Thursday in Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI expressed heartfelt greetings and best wishes to those he called the "brothers and sisters" of the Eastern churches that will celebrate Christmas on Friday.
The Roman Catholic Church is observing Epiphany Thursday, the day, according to the Bible, in which the three Magi are said to have followed the star to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
The Epiphany falls on the 12th day following Jesus's birth, marking the end of the Christian observance of Christmas.