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For the Russian Orthodox Church, in which anti-Western sentiment runs high, recent prayer services for U.S. victims of September 11's terrorist attacks mark a shift towards a more sympathetic attitude to Americans. This change coincides with the increasingly pro-Western position of President Vladimir Putin.

At the same time, the Russian Orthodox Church, which has historically felt squeezed between Muslim and western Christian worlds, has trodden carefully between what has been seen as two sides of a conflict of civilizations.

With the musty scent of incense hanging in the air, Metropolitan Sergy, chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate, conducted a recent memorial service "for all those in the American land killed suddenly and senselessly."

"With the saints rest the souls of thy servants, O Christ, where there is neither pain, nor grief, nor sigh, but life everlasting," sang the clergy and choir from verses of the Panikhida, an Orthodox requiem service, in Old Church Slavonic.

A similar service was held at St Catherine's church, which belongs to the Orthodox Church in America and which ministers to English-speaking Orthodox Christians in Moscow. Orthodox churches in the United States also held memorial services.

The services took place in keeping with the Orthodox tradition of commemorating the dead on the 40th day after death. According to this tradition, the soul of the dead finally leaves the earth on the 40th day and ascends to heaven or descends to hell, hence the call for special prayers on this day.

"Thousands of innocent people died because of the madness of those who want to reshape the world according to their design," Metropolitan Sergy said in his sermon. "They forgot that God did not give man free will for enmity and ...

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