© The Associated Press/RIA Novosti/Vladimir Rodionov/Presidential Press Service
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill , right, congratulates Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during an Orthodox Christmas at Christ The Savior Cathedral in Moscow, early Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. Christmas falls on Jan. 7 for Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, Russia and other Orthodox churches that use the old Julian calendar instead of the 16th-century Gregorian calendar adopted by Catholics and Protestants and commonly used in secular life around the world.
The Russian Orthodox Church continued what appeared to be an effort to get the authorities to address Russians' grievances over the political system, with Patriarch Kirill I, the church's leader, saying in a televised interview that it would be "a very bad sign" if the country's leaders failed to heed recent protests over perceived electoral fraud.
The church, a powerful force in Russia, made a point of announcing that the patriarch would be speaking on Saturday, which is Christmas Day in Russia.
The announcement, made on Thursday, came just 15 minutes after the Interfax news agency released a report on an essay by a senior church official, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, that made the same point as the patriarch, but in starker terms: it said that the authorities could be "slowly eaten alive" if they did not respond to Russians' concerns.
Church leaders have been walking a careful line since the parliamentary elections on Dec. 4, nudging the government to respond to the protesters and affirming their right to demonstrate, but Patriarch Kirill I has not questioned the legitimacy of the elections or criticized Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin.
Still, the drumbeat of implicit criticism has been surprising from the church, which has been a strong supporter of the government, and the patriarch's statements on Saturday appeared to keep the pressure on.
If the authorities remain insensitive to the expression of protest, this is a very bad sign, a sign of the authorities' inability to adjust," Patriarch Kirill said in the interview, which was broadcast on Rossiya 1, one of Russia's main television channels.
He also warned that a crackdown on critics would mirror actions taken by the government during the Soviet era. "Every person in a free society must have the right to express his opinion, including disagreement with the actions of the authorities," the patriarch said.
Most of the complaints about vote falsification have been against Mr. Putin's governing party, United Russia, which, despite the allegations of fraud, suffered heavy losses.
Change is needed, Patriarch Kirill said, but revolution must be avoided at all costs.
"If demonstrations ahead of the 1917 revolution had ended in the expression of peaceful protests and had not led to a bloody revolution and a fratricidal war, Russia would have had a population of more than 300 million and would have challenged or maybe even surpassed the United States from the point of view of economic development," he said.