Tbilisi, Georgia, November 24, 2016
The Orthodox Patriarch of Georgia hosted a mass baptism
last week for 600 children “born again” into
Christ at Tbilisi Trinity Cathedral.
A video of the Christian initiation
— complete with crying babies and parents’
faces full of unspeakable joy — has gone viral,
with 9.2 million views, 74,000 shares, and 26,500
The mass baptism is the brainchild and work of Patriarch
Ilya, one of the most influential leaders in the country
and of Georgia’s Christians since the 1970s.
Facing a post-Soviet abortion rate that was rapidly
depleting the population, Ilya started a family promotion
campaign in 2007, promising to personally baptize every
third child born to an Orthodox family throughout Georgia,
as well as every subsequent child thereafter. He hosts
mass infant baptisms four times a year.
The Georgian Patriarch started this initiative in a
pro-life effort to decrease abortions and increase the
birth rate. He officially became the Godfather to all 600
last week, and since the mass baptisms began, he has
become Godfather to 29,000 children.
Patriarch Ilya’s encouragement has spawned a
nationwide baby boom.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili credited Patriarch
Ilya with single-handedly reducing the number of abortions
in the country, which have diminished by 50 percent from
2005 to 2010. Saakashvili also thanked his All-Holiness
for the dramatically rising birth rate in Georgia, which
in 2010 was 25 percent higher than in 2005.
“Patriarch Ilya is a holy man, much beloved by his
people, and truly the spiritual father for his whole
nation,” His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah of the
Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) told
LifeSiteNews. “He cares for all his people, Christian
or not. He is very enthusiastic in his support of
traditionally large Christian families, the sanctity of
life, and the value of the family.”
Many parents at the mass baptism attributed the reason for
having a third or fourth child to the Patriarch.
“This is a wonderful day for my family,” said
Tamar Kapanadze, now a 33-year-old father of four.
“Our fourth son, Lashko, was baptized by the
Patriarch himself, and before this he baptized our
daughter Liziko. This is why we decided to have a fourth
President Saakashvili announced earlier this year that his
government would encourage birth-giving by distributing to
parents who have a third child a subsidy of $600, and
$1200 for a fourth child.
“The patriarch has already taken steps in this
direction,” Saakashvili said. “We should be
thankful to him for continually reminding the Georgian
people that we should multiply.”
With more than 9.3 million Facebook views of the mass
baptism viral video, some misunderstanding Westerners have
made critical and even hateful comments. Metropolitan
Jonah explains to those who only see a wet and crying
child that baptism is a wonderful and a powerful act.
“The word ‘baptism’ means immersion, and the
age-old practice of the Orthodox Churches throughout the
world is to immerse those being baptized fully, three
times, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity,” Jonah explained.
Vladika Jonah continued to assure the uninitiated that in
2,000 years no child has ever been hurt by holy baptism.
“While I’ve never seen the ‘double
dipping’ in this video, it is usually a very
peaceful process, and nothing to be alarmed
“While the ancient Fathers of the Church accept other
forms (e.g. The Didache, written 60 AD), full immersion
has been the norm for centuries,” Jonah said.
In 2013, Patriarch Ilya urged the government not to allow
a homosexual rally in Tbilisi, saying it was a
“violation of the majority’s rights” and
“an insult” to the Georgian nation. He described
homosexuality as a tragic sickness and compared it to drug
After Ilya’s comments, thousands of Georgians
protested the gay demonstration, but many misapplied the
Patriarch’s comments by acting violently, such that
the rally had to be abandoned — not for moral
reasons but to protect the homosexuals — and they
had to be driven in a bus to safety by the police.