To mark St. George's Day this week, the head of Georgia’s Orthodox Church (GOC) Patriarch Ilia II will baptize nearly 700 children in a mass ceremony. It will be the 51st such mass baptism he has carried out since 2008. And according to a new study, the Patriach's involvement has had a measurable, positive effect on Georgia's birthrate.
Ilia started the mass baptisms in 2008, as part of an effort to increase Georgia's stagnant demographic situation. To encourage Georgians to make large families, he promised to personally baptize, and become godfather to, every third and later child of married Orthodox couples.
The offer proved attractive in Georgia, where more than 90 percent of the population is Orthodox and Ilia is one of the country's most popular figures.
Since he began the mass baptisms, more than 33,000 babies have been baptized by the Patriarch, representing nearly six percent of Georgia’s total childbirths over that period.
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