Georgian patriarch visits Baltimore to discuss relief efforts in the republic


Patriarch Ilia II, leader of the Orthodox Church in the Republic of Georgia, came to town yesterday to pray with fellow clergy and discuss relief efforts in his country with officials of the Baltimore-based International Orthodox Christian Charities.

Patriarch Ilia, on a two-week tour of the United States, was welcomed to Baltimore at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation by four black-robed priests and a deacon representing the Greek and Antiochian Orthodox churches and the Orthodox Church in America.

The Rev. Constantine Monios, dean of the cathedral, stood at the entrance holding a gold-plated book of the Gospels, the traditional greeting for a member of the hierarchy.

The clerics filed into the sanctuary, singing the Easter anthem: "Christ is Risen from the Dead, trampling death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life."

Monios said Patriarch Ilia's visit came seven months after that of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians.

"It is a great honor to see you standing at the patriarchal throne that was graced on October the 23rd of last year by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew," Monios said.

Rebuilding effort

After the service, Patriarch Ilia, 65, who has been patriarch of the Orthodox church in Georgia since 1977, said he has been busy with the task of rebuilding since the country gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

"During the 70-year period of the Communist regime, there was a very heavy pressure on the church as well as the nation," Patriarch Ilia said through a translator. "A lot of cathedrals and monasteries were destroyed and a lot of clergymen were repressed. Our main purpose in Georgia today is to give faith back to our people so that people should start to think and to work."

The church is also helping to foster economic redevelopment in Georgia, he said.

"Our people have to find ways to overcome the social, economic problems," he said. "Georgia was historically an economic crossroads between the West and the East. And today Georgia is regaining that function."

Major oil and gas pipelines pass through Georgian territories and products from middle Asian countries pass through its ports on the Black Sea.

"That is why Georgia, I am quite sure, will become a developed, rich and democratic state," he said. "Then it will be able to support other countries in the future."

Before the prayer service, Patriarch Ilia met with officials at the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) at its world headquarters at the Rotunda in North Baltimore to discuss humanitarian work in his country and throughout the Orthodox world. Later, he met with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke at City Hall.

The IOCC was established in 1992 as the official humanitarian aid organization for Orthodox Christians.

It is one of three religious-based relief services that are based in Baltimore or will be in the near future: Catholic Relief Services has its offices on West Fayette Street, and Lutheran World Relief will move into a building to be constructed on Light Street in the Inner Harbor.

Leader in relief effort

The Georgian patriarch has been a leader in organizing relief and development projects. In 1974, he established Lazarus, the humanitarian organization of the Georgian Orthodox Church that is a model for relief efforts in other Orthodox churches.

"We cooperate with them in terms of broadening their capacity," said Constantine Triantafilou, IOCC executive director. "All of our programs [in Georgia] run through Lazarus. We have similar programs in other countries, but they don't work was well as that program."

The IOCC would like to expand into Serbia using a program similar to Lazarus, Triantafilou said. IOCC projects in Georgia include a program that employs people who have been displaced by internal ethnic strife to make blankets; feeding 1,500 people a day in soup kitchens; and distributing more than 33,000 food packages each month.

Pub Date: 5/19/98

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