By Thaddeus M. Baklinski
TBILISI, Georgia, March 27, 2009 LifeSiteNews.com) - The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, has come up with an astonishingly successful incentive to counteract the country’s plummeting birth rate.
To encourage families to have more children the Patriarch has promised to personally baptize any baby born to parents who already have two or more children.
The BBC reports that the results have been, in the words of the Georgian Orthodox Church, "a miracle," with the country’s birth rate increasing by nearly 20% during 2008 - a rate roughly four times higher than the previous year.
While Georgia was under the domination of the former Soviet Union, the Orthodox religion was all but suppressed in the country; but now, according to the BBC, the Patriarch plays a very influential role in Georgian society, with many seeing him as the most authoritative figure in their lives.
"Faith is getting stronger," said Irakli Kadagishvili, a spokesman for the Patriarch Foundation, a movement set up to promote the interests of the Church.
"The Patriarch is seen not only as a religious figure, but also as a national authority. When he saw the need to increase the birth rate he only had to provide an incentive. It was the only stimulus most parents needed if they were already thinking about having more children."
The head of Georgia’s civil registry, Giorgi Vashadze, told the BBC that the jump from 48,000 births in 2007 to 57,000 in 2008 could, in part, be explained by the Patriarch’s incentive, but also by the rise in average household incomes.
"The Patriarch did a really good thing launching this initiative," said Giorgi and Pati Bluashvili, who just had their fourth child, a boy called Giviko, and who thought it "an honour to be contributing to the task of boosting birth rates."
"There’s no doubt in my mind that we had Giviko because of the Patriarch’s incentive," she said.
"When he announced that he would baptise any child born to parents with at least two children already we could not resist the opportunity to have another baby. To have a child baptised by the Patriarch is so very special."