521 babies have been baptised in a mass ceremony in Tbilisi's Holy Trinity Cathedral. And their godfather is Ilia II, the spiritual leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
More than 500 babies have been baptised in a mass ceremony in Georgia at Tbilisi's Holy Trinity Cathedral. The infants were also given the honour of becoming godchildren of the country's Patriarch Ilia II.
The spiritual leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church has taken on this role for thousands of babies since 2007, in an effort to boost birth rates.
"In Georgia, there was a big problem regarding the childbirth rate and in 2007 the Patriarch made the decision to become the godfather of every third and following child," explains priest Shalva Kekelia.
"Eleven years have elapsed since this and today we have so many baptised children. All this shows how much people love the Patriarch and what a huge thing his prayers have done."
According to the country's statistics department, in 2008 Georgia had the highest birth rate in nine years – 56,565 children were born in comparison to 49,287 in 2007. And the birth rate has not dipped since, boosting Georgia's population of 3.7 million.
More than 40,000 babies have been baptised under this initiative, with mass ceremonies taking place at least four times a year.
"It is a very emotional thing because the Patriarch will pray for him (the baptised child) every day and this is a huge blessing," says Bachuki Qiria, one of the godfathers.
"It is the first time I am a godfather along with the Patriarch and it is a very emotional day for me."