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In light of the very tense political situation leading up to next Monday’s parliamentary elections, Patriarch Ilia arranged for a Consecration of the City of Tbilisi, held yesterday afternoon to coincide with the Celebration of Christ’s Ascension and the Elevation of the Cross.

Fears of violence and possible uprisings have been substantial.  Despite the Patriarch’s entreaties for Christians to treat each other as brothers regardless of political affiliation, interaction between rival political groups have not been civil in general.

The Patriarchate released this statement three days ago; “As it is known, today a procession with participation of the clergy will start from Vake (Saburtalo pantheon) from Vaja-Pshavela (St. Barbare’s Cathedral), from the cinema “Georgia” (St. Barbare’s Church) and also from the St. Barbare (lower) Church.

“From the three sides (Vake, Saburtalo, Didube) the place of gathering is Heroes’ Square, where people will be gathered at 16:00 and then will move towards Metekhi bridge, – to the torture place of One Hundred Thousand Georgians; the fourth group will join the group at 18:00 and the solemn prayer will be conducted. Everyone can participate in the consecration of the capital”

The assembly yesterday afternoon was attended by many tens of thousands of ordinary parishioners from Tbilisi and nearby towns, with their priests, deacons and sidesmen. Estimates of 50,000-100,000 attendants have been made for the solemn event.

The Patriarchate has now extended this ritual to the whole country. Today, the Patriarch’s Secretary, Archpriest Michael Botkoveli stated ” Every region, every town and village will be sanctified. The initiative has been assigned to the Diocesan Bishops of the Patriarchate. This idea was initiated by the Patriarch with regard to the escalated situation in the country in order for the coming elections to be held in a peaceful and fair environment”. All the Bishops of the country have been dispatched to their Dioceses today for this purpose and will remain in their Eparchies until tomorrow night.

In such a tense environment where so many people are fearful, to consecrate every town and village is a much-needed gesture, to calm the atmosphere and focus people’s attention on what is really important. Consecration means sanctification, or to make holy, and to dedicate a place to God’s service. By calmly exercising their civic duty to vote, and working peacefully to improve the country in the aftermath of the elections, the people of Georgia are doing God’s work in every town and village; it is to be hoped that nobody stands in the way of their obligation. We all pray that the people of Georgia can cast their votes freely, that those disappointed by the outcome can accept the setback calmly, that the elected authorities govern with wisdom and justice, and that the bitterness between people of opposing camps can be replaced by reconciliation and goodwill.

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September 27 is the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. After the Crucifixion of Christ, His cross and that of the two thieves crucified with him were lost.

Saint Constantine the Great, Roman Emperor, legalised Christianity within the Empire by the edict of Milan in 313. He was no doubt influenced strongly by his mother, Empress Helen, who was renowned as a pious Christian.

Amongst her many missions and pilgrimages was the discovery of the cross upon which Christ died, on Golgotha hill in Jerusalem. Tradition states that Empress Helen found a cluster of flowering bushes on Golgotha, known by locals as “Vasilikos” (what we now know as Basil). In Greek, the word “vasil” indicates kingship. Upon excavation beneath the bushes, three crosses were found, along with a sign inscribed with “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. To determine which cross was that of Christ, a sick woman kissed each cross and was cured by the last that she kissed. A dead man, being borne to his tomb by a funeral procession, was laid across the same cross and was restored to life. With great joy, the Cross was elevated from a high platform for the whole population of Jerusalem to witness and venerate.

The True Cross was looted from Jerusalem by Persian troops as a trophy in 614. It took until 630 for Byzantine forces under Emperor Heraclios to retrieve it by force from the Persian capital Ctesiphon, return it to Jerusalem, and to reinstall it in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre .

The Feast on September 27 celebrates both of these events.

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