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The World Congress of Families is a US-based non-denominational NGO, with the mission:

 to help secure the foundations of society by uniting and empowering leaders worldwide to respect, protect, and defend:

  • the natural family founded on marriage between a man and a woman;
  • parental rights and the welfare of children, including their need for both a mother and a father;
  • the dignity and sanctity of all human life from conception; and
  • freedom of speech, religion, and conscience in an atmosphere of respect for all.

The tenth World Congress of Families meeting will be held in Tbilisi this May, with the attendance of and keynote address by His Holiness Patriarch Ilia.

The organisers recently were interviewed on Ancient Faith Radio; it can be listened to here.

A list of the speakers is provided here ; it includes Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Protestants in equal measure from around the world. The programme can be found here.

Georgia faces rather different family-related challenges to Europe and the USA. Legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Georgia would be political suicide for any political party proposing it in such a conservative society, and this is unlikely to be an issue for a very long time. We do however face terrible demographic problems, with an ageing population and a fertility rate below replacement, neither of which are conducive to a prosperous economy and a dignified and comfortable life for our citizens. Emigration due to a weak domestic economy is part of the problem, but abortion also is a major problem for Georgia’s population dynamics. Abortions prompted by difficult family economic conditions are very common, and the loathsome practice of sex-selective abortions if the foetus is female is rife. The rather low status of women in traditional Georgian society needs to be aggressively challenged if this vile practice is to be eliminated, and the Church must play its part in popularising a “Daughters are Great!” campaign. When Georgian parents universally understand that their daughters can be professionally successful, bring honour upon the family and support them in old age, substantial progress in abolishing this practice can be made.

For our friends from abroad, Georgia is a very safe and peaceful country with warm and hospitable people, and recent clashes in Nagorno-Karabagh between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces to the distant south have no impact here. If you are considering attending the Congress, I would encourage you to make the trip and enjoy your stay in Georgia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This week, for the first time in many decades, the Patriarchs of the world’s Eastern Orthodox communion congregated in Switzerland to discuss many vital issues. Rather than being designated as an “Ecumenical Council“, which typically focusses on dogma and heresy, this meeting is known as a “Synaxis” (Greek for “meeting”) and is somewhat administrative in flavour, notwithstanding significant theological issues to be discussed. Since the last major congregation of the Church’s patriarchs, many historical developments have created challenges and opportunities for our autocephalous administrations around the world. The collapse of communist dictatorship in eastern Europe and Russia has been conducive to many tens of millions of people returning home to the Church without fear of persecution. The increased freedom of movement of people from country to country over the past century has seen the Orthodox faith spread beyond its traditional milieu in eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East, and indeed spreading throughout ethnic groups not hitherto identified as Orthodox. However, this has created issues of overlapping jurisdictions, and duplicated missionary and charitable efforts. For these issues to be ironed out in a single week would be a Herculean task, but the unanimous will of the Patriarchs to meet on neutral territory to seriously address these issues is a very positive initiative.

His Holiness Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia and our beloved parish priest from Tbilisi, Father Giorgi Zviadadze of Sioni Cathedral and the Tbilisi Theological Academy, can be seen in the video.

The Georgian Church has numerous parishes outside Georgia’s borders, operating under its authority, but of course in places like France, Britain or the United States, they operate side-by-side with parishes under the authority of Constantinople or many other Patriarchates, all of which are attempting to service the needs of their diaspora as well as evangelising the local population. How potential conflicts or indeed competition between parishes of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church within one city or region may be mitigated is beyond the author’s knowledge, but with God’s help such issues may be resolved.

The persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria, be they of our Eastern Orthodox confession or another Christian group, was of course a major issue to address. Likewise, the fraternal conflict in eastern Ukraine between Orthodox brethren is very distressing for all concerned. The tension between the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine and others regarding the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church(Kiev Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (neither of which have been formally universally recognised as a canonical churches by the Church) , will be an issue that may take many years to resolve.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s press release is provided in full below.

At the invitation of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Synaxis of Primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches took place at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy, Geneva, from 21st to 28th January, 2016. The following Primates attended:

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria
Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow
Patriarch Irinej of Serbia
Patriarch Daniel of Romania
Patriarch Neophyte of Bulgaria
Patriarch Ilia of Georgia
Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus
Archbishop Anastasios of Albania
Archbishop Rastislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia

The following Primates were unable to attend: Their Beatitudes Patriarch John X of Antioch and Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland, for health reasons, and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece, for personal reasons. Nevertheless, all three were represented by official delegations of their Churches.

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The Primates of the Orthodox Churches convened to finalize the texts for the Holy and Great Council. In the framework of the Synaxis, on Sunday, 24th January, a Divine Liturgy was held at the Holy Stavropegic Church of St. Paul. Along with the Ecumenical Patriarch, who presided, Their Beatitudes and Heads of the delegations of the Orthodox Churches concelebrated the Liturgy, with the exception of the Head of the delegation of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

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During the Synaxis, whose sessions were held in the apostolic spirit of “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4.15), in concord and understanding, the Primates affirmed their decision to convene the Holy and Great Council. The Council will be held at the Orthodox Academy of Crete from June 16th to 27th, 2016. To this end, the Primates humbly invoke the grace and blessing of the Holy Trinity and fervently invite the prayers of the fullness of the Church, clergy and laity, for the period leading to and the sessions of the Holy and Great Council.

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The items officially approved for referral to and adoption by the Holy and Great Council are: The Mission of the Orthodox Church in the Contemporary World, The Orthodox Diaspora, Autonomy and its Manner of Proclamation, The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments, The Significance of Fasting and its Application Today, and Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World. By decision of the Primates, all approved documents will be published.

The Primates also discussed and determined the establishment of a Panorthodox Secretariat, the by-laws of the Council, the participation of non-Orthodox observers in the opening and closing sessions, and the budgetary costs related the Council.

Moreover, the Primates expressed their support for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East and their ongoing concern for the abduction of the two Metropolitans, Paul Yazigi of the Patriarchate of Antioch and Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Archdiocese.

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The proceedings of the Synaxis of the concluded on Wednesday evening, January 27th, 2016, with the closing address by its President, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

At the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy-Geneva, 27th January, 2016
From the Secretariat of the Sacred Synaxis.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s homily provides very sound context for the recently concluded activities. For those interested in more detailed administrative issues, His All Holiness’ keynote address can be read here

 

We are now standing at the crossroads of history. For the major difficulties that our contemporaries are encountering require responsibility that exceeds our ecclesial institutions. Christ is in the midst of history. Christ is in the heart of our life. He walks within time. He passes by us, just as He did in Jericho with the blind man. According to today’s Gospel reading, can we hear him in the crowd? Can we see him, lost as we are in our poverty and mendacity? According to the commentary of St. Ephrem the Syrian, “when our Lord saw that the eyes of the blind man’s heart were open while the eyes of his body were blind, He enlightened the eyes of the body just as those of the heart in order that when the blind man chose to hasten towards Him, he would clearly see his Saviour.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It has long been a source of annoyance to some people, local and foreign, that the Georgian government provides funding to the Georgian Church. For those coming from countries with a complete separation between Church and State, such as France or the United States, it is a very unfamiliar situation. For people coming from countries with an official State Church, such as the United Kingdom or Denmark, it is a more familiar situation.

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The relationship between Church and State in Georgia is an interesting one. The Republic of Georgia is a secular state without a State Church. Unlike other states, there are no seats in parliament allocated to bishops or other religious leaders (as is the case in the United Kingdom and China). However, the Church has a very large role in people’s lives and State leaders not infrequently canvass the opinion of the Patriarch and bishops when determining policy directions.

In 2002, a Concordat (agreement) was signed between the Georgian State and the Georgian Orthodox Church (more formally known as The Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church (Georgian:საქართველოს სამოციქულო ავტოკეფალური მართლმადიდებელი ეკლესია,sak’art’velos samots’ik’ulo avt’okep’aluri mart’lmadidebeli eklesia).  The terms of this agreement were:

(1) The agreement confirmed that all churches and monasteries on Georgian territory are owned by the Georgian Church, with the exception of those in private hands.

(2) The agreement recognises the special role of the Georgian Church in Georgian history and devolves authority over all religious matters to the Georgian Church.

(3) The agreement grants the Patriarch immunity from prosecution and exempts clergy from the Georgian Church from compulsory military service.

(4) The agreement grants the Georgian Church an exclusive role in operating the military chaplaincy.

(5) The agreement grants the Georgian Church a substantial advisory role in government, particularly in the educational sphere.

(6) The agreement recognises the validity of marriages performed in the Church (while still requiring government registration for legal issues).

(7) As a partial owner of assets confiscated by Soviet authorities during the Soviet rule of Georgia (1921-1991), the State agrees to compensate, at least in part, the Georgian Church for its financial and asset losses incurred during that period. 

The seventh point is an interesting one.

The Concordat was agreed in 2002 between His Holiness Patriarch Ilia II and President Eduard Shevardnadze. The President was from a Gurian Bolshevik family with revolutionary credentials, and in addition to having been Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, he had also been the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party (the de facto Head of State of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (GSSR)). The Party which he had headed had in the past engaged in atrocities and persecution of Georgian Christians, but a mere 11 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the immediate aftermath of a brutal civil war, Shevardnadze was not willing to admit substantial responsibility for past misdeeds of his former Party or government.

From the 1990’s to the current day, most of the political and business elite in Georgia were children or close relatives of Communist Party officials, or had developed a power base in the Komsomol (  All-Union Leninist Young Communist League  ). During the Soviet era, identifying publicly as an Orthodox Christian had serious consequences; one could not join the Party or Komsomol, admission to universities was almost impossible, and promotion within State bodies was seriously hampered. Hence, when Georgia became independent, very few of the political elite or intelligentsia came from openly practicing Christian families, and many had engaged in discrimination or persecution of Christians during their official duties prior to 1991. Faced with a resurgent Church, the elite needed to make some compromises with the Church, lest their own conduct and the conduct of their families in the past be brought to light. Church and State negotiated the best deal they could realistically get at the time. With the chaos of the 1990’s in such recent memory, the Church also was wary of going after Communists for compensation and justice too vigourously lest the delicate political balance established be upset.

The Bolshevik takeover of Georgia in 1921 was followed by serious persecution of the Church, as mentioned in my posts before, here, and here. Many thousands of clergy were murdered or exiled to labour camps where they died of disease, cold or malnutrition. Tens of thousands of ordinary Orthodox Christian laity likewise were murdered for their faith, or died in prison camps. Hundreds of thousands had their lives and careers ruined by persecution and discrimination by Communist authorities. To date, not one cent of compensation has been paid to the Church for the wrongful deaths of its martyred clergy. Likewise, the families of martyred laity have yet to receive any compensation. As a successor regime to the GSSR, the Government of the Republic of Georgia bears responsibility for achieving justice for those wronged by its predecessor, but to date nobody has had the courage to do so. Given that many of the elite have family members complicit in past atrocities and persecution, this is not surprising.

It is therefore perplexing to Georgian Orthodox Christians when local secularists and foreigners complain about State funding of the Church. A local article disclosing financial transfers from the State Treasury to the Church can be found here . I cannot vouch for the veracity or otherwise of those figures but they appear to be based on valid government records; a total of GEL200 million since independence is suggested. Given that the new Parliament House in Kutaisi alone has cost over GEL325 million since work started in 2012, the Church’s subventions are a rather minor part of State expenditures in comparison.

In 1921, the Georgian Church was the largest single landowner in the country; that land was confiscated and most of it has not been returned. No formal mechanism of restitution for these assets has been settled upon. Seventy years worth of lost revenue from those assets has also not been considered.

Hundreds of temples and monasteries were razed to the ground by the Bolksheviks;  State funding for the building of new temples and renovation of old structures is hence an appropriate measure of compensation under the terms of the Concordat. Anyone walking around a temple on Sunday morning in any town or village in Georgia can attest to the overcrowding that is routine, with many hundreds of people often standing in the rain or snow outside for services at Feasts. Hence, State support for such construction activities is a compensation payment rather than a subsidy per se.

Some State funds provided to the Church are dedicated to the Church’s charitable activities, such as its hospitals, orphanages, educational facilities and charitable funds, such as the Lazarus Fund. As the most trusted institution in the country, government officials obviously consider subvention of Church charity work to be a worthwhile use of public funds.

Some Georgian political parties have lobbied for the Concordat to be superseded by the Georgian Church becoming an official State Church and therefore an arm of the State.  To date the Patriarch has rejected this concept, saying that he would prefer the existing arrangement to be implemented more fully. No doubt the Church hierarchs are aware that countries with State Churches tend to suffer decreasing levels of religiosity amongst the laity. Likewise,  they are aware of the Georgian Church’s forcible incorporation into the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia in the early 19th century, where as an arm of the official State Church they were ruled by Russian civil servants instead of bishops. The experience was not a happy one and clergy are aware that the Church needs a certain level of autonomy from the State to fulfil its mission faithfully. The freedom for clergy to occasionally criticise State policy where appropriate can only be preserved if the Church is not an arm of the State.

Personally, I believe that a one-off property settlement between Church and State would be preferable to ongoing year-by-year subvention, as this would allow the Church to be financially independent of the State and to faithfully fulfil its mission without fear of of State officials cutting off funds when displeased. Other Georgian Orthodox Christians will have opinions very different to mine of course.

 

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Today is a busy day for the Georgian Church. In addition to commemorations for Holy King Vakhtang and the Apostle Andrew, the first two Catholicoi of the Autocephalous Georgian Church are commemorated today.

Catholicos is a Greek word (καθολικός ,plural καθολικοί, meaning ‘universal,’ or ‘general.’) and in the early days of the Patriarchate of Antioch, the term was used as the title of bishops under its authority, including that of Georgia. The title was also used by the Church of the East which split from Antioch, and by the non-Chalcedonian Church of Armenia, and continues to be used by those jurisdictions. The Patriarch of Georgia is currently styled as the “Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia” and is the only Eastern Orthodox patriarch to bear that title.

From “Lives of the Georgian Saints”

SAINT PETER

Saint Peter was the first Catholicos of Georgia. He led the Church of Kartli from the 460s through the beginning of the 6th century. According to God’s will, St. Peter inaugurated the dynasty of the chief shepherds of Georgia.

It is written in the biography of Holy King Vakhtang IV Gorgasali that the king was introduced to Peter, a pupil of St. Gregory the Theologian, during one of his visits to Byzantium, and he became very close to him. At that time he was also introduced to the future Catholicos Samuel.

The close spiritual bond of the holy king and the Catholicos, combined with their concerted efforts on behalf of the Church, contributed immeasurably to the establishment of friendly political relations between Georgia and Byzantium and the proclamation of the autocephaly of the Georgian Apostolic Church.

Having returned to his own capital, King Vakhtang sent an envoy to Byzantium to find him a wife. He also sent a request that the hierarch Peter be elevated as catholicos and that the priest Samuel be consecrated bishop. He pleaded with the patriarch to hasten the arrival of Catholicos Peter and the twelve bishops with him.

The Patriarch of Constantinople approved King Vakhtang’s request to institute the rank of Catholicos of Georgia. Since the Georgian Church was still under the jurisdiction of Antioch, Peter and Samuel were sent to the Antiochian patriarch himself to be elevated. The autocephaly of the Georgian Church was proclaimed upon the arrival of the holy fathers in Georgia.

St. Peter ruled the Church according to the principle of autocephaly and established a form of self-rule that would later help to increase the authority of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church.

The mutual respect and cooperation of the Catholicos and the holy king laid the foundations for future, harmonious relations between secular and Church authorities in Georgia. Their example defined the authority of the Church and a national love and respect for the king.

Peter accompanied Holy King Vakhtang Gorgasali to war with the Persians in 502. It is written that “the fatally wounded king Vakhtang summoned the catholicos, the queen, his sons and all the nobility.” St. Peter heard the king’s last confession, granted the remission of his sins, presided at his funeral service, and blessed the prince Dachi (502–514) to succeed him as king of Kartli.

Holy Catholicos Peter led the Georgian Church with great wisdom to the end of his days.

 

SAINT SAMEUL

St. Samuel ascended the throne of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Georgia in the 6th century, after the holy Catholicos Peter.

Like St. Peter, Samuel was a native of Byzantium. He arrived with Catholicos Peter in Georgia as a bishop, at the invitation of King Vakhtang Gorgasali and with the blessing of the patriarch of Constantinople.

At that time Svetitskhoveli in Mtskheta was the residence of the Catholicos.


St. Samuel I

After the repose of Catholicos Peter, Samuel succeeded him, and King Dachi “bestowed upon him the city of Mtskheta, according to the will of King Vakhtang.” St. Samuel led the Georgian Church during the reigns of King Dachi and his son Bakur. He initiated construction of Tsqarostavi Church in the Javakheti region.

What we know of St. Samuel’s activity paints him as a pastor who demonstrated great foresight and cared deeply about his flock. He was also a close acquaintance of the holy martyr Queen Shushanik.

St. Samuel faithfully served the Autocephalous Church of Georgia and labored to strengthen the Christian Faith of the Georgian people to the end of his days.

The Holy Synod of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church canonized the holy Catholicos Peter and the holy Catholicos Samuel on October 17, 2002.

From THE LIVES OF THE GEORGIAN SAINTS by Archpriest Zakaria Machitadze, St. Herman Press

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The Apostle Andrew is commemorated on the same day as Holy King Vakhtang.

He has a great significance for Georgians, as he preached here; according to Church tradition, the Apostles drew lots for which countries to evangelise, and the Virgin Mary was allocated Georgia. In a dream, she was advised to delegate this duty to the Apostle Andrew; the full story is presented in this video here.

The Apostle Andrew is also very significant to the Slavs, as he travelled throughout the Black Sea region to Crimea, and northwards up the Dniepr River to the Slav settlement of Novgorod. He was the first Patriarch of Constantinople, at that time a modest Greek city in Rome’s eastern provinces, and so is revered particularly by both the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow.

He was the brother of the Apostle Peter.  According to Orthodoxwiki.org

Andrew was a fisherman by trade, born in Bethsaida. A disciple of John the Forerunner, he left St. John to follow Jesus Christ following his baptism and brought along his brother, the Apostle Peter. Both are numbered among the Twelve Great Apostles. After Pentecost, the lot fell to St. Andrew to preach in:

  • Byzantium: he appointed St. Stachys as its first bishop
  • Thrace, Peloponnese, Greece, and Epirus: he converted many to the Faith and ordained bishops and priests for them
  • Georgia: he entered Georgia from Ajara, preached Christianity in Atsquri, built small church there and left miracle-working icon of Theotokos.
  • Russian lands: in Kiev he planted a cross on one of the high hills of Kiev, and he prophesied a city that would have many golden-domed churches, and a bright Christian future for the Russian people.

He was martyred in the Greek city of Patras by the Roman governor Aegeatos by crucifixion, in spite of the Apostle having cured his wife and brother of serious illness. Surviving for two days on the cross, he continued preaching the word of God to witnesses until his eventual repose.

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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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In light of street protests and student unrest in the wake of Georgia’s prison abuse scandal, the Patriarch calls for restraint and for student protesters to disperse.

21.09.12 13:57

Patriarch Ilia II preaches restraint at Liturgy of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary

Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II calls on the nation to remain calm. His Holiness preached at the Holy Trinity Cathedral today and urged the worshippers not to `use the situation for humiliating Georgia and its people`. Patriarch said there are people who are trying to wield the unhealthy situation and cause instability in the country, which is entirely unacceptable.

His Holiness called on the nation to bring the situation to elections peacefully.

Patriarch has also addressed the students and asked them to abstain from the activities, which might cause disorder. Part of the students, who have been rallying during past few days, were also listening to Patriarch, who conducted holy service on the day of Virgin Mary.

via Patriarch calls on the nation to remain calm.

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