Moscow, January 23, 2017
Various tabloid sites have been circulating an inflammatory “report” against His Holiness Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia, charging him with “cruelty” and “abuse” for his supposedly “rather violent” technique in baptizing infants, stemming from the recent mass Baptism celebrated on Theophany, January 19. The report seems to originate with The Daily Mail, with pictures and video taken from the AP, with versions of the story appearing also on Opposing Views and Real Farrah Gray, and elsewhere.
However, the Daily Mail article, with already 1,700 shares, and the articles following after it, are filled with rather obvious errors and ignorant editorializing. The most blatant and absurd error is that the cleric seen celebrating the Baptism in the pictures and video is not Patriarch Ilia. In fact, he is not even a bishop, but a simple priest, as is obvious by his vestments to anyone with any familiarity with the Orthodox Church. The patriarch is nowhere seen in the video or pictures. Despite this, the Daily Mail writes: “The Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, has been filmed roughly dunking tiny babies into a baptismal font, both legs-first and headfirst, in yesterday's celebration of the Epiphany” (emphasis added).
Here is a sample of the patriarch’s actual interactions with infants at the event, from the Georgian Patriarchate’s official site:
The lie is even more obvious and ridiculous in the Opposing Views article, which opens with an actual picture of the patriarch, and ends with a video of the Baptism in question, with the priest who is clearly not the patriarch shown in the picture at the top.
The Daily Mail continues: “Holding the infants firmly between his hands, the 84-year-old Russian forcibly spins the children round, splashing them into the water at a high speed.” Obviously, the patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church is not a Russian, but a Georgian! His father, Giorgi Shiolashvili, hails from the Kazbegi village of Sno, and his mother, Natalia Kobaidze from the village of Sioni.
Furthermore, while the patriarch is indeed 84, the priest in the videos and pictures is quite obviously a good bit younger.
The articles are full of a number of other errors, for instance, the Daily Mail opening by referring to an “Orthodox Archbishop.” While Patriarch Ilia’s full title does include “Archbishop of Mtskheta-Tbilisi and Metropolitan Bishop of Abkhazia and Bichvinta,” it is improper to refer to him with this lowest position rather than as “patriarch.”
The main “message” of the articles is that the “patriarch’s” baptismal technique has supposedly caused controversy, being styled as “cruelty,” “abuse,” “evil,” “shameful,” and “insane.” However, neither the Daily Mail nor any of the daughter articles quote a single person saying any such thing. Conversely, in the BBC’s video report on the event, from one woman holding a newly-baptized child we hear: “This is a great event because this is my friend’s baby, so I’m very happy to be here, and very thankful that this is the third child. This is very important for our country also, for the growth of our population.”
The Baptisms were supposedly celebrated carelessly, causing fear and panic in the babies and parents: “Needless to say, all the little ones have panic written all over their face as they are plunged under the water, and burst into tears afterwards,” writes the Daily Mail. However, as anyone who has attended any infant Baptism can attest, babies almost always cry at being handed to an unfamiliar man and dipped into water, no matter how slowly or carefully. Babies often cry when taken to Communion as well. Babies often cry when a parent wipes their nose. None of this implies danger to the child’s life.
The commentary running throughout the articles, while not surprising for western media, is no less ignorant and absurd. In the Daily Mail we read that the “patriarch” baptized the babies “seemingly without a care for the baby's well-being”—the Daily Mail seemingly having insight into the “patriarch’s” mind, and seemingly unaware that there exists spiritual well-being as well, with which the Church is charged.
The article appearing on Opposing Views claims that the baptized babies were spun around “like rag dolls.”
A similar article appearing on Euro News gives us its own sample of secularist, anti-Christian editorializing, which is too outlandish to warrant any response: “Georgia’s low birth rate is a product of the country’s taboo on sex before marriage for women … Many young women feel they need to repress their desires and succumb to societal norms until they are married. As such, many wed at a young age – unions which are more about sex than anything else. A marriage certificate is often considered nothing more than a licence to have sex.”
Indeed, one can wonder why the babies are being baptized in this manner, rather than by the typical full-body submersion, but to claim that Patriarch Ilia is carelessly flinging babies about, causing fear, panic, and controversy, is nothing more than a blatant and fallacious attack on a man who represents traditional values so hated in the West.