Georgians Pray for Their Country After Defeat

ReutersA girl watching clergymen walk past during a commemoration of the Day of the Virgin Mary in Tbilisi on Thursday.
TBILISI -- Georgians flocked to churches Thursday to pray for their country reeling from military defeat by Russia and the secession of two of its provinces.

Hundreds of worshippers packed into Tbilisi's riverside Sioni church for a three-hour service led by Orthodox Patriarch Ilia the Second to mark the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the entry into heaven of the mother of Jesus.

They crossed themselves repeatedly as a bell chimed to mark the start of the service and a column of bearded priests filed through the church in vestments of red, green, white or gold.

"Today we have a great crisis in Georgia. A big war is starting, I think. Our patriarch told us to pray every day," said Ucha Andguladze, an unemployed 25-year-old man.

Georgian forces attempted on Aug. 7-8 to recapture the breakaway, pro-Russian region of South Ossetia but were overwhelmed by Russia's military in a war that lasted just a few days. Russia says it intervened to stop Georgian "genocide" against South Ossetians, many of whom hold Russian passports.

This week Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states under its protection, a move that drew international condemnation.

In the dark interior of the vaulted church, many worshippers lit candles and kissed the wooden frame and glass cover of a portrait of Christ. Others stood quietly reading from prayer books.

As the service opened, a group of male singers burst into deep, resonant song on one side of the church and was answered by the lighter sound of a mixed-voice choir on the other.

Saints stared down from the walls in icons that have been blackened over the centuries so that many of the figures appear only as dark silhouettes crowned with pale haloes.

"We have so many threats, we have people crying," said Nino Dzigua, a woman wearing an orange headscarf.

"Today Georgians are praying for Mary and for our country. Today the whole of Georgia prays to Saint Mary that she saves Georgia from wars, from damages, from the devil," the 23-year-old accountant said in English.