This image I took one late morning at Metekhi Church, solemnly standing watch over Tbilisi, Georgia from the hilltop it occupies, could have been one from so many I witnessed in the country. For Georgians pray more passionately than any people I’ve visited in my lifetime. I went from church to church (there are 18 in Tbilisi’s city center alone) around Georgia, expecting spiritual-sight burnout to set in quickly. A condition that occurs when looking at too many buildings at once, regardless of their divinity.
Yet countless times I was mesmerized into sitting in a corner and watching, as no church ever seemed to be empty. Georgian after Georgian was praying intensely, with an occasional vigorous sign of the cross from head to chest. Their eyes conveyed a humble devotion. Whether in a church or not, Georgians are a very endearing people, you want to root for them, like you’re an adopted Georgian. Somehow, they make you feel that way.
That’s not to say other belief systems don’t generate fervor from their followers, including the 16.1% of the Georgian population who aren’t Eastern Orthodox. But the pride extends beyond church walls to minaret tops and synagogue halls. As I drove into Tbilisi a little after 4am, when most international flights arrive, my Muslim cab driver boasted that whatever their personal beliefs, religions in Georgia have tolerated each other exceptionally well for centuries. Despite what you or I may believe or not, it’s worth hoping one of those candles is for humankind to learn tolerance, for I can’t think of anything more worthy of devotion.