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“It is a crucial time in their lives,” said Mother Mari. “We have to help them become adults and complete the process. We didn’t bring them here so they could end up on the streets again.”

Amazingly, there are days in which she has only 10 lari (about $4) to support the shelter. “I’m determined to take it to the end,” she said undeterred, her hand covering her mouth.

Mother Mari entered the convent in 1992, after taking a degree in philology at the university followed by several years of work with the patriarch.

“Philology is the study of the word, and my reality was always the life inside books,” she said. “When I discovered that the Bible is a book that is actually alive, it was only natural that I’d come to the monastery and live the living word.”

Her parents understood the decision. “I simply explained my reasons clearly and they understood,” she said.

Other women, however, have encountered more resistance from their parents when choosing the same path. Mother Mariam said her parents initially opposed her decision.

“They were against it, but eventually my choice brought us closer.”

It also brought her parents closer to their faith. “When you love somebody, you learn to love the things they love,” she added.

The Communist domination of Georgia and the government’s violent imposition of atheism nearly destroyed monasticism, the backbone of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Scores of bishops, priests, monks and sisters were killed or imprisoned, thus severing the centuries-long tradition of elders passing to the next generation the living history of the church, which today includes more than 80 percent of Georgia’s 4.7 million people. In 1988, church leaders claimed only 15 sisters and 40 monks had survived, though some observers believe many lived underground.

But with the unraveling of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the birth of an independent Georgia, the Georgian Orthodox Church has resurged. The number of sisters in Georgia has swelled to over 100, while the number of monasteries in Georgia has risen from 4to 53.

Some Georgians have voiced caution about this increase in vocations to the religious life. According to Mr. Abashidze, a lay theologian, too many priests are using their positions of influence to encourage young women to enter the convent. And critics conclude that because a person entering religious life chooses a life of chastity, obedience and poverty, the individual must be repressed and circumspect, a soul longing for regimented seclusion from the ordinary.

“The monastery is a difficult place to live,” exclaimed Mother Mari. “You have to have solitude established in you.”

The young are only reacting to the spiritual revival that has taken the country since the collapse of communism, said Father Giorgi Zviadadze, vice rector of Tbilisi Theological Academy.

Joining a monastery or convent is an arduous process, which discourages the casually interested or the naïve and gullible.

“First a woman must agree to live by the monastery’s rules,” said Mother Ephemia, abbess of St. Tornike of Athos Monastery in Mtskheta. “She pledges obedience. Then she goes through a period of character evaluation.”

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Tags: Communism/Communist Georgian Orthodox Church