Great Patriarch is 90 years old

Great Patriarch is 90 years old

  • April 16, 2023

For history, nine decades is just a whiff but for a person, it is a huge span, a big stage of life. Especially when it comes to a universally recognized, living saint, distinguished by the Lord as the spiritual father of the nation.

Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Archbishop of Mtskheta-Tbilisi, Metropolitan of Bichvinta and Tskhum-Abkhazeti, Ilya II has completed his ninety-second birthday. He has been enthroned as the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia for more than 45 years, decades spent striving for the revival of the church, serving the people, taking care of them, thinking about the estate, taking actions for its future, fighting for the development of various branches of art.

In a few strokes, we would like to present the difficult but successful stages passed by our great patriarch.

On November 9, 1977, after the death of Catholicos-Patriarch David VI, by the decision of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Ilia Shiolashvili of Tskhum-Abkhazia was appointed as the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia. On December 23, 1977, Reverend Ilia was elected Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia. December 25, 1977… a date very important not only in the history of the Apostolic Church of Georgia but also in the history of Georgia in general. On this day, Ilia Shiolashvili,  Metropolitan of Tskhum-Abkhazia, well-known for his high education, and the protagonism of culture in Georgian society was enthroned the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia in a solemn situation in the Svetitskhovli Cathedral of Mtskheta. From thence on, he bears the name of Ilya II, his Holiness and Beatitude.

Ilia II is a descendant of Shiola Ghudushauri, a prominent person in Khevi. Shiola laid the foundation for the Shiolashvili family name. As for the Ghudushauri family, it is ancient. According to legend, Vakhtang Gorgasal baptized a child in a family in Khevi, whom he gave the name Ghudusha. This is where the name came from. Vakhushti Bagrationi writes: “From the east, it joins Aragvi, below Arsha, Achkhoti Gorge… There is the Ghudushauri stronghold, a small one though very strong. In the gorge, the Sno valley, on the rocky hill of the Snostskali river’s right bank, there is a fortress of Sno. It was built at the end of the 16th century. The fort was important and controlled the road coming from Khevi, which ran through Khevsureti, Pshavi, and Gudamakri gorges to Mthiuleti. According to tradition, this castle belonged to Shiola Ghudushauri. The village of Sno is the base of the Ghudushauri-Shiolashvili family. From there, Ilya’s parents moved to Vladikavkaz. Giorgi Shiolashvili, Ilia’s father, had a traditional Georgian family. His wife Natalia Kobaidze was distinguished for her sweet temper and kindness. The husband and wife were devoted Christians.  love and respect, and fear of God have been guiding their lives. Ilya II learned the basics of Christian teachings from his parents.

The future patriarch was born on January 4, 1933, in Vladikavkaz. He was baptized in the Georgian church and named Irakli in reverence for the famous king of Kartli and Kakheti, Erekle II. St. After graduating with honors from Vladikavkaz secondary school, in 1952, he entered the Moscow Theological Academy. Obviously, Ilia II’s choice was influenced by his parents, the atmosphere that reigned in the Shiolashvili family. Back in 1947, the first church was launched in Vladikavkaz under the initiative and leadership of Giorgi Shiolashvili. The strength of the family, God’s boundless love, and high Christian morality led to the choice of the future patriarch for the theological school.

In April 1957, Ilia became a partaker of the priestly life, and with the blessing of Melchizedek III, then Catholicos of Georgia was consecrated as a monk by Metropolitan Zinob in the St. Alexander Nevsky  Cathedral.

It is noteworthy that Ilia, who was first ordained as a deacon, was consecrated as a priest in the Lavra of St. Sergius of Radonezh by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Alexey I, and was awarded a golden pectoral cross. In 1960, the monk priest Ilia graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy with honors and obtained a Ph.D. in theology for the work “History of the Monastery of Athos Iveria”. The depth of research, relevance, and importance of the problem of this work brought great success to the author. Apart from awarding the candidate’s degree, the board noted Ilia Shiolashvili’s research ability, his scientific talent, and offered him to continue his scientific work. However, Ilya chose a different path and returned to Georgia. The future patriarch was well aware of the difficulties that the Georgian Church faced at that time. This was, first of all, the scarcity of clerical staff; Georgian spirituality needed revival. Besides, he always remembered the admonition of his dear mother never to leave his homeland.

Upon returning home, Ilia began serving as a priest in Batumi Cathedral. The young monk priest began his work with great zeal. As a result of his devotion, he was elevated to the rank of abbot in 1961. Soon he was ordained archimandrite. On August 26, 1963, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, His Holiness and Beatitude, Ephraim II, consecrated Ilia Shiolashvili as the Bishop of the Diocese of Shemokmedi. At the same time, he was appointed as the patriarch’s chorbishop (in Georgia – the assistant of Catholicos). In 1967, he became the high priest of Tskhum-Abkhazia; In 1969, -was elevated to the rank of metropolitan.

Reverend Ilya’s work was very active both in the dioceses of Shemokmedi and Tskhum-Abkhazia. Deprived of spiritual sustenance, Georgian Christians found spiritual peace through his sermons and interaction with him. In 1963, he was appointed the rector of Mtskheta Theological Seminary, the only theological school at that time, where he worked until 1972. He participated in various international events (World Congress of Peace Supporters, Meetings of Clergy, etc.). Especially noteworthy was the participation of the Bishop Ilia of Shemokmedi in the meeting of the representatives of the world Orthodox churches on the island of Rhodes (1964). There, Reverend Ilia raised the issue of recognizing the autocephaly of the Orthodox Apostolic Church of Georgia internationally. The fact was that, although the autocephaly of the Georgian Church was declared restored on March 12 (25), 1917, none of the Christian states recognized it. The Russian Church recognized the independence of the Georgian Church only in 1943. Internationally, neither the churches of Antioch, Jerusalem nor Alexandria recognized the autocephaly of the Georgian Church. On behalf of the Orthodox Apostolic Church of Georgia, Ilia Shiolashvili, having justified the legality of autocephaly, sharply posed the question of the need for international recognition.

As the presented scientific evidence failed to work, Reverend Ilia resorted to extreme measures and left the meeting as a sign of protest. This caused a great uproar. If for the Ecumenical Patriarchate the Bishop’s protest was thought-provoking, for the other side (we mean the various bodies of the state at that time) this action became the subject of “negative” assessment. The fact is that when Patriarch Ephraim II died in 1972, the question of electing a new Catholicos patriarch immediately arose. According to the general opinion of the parishioners, the Holy Synod, and the clergy in general, the only candidate was Metropolitan Ilia Shiolashvili, already recognized in the country, popular in the society, deeply learned, and quite experienced for his age of 39. It should also be said that the candidacy of Ilia Shiolashvili for the throne of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia was unanimously accepted by the country’s authorities (according to the rules, the government is informed when making such a decision). Here something unexpected happened. Ilia Shiolashvili’s candidacy was disapproved by the Department of Religious Affairs of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union, and in particular, the commissioner. Ilia Shiolashvili’s protest at the Rhodes meeting was named as the reason for the disapproval. At that time, it became impossible to overcome this obstacle, and the election of Metropolitan Ilia Shiolashvili as Catholicos-Patriarch was postponed for several years.

On December 25, 1977, as mentioned, his Holiness and Beatitude Ilia Shilolashvili was enthroned on the holy throne of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia. A broader field and better means appeared for the execution of new works started by him. 44-year-old Ilia II began his new activity with great energy. All the work done by him has been based on his boundless love for his motherland. His work program was from the beginning inspired by his deep patriotic feelings.  Ilia II reminds us of his ancestor, fellow countryman – resident of Khevi Lelth Ghunia, on whose bosom was written his dream: “to be the lords to ourselves”. Ilya II not only comes from the same land but also shares his dream and carries the same pain in his heart.

Immediately after the patriarch’s enthronement, his eyes turned to the whole of Georgia, spiritual pains worn by the nation for a long time. Ilya II paid attention to the growth of the congregation and manages to attract to the church whole sections of the population, including the youth. The first-order task was frequent, systematic preaching of sermons. In addition to services, special sermons were held in Sioni Cathedral. At the patriarch’s request, psalms were read continuously in all churches throughout Georgia; Important measures were taken to publish religious literature; The printing of the Catholicos-Patriarch’s Christmas and Easter epistles began; The calendar of the Church of Georgia came out in several types (extensive, short). As a result of the great efforts of Ilia II, the magazines were founded and published: “Jvari Vazisa”, “Theological Collection”, “Patriarchate of Georgia”, “News of the Patriarchate”, and Madli newspaper. The books of the Old and New Testaments, the Divine law, were published. An important event was the publication of the Bible in the modern Georgian language with the blessing of the patriarch. The critically established text of the psalms of King David the Psalmist, commentaries of Saint Basil the Great, the theology of psalms and hagiography, general church history, liturgical texts, prayers, hymns, etc. have been published several times.

Special mention should be made of the two-volume edition of the epistles, sermons, and speeches by the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia, His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia the Second (1997).

These are deeply scientific, important historical, and life writings. Each epistle, speech, or sermon is an independent scientific work, in which the spirit of a high-level theologian, a wise statesman, and a high priest in love with the nation shows.

Under the direct leadership of Ilia II, the Mission and Evangelization Department, the Training Committee, and the publishing department of the Patriarchate, the public relations service, the “International Center for Christian Research” at the Georgian Orthodox Church were set up. The youth center created at the Patriarchate, functioning in the Holy Trinity Cathedral and holding many interesting events, is of great importance.

The steps taken by Ilia II for the improvement of international relations should be specially noted.

His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II has an active relationship with the leaders of various religious denominations. In this regard, it is worth noting the cordial attitude of the head of the Caucasian Muslim Division, Sheikh Ul Islam Allah Shukur Pasha Zade, towards the head of the Orthodox Church of Georgia. He often visits the patriarch with his family and considers him his spiritual father.

Pope Francis said during his visit to Georgia in September 2016: “Two things surprised me about Georgia. The first is Georgia itself. I could not even imagine such a great culture, such a great faith, and such a great Christianity. These are people of faith. , people of ancient Christian culture, the homeland of so many martyrs; And I discovered what I did not know – the deep roots from which the Georgian faith originates. The second miracle is the Patriarch. This is a man of God. I was shocked by this man. After each meeting with him, my heart was filled with excitement and I felt that I had met a man of God. Yes, exactly the man of God.

The words of Archimandrite Ephraim of Vatoped are indicative: “During the ministry of His Holiness Patriarch (Ilia II.-R.M.) Georgia has risen many steps higher in spiritual life. His Holiness the Patriarch is the only one among all Orthodox states that enjoys such support from the people… The Patriarch is also the guarantor of the balance of political life.”

The fact that in May 2022 the choir of the Tbilisi Trinity Cathedral, founded by the Patriarch, performed ancient Georgian church chants, as well as chants written by the Patriarch, live in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican, in the presence of numerous diplomats, can be considered world recognition of the Georgian Church and its leadership. In St. Peter’s Basilica, the choir sang “Ave Maria” by Ilia II and “You are the vineyard”.

The establishment of the Day of Georgia as the inheritance of the Mother of God is connected with the name of the patriarch. Based on this, in 2019, the Parliament of Georgia decided that May 12, which is also the day of memory of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called, should also be set as the day of the consecration of Georgia to the Most Holy Theotokos.

The active struggle of Ilia II for the restoration of autocephaly has borne fruit: the Orthodox Patriarchates are convinced that the Georgian Church is true to its traditions and will be able to take its rightful place in the global Orthodox world.

On March 4, 1990, Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I of Constantinople presented His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, with a patriarchal letter confirming the autocephaly of the Georgian Church.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized the Holy Georgian Church with the same structure and organization as since ancient times.

Thus, the Georgian Church gained real autocephaly precisely as a result of the selfless struggle of Ilia II.

The name of Ilia II is associated with the mass restoration and construction of churches in Georgia. Destroyed churches were rebuilt in different parts of the country; The cross returned to churches deprived of the cross; Frescoes were repainted in churches. The Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia is directly involved in the construction of the temple.

In 2004, the construction of the majestic Holy Trinity Cathedral was completed, the likes of which are few even in the world. In this magnificent building, Georgian society recognized the portrait of the country – Georgia. Our patriarch also thinks so. We should also mention the construction of another unique temple, named after the icon of the Mother of God of Iberia. All of Georgia participated in the construction of this temple. By the way, this temple is also known as the second portrait of the country of the work of the patriarch. It is no coincidence that with the increase in the number of churches, the number of clergies also increased. Monastic life everywhere revived and became intense. The number of dioceses has increased significantly.

Ilia II is constantly focused on the problems of education and upbringing, he seeks to restore the connection between faith and science. He repeatedly emphasizes that true science must be imbued with the Christian faith. The Tbilisi Theological Academy was founded in 1988 by the direct efforts of the Patriarch. The Gelati Academy of Sciences has been established and is actively functioning.

His Holiness and Beatitude proposed to develop a school course from the first to the fifth grade for teaching deep thinking, which would use the discoveries of theology, logic, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology (the material to be illustrated with specific examples, in accordance with the age).

Under the leadership of Ilia II, certain relations have recently been established between the Apostolic Church of Georgia, higher educational institutions, the Academy of Sciences, and other scientific and cultural centers.

The patriarch pays a lot of attention to high school and students. For many years, every first of September, Ilia II visited Tbilisi University, greeted and warmly congratulated students on the start of their studies.

With the blessing of Ilia II, several theological schools, gymnasiums, and Sunday schools were opened in the country. Each statement of the patriarch, and each of his thoughts clearly shows that he is with his people, thinks about them, and cares about them. A striking example of this is that in the most difficult moments on April 9, 1989, Ilia II was with his people. He informed the flock of the impending danger and called them to the only true path – to pray in the Kashveti church. The result of ignoring this wise advice was the tragedy of April 9th.

During the events of December 1991, the patriarch tried in every possible way to reconcile the conflicting parties. The steps he took were difficult but correct. He knows well that the path of Christ is narrow and thorny, but it is the only saving one. It’s a crucifixion, but it’s also a resurrection.

With his relentless work, Ilia II was able to convert the society, which had separated from the Georgian Church, spiritually degraded due to unbelief, back to Christianity. The greatest role was played by the personality of Ilia II, his morality.

On October 7, 2002, the Grand Academic Council of Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University elected His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, as their honorary doctor. It was gratitude to the Church of Georgia as a whole (Tbilisi University was consecrated on an opening day, January 26, 1918, by Catholicos-Patriarch Kirion, and then a solemn paraklesis was performed in the university church), as well as recognition of the great contribution of Ilia II to the education system, his special relations with Tbilisi University.

On March 11, 2005, His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, was elected an honorary academician by the General Assembly of the National Academy of Sciences of Georgia.

It should be especially noted that over the past thirty years, outstanding, worthy Georgian patriots have been canonized.

The restoration and renewal of Georgian church hymns sung during divine services are directly related to the name of the Patriarch. A close-knit choir of singers was created, which has been performing Georgian church chants with great success for almost 40 years. Surprisingly, it is a fact that among the newly created Georgian hymns, the chants created by Ilia II stand out for their melodiousness and touching tenderness.

Ilia II is distinguished by his artistic talent. Its range cannot be limited to iconography alone. He is an artist of great scale. You cannot help but feel awe when you see the icon of the Holy Trinity painted by the patriarch. We can say that this is an important shrine of the Holy Trinity Cathedral. The frescoes of Queen Tamara, made by Ilia II in the Didube church, the Mother of God in the Patriarchal residence of Manglisi, Vakhtang Gorgasali in the Rustavi Church, Queen Tamar and Solomon the Wise in the Patriarchal residence of Tbilisi and many others are executed with great skill. Along with his example, the patriarch did not disregard the restoration and development of the traditions of Georgian church painting (monumental painting). It was with the help and blessing of Ilia II that a school of icon painters was created at the Tbilisi Theological Academy, which is successfully operating. At the initiative of Ilia II, an architectural center was created in the patriarchate. This is a very important institution. Functionally, this is the only one who controls the church dogmas and the protection of the canons in painting and architecture.

The authority and popularity of Ilia II on an international scale is immeasurable. His Holiness has participated in many international events. He was elected President of the World Council of Churches from 1978 to 1983. He practically led the jubilee service on the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’ in Moscow, for which he is especially revered not only by Russian priests but also by parishioners.

The call of the Patriarch of Georgia is – “We have to realize what is good and what is evil, which path leads to life and which leads to death… Salvation is only in the unity of man and God” (Christmas Epistle of His Holiness and Beatitude, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II, 1998-1999, Christmas). Ilia II believes that it is necessary to be elevated to love. He often refers to the Holy Scriptures: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance (First to the Corinthians, 13, 4-7).

If we obtain such grace, the Holy Father explains, we will become worthy of being God’s sons.

The great merit of the Patriarch of Georgia and his contribution to the growth and expansion of Georgian Orthodoxy led to the constitutional agreement between the state and the church (concordat) signed in 2002, which regulated the relationship between the state and the church at the level of legislation.

Ilia II is the true shepherd of Christian Georgia. He is infinitely in love with his nation, and country, he always thinks about it and prays for it. At every prayer, the Patriarch begs the Lord for Georgia and the Georgian nation – he asks for the salvation of the country and the longevity of the people. Breathtakingly impressive is the prayer performed by His Holiness on Mount Sinai, “the holy summit”, i.e. on Mount Moses. This summit is among the rocks at an altitude of 2300 meters above sea level. It was here that the Lord appeared to Moses, who had been fasting for forty days and handed over the Ten Commandments engraved on two tablets. It was this mountain that the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia climbed; Barefoot he climbed four thousand high steps carved into the rock. This is how he approached the “holy summit”. His Holiness thanked the Lord… for giving the Georgian people language and faith; he prayed to Lord for our church, the entire Georgian nation, especially the youth, children, mothers in labor, etc. Sh. “Such grace and power that I felt here, I have not experienced anywhere in my life,” the Most Holy and Blessed said later. It can be said without exaggeration that the Patriarch of Georgia’s “Prayer on the Holy Mount” is a magnificent example of epistolary and eloquent art.

The people’s boundless love for the patriarch is expressed in their desire for Ilya II to live long. The government took into account the people’s love and awarded him with the first and highest award of the state, the Order of Davit Agmashenebeli  (David the Builder). His Holiness received this award for his many years of dedicated work, for the service of God and the nation, for the great contribution he made to the independence and revival of the Georgian Orthodox Church; For the personal merits rendered in the struggle for the spiritual and physical survival of the Georgian nation, the construction of statehood and the consolidation of the country. Significantly, Ilia II is still the only person who has been awarded the highest award. The Patriarch was awarded the Order of the Holy King, Vakhtang Gorgasali. The nation believed Ilia II to be a true spiritual father and considered him a successor of the secular work of Ilia Chavchavadze.

If in the late19th century, Georgia had the great Ilia, a staunch fighter for language, fatherland, and faith; In the early 20th century, there was the great Ivane Javakhishvili, who showed the nation an example of boundless love for the fatherland with dedicated work; In the late decades of the last century and the beginning of the 21st century, there is Ilia the Second, who continued the path of Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivane Javakhishvili with honor, upholding with his strong shoulders the works of his great ancestors; He is the person who is not afraid of the heavy burden, is a hope for the nation, who spare no effort for his flock, radiates kindness and fills their hearts with warmth.

Georgia is the land allotted to the Mother of God. Christianity was spread here by the holy apostles and St. Equal-to-the-Apostles Nino. For 2000 years, the grace of Christ has been crowning the Georgian people. The long-suffering country of Georgia is proud of its heroic past, victories, and heroes. Reverence and love for the past set high standards for the present and future. It is today and tomorrow that the country must rise and move forward.

With respect for the past, concern for the present, and faith in the future, the Georgian Church leads the people, led by a man distinguished by God, who has been a monk for more than 70 years, and a Catholicos-Patriarch for 45 years, and who for all 90 years of his life carried love for Christ… The great shepherd of the Georgian people, His Holiness, and Beatitude Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia and Archbishop of Mtskheta-Tbilisi. I pray the Lord grants longevity to our great patriarch.