December 23, 1977 will be written in golden letters in the centuries-old history of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Georgia. On this day, the XII Church Council elected Metropolitan of Tskhum-Abkhazeti Ilia, as the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Archbishop of Mtskheta and Tbilisi. His enthronement took place on December 25 in Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. In the history of the Georgian Apostolic Church in the 19th and 20th centuries, there were two cases when Svetitskhoveli Cathedral was so full of people that no more room was left there for more to be admitted. The first of the two was March 12, 1917 - the day of the restoration of autocephaly to the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Georgia, the other was December 25 1977, when the 44-year-old Metropolitan of Tskhum-Abkhazeti Ilia (Shiolashvili), who was named Ilia II, was enthroned on the patriarchal throne. On that historic day at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the newly elected young foremost hierarch of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Georgia addressed his people with these words: “God’s Providence is infinitely miraculous, and His mercy knows not any bounds. Truly, this Providence and mercy put my humility before you as the Father of the Apostolic Church of Georgia. I am aware of the most difficult and, at the same time, honorable duty that the Almighty God has placed upon me today, under the arches of this holy temple of God. I bow my knees before His power and worship His name arrayed with everlasting light. I bow my head before the Church of Georgia and its parish - the Georgian nation, which my strength and my mind must serve with all my trust.”
The foremost hierarch of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Georgia had to inherit the legacy, which at that time was the most devastated: In the 1920s and 1960s, the atheist rule cut off the people from the Church, which led to a catastrophic decrease of parishioners and functioning churches and monasteries. The number of functioning churches and clergy did not exceed 70, there were only 15 dioceses. The Church did not have its journal, publishing house, radio or television, the center of theological higher education. The issue of the recognition and diptych of the historical autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Georgia was unresolved. The Orthodox Church of Georgia did not have intensive relations with the other local Orthodox Churches. The Georgian intelligentsia was completely alienated from the Church. The process of revival began with the great efforts of His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia. Despite the resistance of the existing atheist government, dioceses were revived, new priests were ordained, closed churches and monasteries were opened, many young people joined the newly opened monasteries, the number of monks increased rapidly, diocesan houses, new cathedrals were built. As of 2020, the 49 dioceses of the Georgian Orthodox Church have 44 hierarchs, more than 2,000 functioning churches and monasteries and more than 2,100 clergy.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of the borders, at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, more than a million citizens left Georgia for foreign countries. With the blessing of the Catholicos-Patriarch, Georgian parishes of Germany and Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands, Western Europe, North America and Canada were established for the purpose to help them to maintain a strong connection with their homeland, the Mother Church and national roots. The parishes of Lazeti were added to the Diocese of Batumi, that of Tao-Klarjeti joined the Akhaltsikhe Diocese, the Lore-Tashiri parish became part of the Dmanisi Diocese as the parish of Kari became that of Akhalkalaki and Kumurdo, the Hereti parish were added to the Dedoplistskaro Diocese. Today, parochial schools, study circles of Georgian folk songs and dance and church singing function with Georgian churches in these parishes. Our compatriots living temporarily abroad are the subject of special concern of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia. An expression of this care was numerous meetings that the Catholicos-Patriarch had with the Georgians living in European and American countries, Turkey, the Russian Federation, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The words which he addressed with the Georgians living in Turkey were particularly impressive: “With special love and fervent feeling I address you, our brothers, living outside our homeland, I address you, Muslims and Christians. We are one in blood and flesh, despite our different religious beliefs. Remember that your ancestors are buried in the sacred land of Georgia. Do not forget who you are, the land you come from, remember the God-blessed Georgian language and Georgian traditions blessed throughout centuries. We always remember you and pray night and day for you and for the unification of our nation.” In a modern, conflicting world, globalization is putting a small number of nations to a trial. According to His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, “If a person, a people, a state does not have the right religious and national ideology, liberalism will definitely work in favor of the enemies and will completely destroy the country internally. It drives the society towards pseudo-democracy and false freedom, devalues national values, and violates its form and essence. Therefore, a Georgian person, along with “language, homeland and faith” must firmly imprint in his mind “God, homeland and human being.”
Owing to the great efforts of the foremost hierarch of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Georgia, we successfully accomplished the process of difficult negotiations on the recognition of the historical autocephaly of the Church of Georgia, which had lasted for many years with the World Patriarchate of Constantinople.
On March 4, 1990, His All Holiness, Dimitrios signed two charters.
1. “A Charter of the Recognition and Confirmation of the Autocephaly of the Most Holy Orthodox Church of Georgia”.
2. “A Patriarchal Synodic Decree on the Recognition and Bestowal of the Patriarchal Title upon the Foremost Hierarch of the Most Holy Church of Georgia”. By the decree of the Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios: “The Holy Orthodox Church of Georgia, as autocephalous and independent, included in the system of Orthodox Churches and a self-governing institution, be given a brotherly consent and recognition by our Holy Church of Constantinople that the Holy Church of Georgia is honoured with patriarchal dignity and place.” As his title, “Archbishop of Mtskheta and Tbilisi and Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia” was mentioned in the ancient chronicles and other ecclesiastical sources, so also henceforth, be it mentioned in Orthodox Divine and Sacred decrees.” “At present, we have the documents that Georgia has been waiting for 1500 years, they are documents of such significance that, with God’s blessing, no one will ever be able to overstep the autocephaly of the Georgian Church,” - said His Holiness and Beatitude, Ilia II. The revival of theological education is related to the work of the Catholicos-Patriarch. Mtskheta Theological Seminary could no longer respond to the challenges, which our Church had to face. In 1988, Tbilisi Theological Academy was opened in Tbilisi where, as he himself said, “not only the clergy should be educated and trained for their future ministry, but also this school should become a center of research which both clergymen and scholars will be engaged in. We will have contacts with both higher educational institutions and Orthodox and Christian higher educational centers in general.” Today, Tbilisi Theological Academy of the Patriarchate of Georgia is a distinguished center of higher theological education. Through the efforts of the Catholicos-Patriarch, in 2013 the Academy gained the right to establish the Doctoral Dissertation Council in the field of theology, a doctoral program in theology was compiled, and the defense of the first doctoral dissertation took place. In 1995, Gelati Theological Academy was restored, Gelati Academy of Sciences was established. Theological seminaries were established in Akhaltsikhe, Nekresi, Poti, Batumi, Gori, Tsageri, Gremi. With the blessing of the Catholicos-Patriarch, St. Giorgi the Athonite Higher School of Church Singing was founded which functions at the Patriarchate of Georgia. Also, Euthymius the Man of God Educational Professional collage, Akhalkalaki St. Zosimius of Kumurdo Public College, St. Nino Theological School of Akhalkalaki, as well as secular universities: St. Andrew the First-Called Georgian University, St. Queen Tamar University, the Khichauri St. Abuseridze of Tbeti University in Khulo, “New Georgia” University in Poti were estsblished. Parochial schools were founded, publishing activities reached a new height. With the blessing of the Catholicos-Patriarch, a number of significant works were published, among them are: the complete Bible in Modern Georgian, the first volume of the multilingual Bible (Bible Polyglota), a number of dogmatic-liturgical monuments of great value. These publications have significantly raised the level of spiritual education of the Georgian nation.
By the order of His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, of July 10 2009, a Standing Commission for the study of the actual History of Georgia was established (the head of the Commission - Metropolitan Anania Japaridze). The Commission published a number of works on the problems of the history of Georgia and the history of the Church of Georgia in 2009-2020, according to which the arguments of the so called “Theory of Georgianization” were negated. Through the Catholicos-Patriarch’s efforts, the state recognized the historically established legal status of the Orthodox Church of Georgia in the constitutional treaty signed between the Church and the state on October 14, 2002. The relationship between the state and the Church was regulated at the legal level. The role of the Orthodox Church of Georgia is special in the rise of the national liberation movement since the 1980s. On July 20, 1987, with the blessing of His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, the Holy Synod canonized the great Georgian writer and public figure Ilia Chavchavadze as saint and named him “St. Ilia the Righteous” for his special service to the Georgian nation and the Church of Georgia. The canonization of Ilia Chavchavadze is a recognition not only of his personality, but also of the great work and ideals, he has faithfully served throughout his life. On the personal initiative of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia and according to the decision of the Holy Synod, secular and ecclesiastical persons with special merits before the Georgian nation and the Church of Georgia were canonized as saints. The Orthodox Church of Georgia regained its historic mission. His Holiness says: “As a patriarch, first of all, I considered the unification of the nation and the Church as my main duty. The Church was almost cut off from the nation, especially from the government and intelligentsia. In order to rectify this situation, we contacted prominent representatives of the Georgian intelligentsia in all fields. Happily for us, they also showed great interest in the life of the Church. At that time, God’s grace was coming upon them, which is the cause of the birth of true faith.” The patriarch is the spiritual father of the nation. “To have people’s true and cordial love, you have to be chosen by God and arrayed with His grace. Your deeds should be guided by God and your way should be lighted with His loving kindness... Your Holiness, you have been bestowed with such a reward by the Most High God, and so unselfishly do the faithful Georgian people, the people of good heart and honesty, love you.” These words were addressed to His Holiness 40 years ago on the day of his coronation. Now, as 43 years have passed since his enthronement, it can be said with all confidence that: His Holiness and Beatitude, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II is not only an outstanding spiritual leader of the Georgian parish, the Orthodox world, but also of the modern era, in general. He has gained great authority all over the world with his multidimensional work. The foremost hierarch of the Orthodox Church of Georgia is highly appreciated by the leaders of various local Orthodox Churches, as well as by the political leaders of the world’s leading countries, and the ambassadors of foreign countries, accredited in Georgia. What does the patriarch mean in our time (and not only in our time)? The epoch that the Georgian nation is going through now is very difficult and dangerous ... It is full of opposition, disloyalty, lack of love... Great strength more support and prayer are needed. God’s mercy is boundless! The Saviour Himself teaches us: “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7: 7-11).
Today, the spiritual height of the Church of Georgia is outstanding, which is the result of the work of the Catholicos-Patriarch. This achievement of the Apostolic Church of Georgia is the greatest consolation and the strength bestowed by God upon all the people who belong to its bosom, as well as upon the entire Georgia.
Your Holiness and Beatitude, Rector of Tbilisi Theological Academy and Seminary, the Academic Council, professors, teachers and students, with great reverence, respect and gratitude, congratulate you on the 43rd anniversary of your enthronement, and wish you good health and many more years of life.