Happy Birthday, Your Holiness! The article from the Georgian government’s media outlet Agenda.ge is worth reading in its entirety, as it provides a concise summary of Patriarch Ilia’s career, the state of the Church in the Soviet era and its current state.
Long regarded as the most trusted and popular identity in the country, he is particularly respected for his activities in the last decades of the Soviet era. Having been appointed as Patriarch in 1977 with KGB acquiescence, who mistakenly assumed he would be a safe pair of hands to protect USSR imperial interests, he ascertained that Georgian public sentiment was overwhelmingly in favour of a sovereign Georgian state independent of the USSR, and threw his support behind this cause. His address to the crowd in front of Georgia’s parliament on April 9, 1989 , immediately prior to the massacre of civilians by Soviet troops armed with shovels, is very well known here:
The tenfold increase in operating churches and monasteries, fifteen-fold increase in serving clergy, temples overflowing with parishioners every weekend, and widespread attraction of Church life for Georgia’s youth are remarkable achievements under Patriarch Ilia’s stewardship of the Church in Georgia. May God grant him many years to come.
Today the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II turned 83. He has lead the spiritual life of the Orthodox Georgian parish for 38 years……
……. The Prime Minister of Georgia, the President and the United States’ Ambassador to Georgia released special congratulations today for Ilia II…..
…The Patriarch had to take the responsibility of being a Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia in a very hard period, when Christianity was suffering significant suppression from the Soviet Union time ideology.
Ilia II was born as Irakli Ghudushauri-Shiolashvili in Vladikavkaz, currently Russia’s North Ossetia.
…..He is a descendant of the influential eastern Georgian mountainous clan with family ties with the former royal dynasty of Georgia – Bagrationi.
In 1967 he was consecrated as the bishop of Tskhumi and Abkhazeti in west, currently occupied region, and elevated to the rank of metropolitan in 1969.
After the death of the Patriarch David V, he was elected the new Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia on December 25, 1977.
In the new position Ilia II initiated a range of reforms, enabling the Georgian Orthodox Church to largely regain its former influence and prestige by the late 1980s.
In 1988 there were only 180 priests, 40 monks, and 15 nuns for the faithful, who were variously estimated as being from one to three million.
There were 200 churches, one seminary, three convents, and four monasteries. During the last years of the Soviet Union, Ilia II was actively involved in Georgia’s social life…..
….Currently there are about 2,000 acting churches and monasteries in Georgia and up to 3,000 spirituals (parish clergy and monastics).