Yesterday, on the feast of the Prophet Elias, the nation of Georgia celebrated the saint's day of Patriarch Ilia II, who is currently eighty-eight years old, and the most respected public figure within the nation despite recent attempts to discredit the Church itself after the July 5 anti-LGBTQ demonstrations. On this day, various faithful from the Georgian Orthodox Church ranging from laymen to senior clergy, gathered at the Patriarch’s residence to congratulate His Holiness on his Saint's Day. To those gathered at the residence Patriarch Ilia II said the following:
“I am happy that you are here today. May the prayers and blessings of St. Elias the Prophet and St. Ilia the Righteous be with all of you. God is love. There is one poem about love which says that “A church without love becomes empty.” I ask our Lord to not empty the temple of love within each one of us. God bless you all. God is with us!”
In response to this, Metropolitan Shio of Senaki and Chkrhorotsku said the following to Patriarch Ilia:
“Today the Orthodox Church commemorates two great saints. The Prophet Elijah and Ilia the Righteous (Chavchavadze). Today we are celebrating your saint’s day. On behalf of the Holy Synod priests, clergy, nuns, and parishioners, allow me to cordially congratulate you on this wonderful day. Let God bless you and all of Georgia with the prayers of these saints. In addition to this, the Metropolitan noted further (to summarize the long statement) also the feast day of St. Ilia Chavchavadze, who is one of the most revered modern Georgian national heroes, and who was responsible for the revival of Georgian culture in the twentieth century. A summary of the life of this “Father of the Nation,” who also was a great philosopher, writer, and historian, can be read here.
Furthermore, the Metropolitan remarked how Patriarch Ilia II follows the example of his patron saint (the Prophet Elias) in the building of souls through the virtues of mercy, love, and patience. Thanks to these virtues, Patriarch Ilia II has saved the country on multiple occasions and led the nation spiritually in times of extreme hardship. For forty-four years, Patriarch Ilia II has carried a heavy cross in leading the Church to, like the Prophet Elias, break multiple false ideologies and spiritual idols. These false ideologies, ranging from communism to liberalism that separated man from God, have been overthrown in part because of the prayers and wise leadership of the Patriarch.
To give a proper background for these remarks from Metropolitan Shio, during the Soviet era, in 1988, there were only 180 priests, forty monks, and fifteen nuns for the faithful, who were variously estimated as being from one to three million. In addition to this, just 200 churches, one seminary, three convents, and four monasteries were present in the nation of Georgia at the end of the Soviet era. The Church has since been revived, and currently, there are about 2,000 active churches and monasteries in Georgia and up to 3,000 clergy and monastics in a nation the size of West Virginia with a population of just three million. These achievements were achieved despite the economic collapse of the 1990s and the effects of globalization in the twenty-first century. In addition to this, the Patriarch has celebrated his sixty-fourth baptism with another 1,600 children becoming the godchildren of the Patriarch, with a total of 43,000 now in a nation of just 3.5 million. 54 years ago, during the Soviet regime, such achievements would have been thought to be impossible.
The Metropolitan continued his remarks by mentioning the current challenges facing the Georgian nation in a new form of idolatry created from a false notion of freedom based upon the sins of the flesh, slander, and blasphemy against God. Only through spiritual fortitude, great faith, and patriotism can this new form of idolatry be defeated like the Church has done before with communism and numerous other ideologies. According to the Metropolitan, it was his hope that the prayers of Patriarch II and the help of the Prophet Elias will bring about the eventual defeat of this ideology. He ended his speech by underscoring how the life of Patriarch Ilia II is an inspiration to all of the nation, and he wished Patriarch Ilia many more blessed years.
The full official announcement from the Patriarchate can be read here.