Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia celebrates on 25 December 2019 his 42nd enthronement anniversary. Ilia II, also transliterated as Ilya or Elijah (born January 4, 1933), is the current Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia and the spiritual leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
He is officially styled as Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, the Archbishop of Mtskheta-Tbilisi and Metropolitan Bishop of Bichvinta and Tskhum-Abkhazia, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II.
Ilia II was born as Irakli Ghudushauri-Shiolashvili in Vladikavkaz, Soviet Russia’s North Ossetia. His parents hailed from Georgia, particularly, the Kazbegi district; his father, Giorgi Shiolashvili, was from the village Sno, and his mother, Natalia Kobaidze, from the village Sioni. The Shiolashvili was an influential clan in the highlands of Khevi.
Irakli Ghudushauri graduated from the Moscow Theological Seminary and was ordained, under the name of Ilia, a hierodeacon in 1957 and hieromonk in 1959; he graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy in 1960 and returned to Georgia, where he was assigned to the Batumi Cathedral Church as a priest.
In 1961, he was promoted to hegumen and later to archimandrite. On August 26, 1963, he was chosen to be the bishop of Batumi and Shemokmedi and appointed a patriarchal vicar. From 1963 to 1972 he was also the first rector of the Mtskheta Theological Seminary – the only clerical school in Georgia at that time.
In 1967, Ilia was consecrated as the bishop of Tskhumi and Abkhazeti and elevated to the rank of metropolitan in 1969. After the death of the controversial Patriarch David V, he was elected the new Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia on December 25, 1977.
The new patriarch began a course of reforms, enabling the Georgian Orthodox Church, once suppressed by the Soviet ideology, largely regain its former influence and prestige by the late 1980s.
In 1988 there were 180 priests, 40 monks, and 15 nuns for a congregation 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, he was actively involved in Georgia’s social life.
The patriarch oversaw the publication of a linguistically updated, modern Georgian version of the Bible, which was printed in the Gorbachov-era.
From 1978 to 1983, Ilia II was co-president of the World Council of Churches (WCC), an ecumenical organization the Georgian Orthodox Church had joined with other Soviet churches in 1962.
In 2002, the then-president of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze and Ilia II signed a concordat whereby the Georgian Orthodox Church was granted a number of privileges, and holders of the office of the patriarch were given legal immunity.