Address of His Holiness and Beatitude,
Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II on the Occasion of the Visit of His Holiness Pope of Rome Francis to
Your Holiness, Pope Francis,
Your Excellency, Mr. Prime Minister,
Distinguished Authorities and Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We once again wholeheartedly greet you in the most ancient and important cathedral of the Church of Georgia Svetitskhoveli. This cathedral bears a special significance since it is a place of outstanding sanctities: the mantle of Saint Elijah the Prophet is here and the greatest of sanctities of the world – the Tunic of our Lord Jesus Christ is in this cathedral, it was committed to the earth with one of the earliest saints, Sidonia.
Saint Sidonia belonged to a remarkable family of Georgian Jews: her brother Eliezer brought the Tunic to Georgia. Here, in the town of Mtskheta, their mother, devastated by the Saviour’s sufferings, on the day of His Crucifixion on Great Friday, died, and after her death, the Church of Georgia consecrated her also as a saint.
We are in the cathedral where down from the ancient times chrism has been sanctified, where kings of Georgia were crowned, and where catholicos-patriarchs were enthroned, and to this day, they’ve been enthroned in this cathedral. This is also the place of the entombment of kings and foremost hierarchs.
The very first church in this place was built in the 4th century, and it was reconstructed into this magnificent temple in the 11th century. The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is dedicated to the commemoration of the Twelve Apostles.
Mtskheta was the ancient capital of Georgia and to this day it has maintained the status of the spiritual centre of the country. The town and its vicinity were constructed in such a shape that it leaves an impression of another Jerusalem: Golgotha, Bethany, Gethsemane, Tabor, Eleon and other sacred places are all around this place.
Torrents of blood and tears have been shed here as Georgia was constantly the arena of invasions; however, this small oasis of Christianity has survived having maintained its identity, but at the cost of the heaviest sacrifice.
As our illustrious writer and statesman, now canonized as Saint Ilia the Righteous writes,
Christ accepted the Crucifixion for our sake and so also, Georgia accepted her Crucifixion for the sake of Christ. Here, I will recall the event of the 13th century to illustrate this: 100 000 of the residents of Tbilisi were beheaded for having refused to renounce the Faith and tread on the icons of the Saviour and of the Mother of God, placed on the bridge in the vicinity of the Sioni Cathedral.
Yes, our strength was and still is in fervent prayer and devoted ministry to the True God!
But what is the reason for our weakness? – The lack of both of these.
I remember the admonition of the Holy Fathers of old times: The prayer of the righteous can change the very order of nature and is a shield which steadfastly defends from corporeal and incorporeal enemies; besides this, such prayer stops the right hand of the Almighty God, lifted up for the punishment of the sinful.
The true faith, humility, contrition and charity make up the shortest way towards salvation. I think, today Humankind, including us, is deficient in all of this. But God’s mercy is boundless. He waits for every step, made towards Him by us. The most important thing is to show to the Lord the heart which in righteousness judges others, the contrite heart, the heart of a prayer; when this is achieved, the reality will be different. Therefore, I, always and now also, implore the Creator that He may grant all of us His grace to cognize our own selves, to be cleansed and walk in the path of the Truth. May God’s will unify Christians on the foundation of the true faith, Amen!