Born Zurab Chanturia in Tsaalenjikha, a town in western Georgia, he was serving in a parish in Abkhazia when war broke out in 1992 over Tbilisi’s control of the region. The horrors and hardships of civil war that he witnessed while fleeing Sokhumi, Abkhazia’s central town, marked him for life.
He took his vows in Martkopi, a few kilometers outside Tbilisi, where the local monastery had been turned into a temporary shelter for all those working for the Georgian Orthodox Church in Abkhazia. When, in November 2000, he was ordained as a priest, a rusty, red train carriage outside the Nikozi monastery became his new home.
“The monastery was in bad shape. The abandoned carriage in the garden was pretty much all that belonged to the eparchy,” he recalls. “It was the only place for relaxing. After mass in the train carriage, we served tea and used to read books inside.”
Year by year, brick by brick, the monastery was reborn and so was the village. After a difficult start, youngsters from both Nikozi and surrounding villages came to help out, bringing new life to this community near conflict-ridden South Ossetia. Father Isaiah added his own touch.
A former aspiring animator and student of award-winning Georgian film and theater director Gela Kandelaki, he built an animation studio to teach young people animation,reading and art.
When war with Russia over South Ossetia broke out in August 2008, the village found itself on the frontline. Explosives hit the monastery’s residence; altogether, Father Isaiah counted 32 rockets that fell into the church area. No one was injured, though, and somehow the community grew stronger.
“War isn’t desirable or welcome, but, as we have lived through it, now I can’t imagine any different way. During the war, we all become relatives. We were friends from the front and apparently this matters very much,” he explains.
Nuns from Nikozi were sent to the monastery in Akhalgori, then under Tbilisi’s control. Father Isaiah says he stayed with a newly arrived priest, Father Antoni Chakvetadze, in Nikozi “and watched the houses burning.”