Staunton, December 30 – Over the course of the last year, Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov continued to be identified as spiritual advisor to Vladimir Putin, was identified as a competitor to Patriarch Kirill and organizer of the Kirill Serebrennikov case, and now appears to have made himself into “a Sechin in priestly robes,” according to Zoya Svetova.
In a 5700-word article, the journalist explores how this has come about and what role the man she calls “the main ideologue of reaction” may play not only next year but further into the future on the basis of an interview with the Bishop as well as with many of those who know him (mbk.media/sences/sechin-v-ryase-kak-tixon-shevkunov-stal-glavnym-ideologom-rossijskoj-reakcii/).
At first, he refused but when Svetova said she wanted to talk about her mother, religious writer Zoya Krakhmalnikov, who in 1983 was imprisoned and exiled for the publication of her collection of religious writings in the West, he agreed. The two spoke ten minutes about Zoya and an hour about everything else. (For the interview, see svoboda.org/a/28851429.html.)
According to Svetova, Shevkunov grew up without a father and then after finishing school in 1977 entered a training program to be a film maker. He visited various religious groups and was attracted to Orthodoxy. He joined and was taken on by the Patriarchate to help with making films for the millennium of Russian Orthodoxy in 1988.
From his earliest years, friends recall that he had close relations with and may even have been recruited by the KGB. In 1990, he published an article in Sovetskaya Rossiya arguing that “a democratic state will always try to weaken the most influential Church in the country by applying the ancient principle of ‘divide and rule.’”
In August 1991 at the time of the coup, he became a hieromonk and in November 1993, Patriarch Aleksii put Shevkunov in charge of the Sretensky monastery at the Lubyanka because he and the organs wanted someone each side felt comfortable with. At that time, the new priest was known as a passionate monarchist, his acquaintances recall.
Shevkunov began talking about Putin when the latter was named prime minister and the rumors that the two were close by virtue of background and views began to spread. In 2003, Shevkunov rather than the patriarch accompanied the Russian president to the US and helped him promote the reunion of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and Moscow.
Since then Shevkunov has become ever more important. He now is in charge of the commission investigating the murder of the Imperial Family, where he has attracted attention by talking about the possibility that the murders were some kind of Satanic “ritual.” He has confessed Putin and he oversaw the building of a church in Putin’s Novo-Ogaryevo residence.
One of his followers, Lina Starostina, recalls that “in one of his homilies, Father Tikhon said that finally the Lord had given Russia a believer as president and now it can build an Orthodox state. I understand now that his goal was an Orthodox Taliban, an Orthodox empire” because the churchman has always been “a man of ideas.”
Like many prominent church leaders, Shevkunov has been actively involved in economic affairs as well as publishing. Hi book, “Unholy Saints,” has gone through 14 editions totally millions of copies and earned him enormous sums. He says he has donated all of the earnings to the construction of churches.
Svetova spoke with many experts on the church about Shevkunov. Sergey Pugachev said that the bishop is now “afraid of his own shadow” and that he believes that “the Westernizers wanat to destroy our country … In general, he is like Igor Sechin, only in priestly robes.” And he can be “very harsh” in dealing with those he views as below them or as his enemies.
Journalist Sergey Chaplin says that Shevkunov has become “the main interpreter of Russian history” for the powers that be. Nikolay Mitrokhin, a researcher on Orthodoxy, points out that Shevkunov did not become bishop when one would have expected because many in the church still don’t like those with ties in the organs.
But the FSB people “like to have their own priest” and have helped him when they can, the church researcher says.
Aleksandr Soldatov, the editor of Credo.ru, agrees and suggests that Shevkunov was consecrated bishop only on the insistence of the Presidential Administration. He sees a great future for Shevkunov even though according to the rules of the church, the bishop hasn’t played all the roles a patriarch is supposed to have.
But “if it is necessary, the rules can be rewritten,” he says.
One priest speaking on conditions of anonymity says that “Shevkunov symbolizes the conservative wing in the ROC. He is a pragmatist and a romantic at one and the same time. His chief idea is Russia as an Orthodox country, and chekists who have joined the church are good Chekists.”
“He really loves the Church more than he loves Christ, and this is dangerous.” If Shevkunov is forced to make a choice, there is little question as to which side he’ll come down on. Another churchman, Father Iosif Kiperman shares that view and sees Shevkunov as part and parcel of a larger chekist project.
“The chekists from the very beginning thought aobut building a Soviet church in order that parishioners would become Soviet people. They wanted to leave the external form of the church as it was but change everything inside. Tikhon [Shevkunov] is one of these Soviet people” and he’s ready to realize this “last idea” of the devil.