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Meet Bishop Tikhon, Vladimir Putin's rumored confessor

Meduza
Mikhail Mettsel / TASS / Vida Press

On November 15, the independent television station Dozhd released a documentary film by Sergey Erzhenkov and Vladislav Pushkarev titled “Confessor.” The movie is about Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov, whom multiple press reports have identified as Vladimir Putin’s personal confessor. For those who haven’t managed to watch the 40-minute film (perhaps because it’s behind Dozhd’s paywall), Meduza offers the following summary.

Georgy Shevkunov graduated from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography, but immediately after defending his thesis he set out for the Pskov-Caves Monastery, where he adopted the name Tikhon in honor of Patriarch Tikhon. He ultimately took his vows at the Donskoy Monastery, where Patriarch Tikhon was buried. On November 18, 1991, on the 74th anniversary of Tikhon’s enthronement, a fire damaged much of the monastery. Shevkunov blamed the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, a semi-autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church, saying he’d recently received a threatening telegram from former Bishop of San Francisco and West America Vasily Rodzianko that read, “Soon you’ll meet Tikhon.” After the fire, excavations unearthed Patriarch Tikhon’s relics. “When I lifted the lid on the coffin,” Shevkunov later said, “I boldly, Lord forgive me, put out my hand and with a blessing just grabbed the man by the hand and shoulder, his living shoulder.”

In the early 1990s, the Russian Orthodox Church began its battle against “liberal” priests, such as those who wanted to hold services in modern Russian (not old Church Slavonic), which was strictly forbidden during the Soviet era. One of these “liberals” was Father Georgy Kochetkov, whose church was targeted by thugs, before he was banned from serving in the church for three years. Shevkunov, who was still just a hieromonk, orchestrated the purge of Kochetkov with help from “Cossacks and Black Hundreds with banners at the ready.” Cossack ataman Viacheslav Demin, who took part in these provocations against Kochetkov, now openly calls Shevkunov a member of the “KGB church.”

The Sretensky Monastery, where Shevkunov became an alderman, is the favorite church of agents in Russia’s Federal Security Service, whose main office building is just around the corner from the monastery. Former international investor Sergey Pugachev (who’s currently evading Russian investigators in Nice, France) was the man who introduced future President Vladimir Putin to the church, where Putin’s wife Lyudmila would also become a parishioner. Incidentally, it was precisely in this monastery where an icon of Nicholas II supposedly once started weeping (on the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution!), and then Crimean Attorney General Natalia Poklonskaya later carried it through the streets of Simferopol in the 2016 “Immortal Regiment” march. Pugachev, for his part, is adamant when discussing the president’s supposed “spirituality.” “Putin of course doesn’t have any confessor,” he says. “In my view, at least, Putin isn’t a religious person.”

Bishop Tikhon is not a fan of contemporary Russian filmmakers, and anonymous sources say he raised his objections to theater director Kirill Serebrennikov in meetings with Putin, after which the Federal Security Service placed Serebrennikov under surveillance. Shevkunov’s friends, however, deny that he has any “connections” to Serebrennikov. For his conservatism, friends say, Shevkunov is regularly criticized by Patriarch Kirill, who apparently keeps him away from events with the president.

You can watch the entire film “Confessor” at Dozhd.

Russian text by Mikhail Zelenskiy, translation by Kevin Rothrock