The Orthodox KGB: What Is Known About Putin's Confessor
On November 15, TV channel Dozhd (Rain) released a documentary film called The Father Confessor about Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov. It is he who is considered the confessor of President Vladimir Putin and the contender for the role of patriarch. Ministers queue up to confess to Shevkunov; he is also called the mastermind behind the persecution of theater director Kirill Serebrennikov. Sofia Savina watched the film and retells its contents.
THE UNHOLY SAINTS
Gosha, an ordinary boy from Chertanovo, was supposed to become a doctor – his mother wanted him to go to a medical school. But a friend asked Gosha to support him on the entrance examinations at the VGIK. Ironically, the friend failed the exams, whereas Gosha was accepted to the screenwriting faculty.
After defending the thesis, Gosha goes to the Pskov-Pechersky Monastery, from where he returns as Tikhon. In the monastery, he finds an application for knowledge received in VGIK – he shoots a newsreel for the monastery.
Sketches from the life of the monastery formed the basis of Shevkunov's stories The Unholy Saints which told about priests and miraculous healings. “All the characters of Shevkunov’s stories are positive. Even when they act meanly and cooperate with the authorities,” the authors of the movie The Father Confessor say.
He took the name Tikhon in honour of the patriarch Tikhon, and took the vows in the Donskoy Monastery, where the famous saint is buried. On the anniversary of Tikhon's accession to the patriarchal throne, the monastery was set on fire. Shevkunov recalled in an interview that, shortly before the fire, he received a telegram: “You'll soon meet Tikhon.”
He described the fire as a subversion and blamed the ROC parishioners abroad, calling them “agents of foreign intelligence.” After the fire, Shevkunov found the relics of St. Tikhon in the monastery: “When the lid of the coffin was lifted, boldly, forgive me God, I put my hand in there with a blessing, and just grabbed the man by the hand and shoulder, a living shoulder.”
In the 1990s, the purge of “neo-renovationists”– the “liberals” in modern language – started in the church. Neo-Renovationists wanted to serve in Russian, which was forbidden during the Soviet times. Father Georgy Kochetkov was among them. It was Shevkunov who was responsible for his expulsion from the church with the help of the army of the so called Cossacks and Black Hundreders.
One of the participants in these provocations – the Cossack ataman Vyacheslav Demin – in the film calls Shevkunov a member of the “chekist church.” And the exiled Kochetkov himself comments on the question of whether Shevkunov believes in God: “In some god, of course, he believes, in which one – I do not know. It is very difficult for me to say for sure that it is Christ, that we have one God, that we have one faith. It would be very difficult for me, say, to take communion together.”
THE LUBYANKA FATHER
In the 90s, Tikhon Shevkunov received the nickname “the Lubyanka Father” – for the spiritual support of the Chekists. Officers from the Lubyanka – both acting and retired – can often be found in the Sretensky Monastery, in which Shevkunov is an abbot.
Shevkunov was introduced to Vladimir Putin in 1996 by businessman Sergei Pugachev. He brought Putin to a service in the Sretensky Monastery, and then began to take Shevkunov to the future president’s country house. Lyudmila Putina, the then wife of the president, became a parishioner of the Sretensky Monastery. Pugachev introduced Shevkunov into Putin’s inner circle: Sechin, Patrushev and Shevkunov were sitting at the same table on one of the photos taken on the birthday of the banker's wife.
According to Pugachev, Putin does not have a confessor: “In my opinion, Putin is an atheist.” However, Shevkunov himself does not directly answer journalists' questions about Putin's spiritual mentoring.
The businessman says that many ministers dream of getting to see Shevkunov. In one of the telephone conversations, Tikhon confessed to a friend: “Medinsky is sitting in the waiting room, waiting for two hours already.” Local residents of the village of Krasnoye in the Ryazan Region also tell about high-ranking guests come to where Shevkunov's residence is located.
According to them, Putin, Poltavchenko, and Rogozin were there. It says in the film that around the monastery its own golden mile immediately formed – the cottages of retired security officials.
AGAINST SEREBRENNIKOV AND MATILDA
“All those who enthusiastically applauded Pussy Riot applauded the Leviathan,” said Shevkunov once. Now, he is a member of the patriarchal council for culture and often speaks about the work of Russian filmmakers. Anonymous interlocutors of the Rain channel told that the bishop was unflattering about Kirill Serebrennikov when he met with Putin.
Sources close to the FSB say that the surveillance after the director began at the beginning of the year – the Bishop’s displeasure could affect the decision to initiate a criminal case. The acquaintances of the director also consider Tikhon as a possible mastermind behind the persecution.
In September, during a visit to Yekaterinburg, Shevkunov spoke against the film Matilda. The same night, an Orthodox activist Denis Murashov rammed a movie theater in a minibus, where the premiere was to be held. On the eve, he participated in the liturgy, which was held by Shevkunov.
Back in 2005, the abbot of the Sretensky Monastery helped with the expert opinion for the exhibition called “Caution, Religion!” It was after his examination, the curators of the exhibition Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeev were sentenced.
The icon – the one with which Natalia Poklonskaya went to the Immortal Regiment action –first “mitered” in the Sretensky Monastery precisely during the service of Father Tikhon.
He is also called the writer of the opening of the monument to Vladimir in Moscow, which was a symbolic answer to Ukraine. “Now in Russia, there are three Vladimirs – one is in the Mausoleum, the second sits in the Kremlin, and the third one stands right opposite,” the film's authors note.
The Church of the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church on the Bolshaya Lubyanka Street – the territory of the Sretensky Monastery – was opened by the “Chekistin priest” in May this year together with Vladimir Putin. Patterns on the facade of the temple were printed on a 3D printer, and the architect was the 32-year-old Dmitry Smirnov, who had not built a single church before. His portfolio includes the scenery for the Star Factory reality show and the country houses of Russian officials.
Sergei Pugachev, who introduced Tikhon to Putin, recalls the university past of the Bishop: “He, in fact, is a failed director, therefore... or rather, a successful one, even more than Nikita Mikhalkov. Mikhalkov could not dream of such glory, he never became such a support of power. And Father Tikhon is indeed a support of power.”