05/17/2018, 09.46
RUSSIA
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Tikhon, Putin's spiritual father, becomes metropolitan of Pskov

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Formerly the vicar of Patriarch Kirill, he lived in one of the few monasteries open during the Soviet period. He reopened the church of the Holy. Trinity at the Lubyanka palace, the historic seat of the KGB. Rather conservative, he is an enemy of the reformist line of the patriarch of Moscow. A promotion-removal or a step towards the patriarchy?

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Tikhon (Ševkunov), bishop of Egor'evsk, vicar of Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev) and known as the "spiritual father" of President Putin, has been appointed Metropolitan of Pskov and Porkhovsk by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow . Announced by the press officer of the patriarch, the priest Aleksandr Volkov, the news has provoked several reactions, given his notoriety as the most influential member of the hierarchy after the patriarch himself.

Until now, his status as auxiliary bishop, outlined Tikhon as the "gray eminence" of the Russian Church, and protagonist of the relationship between Church and State, with great influence in the capital, but free from excessive responsibility. His elevation to metropolitan is interpreted as a "promotion-removal" or as a step towards the patriarchal succession to Kirill. Surely the new metropolitan will not have to struggle to settle in his new premises, from which he had actually arrived in Moscow in the 1990s.

Tikhon, 59, was born and raised in Moscow, where he had completed his studies at the State Institute of Cinematography in 1982, and then entered the Pskov monastery as a novice. This was one of the few monasteries still open in Soviet times, led by the luminous figure of the starets Ioann (Krestjankin), who managed to preserve the genuine monastic traditions, aligning them with a sincere loyalty to the communist regime. The story of the monastery and its protagonists was told by Tikhon in the very popular book of non-saintly saints, which in the early 1990s became one of the symbolic texts of the Russian religious renaissance.

Tikhon reopened the Monastery of the Encounter in Moscow, as the representative seat of the Pskov community in the capital. In that capacity he met the future president Putin, then director of the security services, and accompanied him on a trip to Pskov to seal the good intentions of the dialogue that that begun, combining post-Soviet politics with the traditional Russian Orthodox faith.

Since 2000, when Putin assumed the country's presidency from Eltsyn, the young monk has appeared several times alongside his spiritual friend or "son", even on a trip to the United States in 2003. In recent years, after receiving an episcopal appointment , Tikhon dedicated himself to the reopening and reconstruction of the church of the Holy Trinity at the Lubyanka palace, the historical KGB building, receiving the ambiguous fame of "bishop of Lubyanka". From 2010 he leads the Patriarchal Commission for Culture.

The move to Pskov, a Western diocese on the border with Lithuania, prestigious and rich, but peripheral, provokes contradictory comments. On the one hand, the metropolis would open the way for a future patriarchal election for Tikhon, which would not have been possible in his secondary role of bishop. Instead, as metropolitan, he will be part of the top tier of responsibility in the Patriarchal Synod, and the same canonical rules provide for at least a five-year term of metropolitan pastoral guidance in order to be candidates for patriarch.

On the other hand, the nomination may seem somehow a departure from Moscow, because of evident differing views with the patriarch Kirill, for whom he has been seen as an ‘alter-ego’ for years. The "reformist" line of the patriarch, which focuses primarily on formation and ecclesiastical discipline, is not always compatible with the radical conservatism of Tikhon, which seeks to enhance the role of the Church in society through relations with politics and hegemony over culture. This difference was strikingly evident last year, in the jubilee of the October revolution, which saw a great protagonism of Tikhon exalting the leadership role of the Church in Russian history, while Kirill preferred to avoid excesses of polemical interventionism to avpoid nurturing divisions in public opinion, as in the sensational case of the film Matilda, harshly condemned by Tikhon and ignored by the patriarch.

Perhaps the last straw was Tikhon's intervention in relations with the Ukrainian Church: it seems that he himself led the negotiations with the "excommunicated patriarch" Filaret (Denisenko), a bitter enemy of Kirill, to look for a reconciliation with Moscow that has not led to any results. On the contrary, the Ukrainian Church seems to be more and more of the idea of ​​a complete separation from the patriarchate of Moscow.

Moreover, the patriarch’s perplexities and also that of a good part of the clergy, have been provoked by Tikhon's fame as a charismatic intellectual, in particular his reputation as the presumed "spiritual father" of the president, despite his having denied this.

On the other hand, the same patriarch Kirill is in turn out of favour with sectors of the Church that are more radical and close to monasticism. These would support a future patriarch Tikhon II, successor of the homonymous pastor chosen in the dramatic days of the revolution.

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