Patriarch Kirill and Vicar Tikhon, two models for the Russian Church
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Both are protagonists of the Russian "religious renaissance" after the end of communism. Kirill proposes the "Social Doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church", which is Putin's political manifesto; Tikhon proposes faith as a "guardian of moral values". He is Putin’s "spiritual father". A "new symphony" between Church and State. The risks of a new caesar-papism and the re-reading of history that enhances ​​Stalin and the "necessary sacrifice" of the Church at the hands of the State. 

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Amid ongoing polemics over historical films about the Tsar and Stalin, and the debate on the commemoration of the Revolution and the Council of 1917, two figures are increasingly emerging as points of reference for the life and future of Russian Orthodoxy. This is the Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev), head of the Moscow Church since 2009, and his auxiliary bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov), head of the Egorevsk office for three years and since 1998 also known as President Putin’s "spiritual father".

Both are active protagonists of the Russian "religious renaissance" since the end of communism, almost 30 years ago. Bishop and then metropolitan since the Soviet years, Kirill became popular as the first tele-preacher with a popular program, "The voice of the Pastor".

Tikhon, who in the 1980s became a monk in Pskov in the only male monastery allowed by the regime, described the transition from atheism to the rediscovery of faith in a book on the life of his monastery, "Saints not saints", which sold widely .

The first, already great director of patriarchal choices even before ascending to the most prestigious position, became the main inspiration of social and political changes at the end of the Yeltsin’s "Western", when he guided the bishops document on the "Social Doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church", which became the ideological program of the new President Putin.

In those same years, Tikhon accompanied the new leader, then little known, on trips to the country and abroad, inspiring "moralizing" laws against the sale of alcohol, against smoking and for the defence of the traditional Christian family.

Since then the two have divided the scene of the great restoration of the Orthodox state alongside the president with different roles, sometimes complementary, but often also quite alternative. It is said that even the appointment of Tikhon to auxiliary bishop was somehow pushed by the Kremlin, and his actual seat is the monastery, which he restored, and which occupies a part of the territory of Lubyanka square, the infamous central seat of the KGB, so much as to be known as "the bishop of Lubyanka".

The collaborationist Patriarchate

In recent weeks, in addition to the many considerations on the centenary of the revolution and martyrdom of Tsar Nicholas II, some statements by the two prelates focused precisely on the role of the Patriarchate in the life of the Church, also recalling its restoration in the dramatic days of the 1917 revolution. Speaking of the then elected patriarch, also named Tikhon (Bellavin), the discussion concerned the famous declarations of subjugation to Soviet power underwritten by the patriarch himself in 1922 and his deputy Sergij (Stragorodskij) in 1927, who placed the Church at the service of the atheistic regime. In 1943 Sergij himself became the successor of Tikhon and "Stalin’s patriarch", tying the Church to the figure of the Georgian dictator, whose popularity is on the rise once again in Putin's Russia.

The position of Sergij marked the life of the Russian Church in the Soviet years so deeply, that the choice to collaborate with the State is referred to as sergianstvo, an accusation that was brought by the Russians abroad against the orthodox hierarchs. At the end of communism, the question was officially dealt with only once, at the 1992 synod presided over by Patriarch Aleksij II, asking forgiveness for collaboration with the persecutors, but also justifying it in the light of the Church's salvation. In the past weeks, both Kirill and Tikhon have repeatedly taken up these arguments. Blessing a monument dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the birth of the patriarch Sergij, Kirill declared that "he had to forget about himself, so that the Church could continue its historical existence, not to be expelled from the life of the people". In an interview with Radio Svoboda, Tikhon also gave a description of the collaborating patriarch: "Metropolitan Sergij justified his ecclesiastical policy with the conviction that if the Church were to go underground, the Bolsheviks would immediately set up their own Non-Canonical Church of Innovators ".

The "necessary sacrifice"

Both therefore support the thesis of "necessary sacrifice" as a motive for compromise, but the image of the Church they imply appears slightly different. The current patriarch Kirill often stresses the need to collaborate, but with equal dignity compared to the civil authorities, who should not interfere in ecclesiastical matters. According to Bishop Tikhon, precisely the "communist" Church of the innovators or obnovlentsy would in fact seek to realize the true vocation of the Russian Orthodox Church, for whom it cannot exist without the state; instead of doing so, submitting to state atheism, it would now be time to realize that model, the "new symphony" in which the head of state is also the temporal guide of the Church, the true orthodox autocrat who leads the soul of the people.


The two models, the "equal dignity" of Kirill and the "neo-imperial Church" of Tikhon, have been particularly acute in comparison for almost four years, after the annexation of Crimea symbolically proclaimed the return of ethnic religious imperialism, as the main project of Russian politics. Not surprisingly, in recent years the polls show the growing popularity of Stalin's memory among the population, who along with Ivan the Terrible and the Tsar-martyr Nicholas II, represents an increasingly imposing ideal of "father of the people" that Putin seeks to re-launch in the current election campaign.

Patriarch Kirill often repeats that "the Russian Church has never been as free as today", and tries in every way to encourage the faithful to participate actively in the life of society, through catechesis and evangelization even before politics .

Tikhon emphasizes rather the role of "guardian of moral values", interpreted by politicians of the Orthodox faith even more than by the hierarchy of the Church. Both support a rather clerical system of management of ecclesial life, for fear of excesses of lay protagonism of the most fundamentalist "Orthodox fraternities". For many reasons, 2018 will be a decisive year for the prospects of Russian Orthodoxy’s "new symphony".