On October 24, 2015, on the feast day, in the Russian Orthodox calendar, of the Synaxis of Optina Elders, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia consecrated Father Tikhon Shevkunov, Archimandrite (abbot) of Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery, as Bishop of Egorevesk, Vicariate of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Gerogiy Shevkunov, now 57, was baptized in 1982 at the age of 24. It was a harrowing brush with presumed evil spirits in the course of playing at a Ouija board with friends that led the young graduate of the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography into the arms of the Orthodox Church — and he has never, apparently, looked back.
That same year he moved into the 500-year-old Pskov-Caves Monastery, in western Russia — one of the few to have remained open continuously, even through World War II and the Soviet era — first as a worker, then as a novice.
Bishop Tikhon says that, aside from his terrifying experience with the demonic, what drew him to Christianity was that “all the great figures of the world and Russian history” such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Kant, Goethe and Sir Isaac Newton, “all those whom we trusted and loved and respected, all of them had thought about God in a completely different way from us.”
On the other hand, “those who evoked no sympathy whatever,” such as Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, “all these destructive revolutionaries who led our state to what it had become, were atheists.”
The choice seemed clear. In 1991, Shevkunov took mon – astic vows, assuming the name Tik – hon, after the sainted 11th Patriarch of Moscow, who reigned during the early years of the Soviet Union.
Subsequently, Tikhon’s film school education (as a screenwriter) served him in good stead as a writer of spiritual and cultural/political works both for print and, later, the internet, as well as when he became an abbot and a member of both the Moscow Patriarchate’s and the Russian President’s Councils for Culture.
The cover of Tikhon’s best-selling book, Everyday Saints and Other Stories
Fr. Tikhon was already a familiar figure in Russia by the time of his consecration, both inside and outside the Orthodox Church. He had directed and starred in a film about the history of Byzantium that aired three times on national television, and he was a best-selling author: his book Everyday Saints and Other Stories was the top-selling book in Russia in 2012, and has been released in 10 different languages. Everyday Saints is a book which recounts anecdotes and lessons involving people from the bishop’s own monastic life, many of them elder Churchmen who lived and suffered through the worst of the Soviet era, holding onto a simple but profound Christian faith.
Not mentioned even once in the book, though, is the name of Tikhon’s close personal friend Vladimir Putin, president of Russia. It is widely “rumored” in Russia that Tikhon is, in fact, Putin’s personal confessor, and even his “dukhovnik,” or godfather, though neither the bishop nor Putin’s spokesmen will confirm or deny such speculation.
What is more certain is Putin’s and Tikhon’s agreement on the role of religion — embodied primarily, in Russia, in Orthodoxy — in the strengthening of Russian culture. “The revival of Russia and growth of its might are unthinkable without the strengthening of society’s moral foundations,” Putin wrote in the Sretensky Monastery guestbook during a 2000 visit. “The role and significance of the Russian Orthodox Church are huge.”
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Russian President Vladimir Putin have collaborated in the promotion of Christian tradition and family values in Russia
Bishop Tikhon concurs. In an interview with the Russian Orthodox website Pravoslavie.ru (of which he is the editor-inchief), he lamented the “de-ideologized state” that has resulted as a reaction to 70 years of coercive Sovietism, calling it “spiritually weak and simply unsustainable.”
“So what instead?” asked the interviewer. “A new ideology?”
“That’s just what I wouldn’t want at all: an ideology labored over behind desks and obligatory for all,” answered Tikhon. “Fortunately, however, in the realm of human convictions and worldviews there are things that are much more significant and effective than any ideology…”
“Eternal values,” Tikhon said. “Neglecting and ignoring them leads to tragic ruptures and lack of understanding between people and generations. Recall Shakespeare’s words: ‘The time is out of joint…’
“People who embody the best qualities of man, as intended by God, and the best qualities of their people are the greatest treasure of any country… But there are eternal, higher values and human qualities — such as faith, honor, nobility, justice, the pursuit of truth, service, labor in discovering Godgiven talents, sacrifice, kindness, love for people, and love for one’s Fatherland and fidelity thereto.”