Russia’s Orthodox Church on Wednesday appointed Metropolitan Tikhon of Pskov and Porkhov to be head of the Russian Orthodox Church in occupied Crimea. Tikhon, whose secular name is Georgiy Shevkunov, will replace Metropolitan Lazar, who is retiring after almost 40 years as a priest.
Tikhon has been linked with President Putin since the late 1990s when they apparently met at a Moscow monastery popular with members of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). Neither Tikhon nor the Kremlin have confirmed or denied his ties to Putin but there are clear signs that he is supported by both Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox church.
The Meduza news site reported in August 2022 that foundations and initiatives sponsored by Tikhon had received more than 20 billion rubles (about $332 million, at the time) from the Russian government and state-owned companies to establish religious exhibitions and parks throughout Russia, since 2015.
Tikhon was also a main advocate for blocking laws on combating domestic violence, which were supposed to be submitted to the State Duma at the end of 2019, a position that was probably inspired by the President.
The priest accompanied Putin to Crimea in March for what was billed as a surprise visit to celebrate the ninth anniversary of the annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.
Crimea’s Russian-installed Governor Sergei Aksyonov in a Telegram post on Wednesday called Tikhon “one of the most famous and influential” bishops.
Mikhail Razvozhayev, the governor of the Crimean port of Sevastopol, said he was renowned for “paying close attention” to Crimea for many years before his transfer.
In particular, Tikhon is considered to be the driving force for the construction of the so-called Museum of Christianity, a controversial development that is threatening to destroy the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chersonese the location of an ancient Greek city; one of seven such sites located in Crimea.
Since 2014, Russia has been accused of consciously destroying the Chersonese site through the illegal expropriation of the territory, actively building upon it with no account taken of historical protected zones of, and carrying out unnecessary archaeological excavations.
The excavations, that began in earnest in 2017, have claimed to recover 3 million artefacts, from the so-called “cradle of Russian Orthodoxy,” many of which include the foundation and commemorative stones of the original 10th century St. Vladimir's Cathedral in Tauric Chersonese, were sent to Russia.
Tikhon is quoted as saying that the dome of the future church on this site will be as large as Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and museums named “Russia is my History,” the “History of Crimea and Novorossiya,” and the “Antiquity and Byzantium” will be established on the site.
He has boasted that “We are turning the current museum, which has 200 thousand artifacts, huddled in small monastery premises… into an International Center for archaeology.”
He describes the work at Chersonese, which is funded by the Russian companies of Gazpromneft and Transneft, as an amazing archaeological event: “Never and nowhere in the history of Russia and the world have excavations of this scale been carried out simultaneously on the same territory. More than 3 million artifacts were found,” he said.
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