His secular name is Georgy Alexandrovich Shevkunov. Chances are you have never heard of him. However, he is regularly listed as one of the most influential people in Russia – at least as far as the opaque world of what passes for politics in the country is concerned.

On July 17, 2018, it will be 100 years since the last Emperor, Nicholas II, his wife, children and servants, were brutally murdered by Bolshevik thugs in the cellar of a house in Yekaterinburg, an industrial city in the Urals. And His Eminence Tikhon, titular Bishop of Yegoryevsk and vicar of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’ (to use Shevkunov’s full title), is the official Church representative to an important commission, which includes prosecutors, forensic experts, historians and government investigators. It is charged with a task worthy of an Ionesco play: to verify whether the murder of the Imperial family was “ritualistic” (in plain language, they were killed by the Jews) or just what most people think it was – a lawless summary execution of innocents. In this capacity Bishop Tikhon has become a central figure in determining whether one of the most enduring 20th-century conspiracy theories will be finally debunked.

Despite his relatively young age of 59 and secular education (at the Moscow Institute of Cinematography scriptwriting faculty), Bishop Tikhon cuts a remarkable figure. He is an abbot of a rich monastery located 10 minutes’ walk from the Kremlin and is chairman of the patriarchal culture commission. He runs a very successful Christian publishing house and is a bestselling author himself. His book Saints Without Sainthood, depicting his religious experiences and full of stories of miracles occurring in daily life, has sold three million copies so far.

The bishop is rumoured to be President Putin’s personal confessor. He neither confirms nor denies it. But even if (as is likely) he isn’t, Tikhon’s close connections to Putin’s entourage, and his ability to raise funds from state-owned companies like Gazprom or Rosneft for different projects, are phenomenal. These projects – exhibitions, film screenings and books – mix Russian imperial pride, anti-Western themes and Orthodoxy in a patriotic amalgam favoured by the Putin regime. In short, the young, very conservative and connected Eminence is well positioned to tackle the weird Romanov murder problem.

Ever since the late 1920s the story that the tsar and his family were murdered by Jews has lived in émigré circles. Jews indeed were very active and prominent in the Bolshevik party, a logical consequence of nearly two centuries of the imperial government’s anti-Semitic policies. Two of the murderers – Yurovsky and Goloshchekin – came from the Jewish families but forsook their heritage by embracing communism’s godless creed.

Crime scene investigations conducted by the anti-communist White forces after they took Yekaterinburg from the Reds in 1918 showed several incongruities, as well as a mysterious inscription on one of the walls of the cellar which was interpreted as a cabbalistic cypher.

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