The Kremlin’s Elder
How the Russian government fell in love with mysticism
The Proekt team, May 29, 2019
The Russian leadership, as in the old days, passionately communicates with Orthodox elders. The main one is Elijah (Nozdrin), the Patriarch’s confessor. The authorities expect him not only to heal people, and predict the future, but also to provide real help in maintaining Vladimir Putin’s power.
In April 2010, gray-haired, hunched elder Elijah met with his spiritual child Anatoly Brovko. They had both recently had some good changes in their lives. Elijah had just become schema-archimandrite of the Russian Orthodox Church. A few months earlier, Brovko had become Governor of the Volgograd Region.
The meeting was a success. Afterwards, Brovko described the elder in his blog, “This is an amazing man who has the gift of foresight.” Later that day, the Governor told an acquaintance that Elijah predicted Brovko’s successful career and even his reassignment for a second term.
Elijah is the most important and fashionable elder, he is popular among VIPs,
says a former official, who once met with Elijah.
Several acting officials confirm this. They go to him for physical healing, “to be purified spiritually” after performing responsible tasks, and for predicting the political future. But Elijah is not the only one. Many officials have their elders. “They (officials) go (to the elders) because they live in constant irrational fear. What will happen to them? Will their property be taken away? Will their job be taken away? Or not?” explains a retired regional official who met with Elijah.
The courtyard of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch in Peredelkino, near Moscow, may seem strange to the average person. You might think that believers would see images of the Patriarch everywhere, to be reminded of him. But that’s not the case.
“No, Elijah is not here today,” the correspondent from The Project heard almost immediately at the entrance to the Church of St. Igor. The candle shop displayed the answer to a popular question. “Sorry! There is no information about Elijah,” read a sign hanging between candles and matches. In the middle of the Church, there was a black box reading, “Paper for notes to Father Elijah.”
When we came to Peredelkino on another occasion, everyone said that this time the elder was at home. He had settled in the courtyard in 2009, when he became the confessor for Patriarch Kirill. The two graduated from the Spiritual Academy in Leningrad at the same time.
“I’m waiting for what he says. If he blesses me, I will go out to preach on the streets,” said a pilgrim. “He is a seer. God speaks through him.” Elijah’s authority among the faithful is nothing new. It was born long before the enthronement of the current Patriarch.
In 1996, when the then-Patriarch Alexiy II, arrived in the Optina Desert (Elijah was the monastery’s confessor at the moment), believers would not leave the monastery until evening. The guards admonished the crowd to disperse, saying the Patriarch would only come out in the morning. “We were not waiting for the Patriarch, but for Elijah,” answered people as it recalled Valery Mosin, head of the Orel branch of the Orthodox Movement.
The elder has a security guard and a Land Rover, but “he himself does not need anything,” said a Peredelkino employee. According to him, the elder has some private rooms in Peredelkino for meetings with high-ranking visitors.
In a small village in the Orel region, the head monk, Vladimir Gusev, ignored the filming and began a rite of exorcism. “When the prayer began, the oppressive silence was replaced by a roar, screeching and other sounds, many of which had nothing to do with the human voice,” the Youtube blogger commented on the video. You can see women fall into hysterics, and the priest pours water for them and brings a cross, and sometimes even slightly beats them. He conducts such ceremonies almost every week.
Father Vladimir has conservative views, to put it mildly. He has said that ancestral curses actually exist, and now they dominate many Russians because of the sin of their ancestors, the denial of God after the 1917 revolution. So, to fight off the demons, he mixed in politics. The first revolutionary, he said, was the devil, and many “smart” students professed liberalism, “not accepting the dispensations of the Bible — if there is a king in heaven, there must be a king on earth.”
It was Elijah who blessed father Vladimir’s exorcism rituals, said political analyst Viktor Militarev, who also admires the elder. Moreover Elija himself used to practise exorcism. But Elijah’s main duty is to talk to the powerful, said Vsevolod Chaplin, ex-press person for Russian Orthodox Church.
A federal official who recently visited the elder, said that for a significant part of the conversation, Elijah criticized Communists. And at the end of the conversation, the elder even gave him anti-Communist literature.
This is an important topic for Elijah. In the early 1950’s, he burned his Communist Youth Committee (Komsomol) membership card. The son of dispossessed parents, Elijah joined Komsomol in the army, under the influence of the commander, but quickly repented. Now, he repeatedly states that “Atheism is Satanism in the literal sense,” and “the devil keeps unbelievers.”
However, the expulsion of demons is perhaps the only topic officials do not consult Elijah about. Their most common concern is health. Officials, like ordinary people, come to the elder for healing, although they can afford much more expensive methods of secular treatment than ordinary citizens.
One official faced with health problems said he decided to visit after learning that Elijah had “a lot of people from the country’s leadership.” At a meeting arranged through his assistant, the elder was kind, used the word “baby,” and promised it would be all right. However, for safety, the official was treated abroad. Another official, who addressed the elder with problems, says that Elijah looked at him with almost blind eyes, realized that he was not baptized, and ordered him to do it.
“A believer should think before asking him anything, because his word will obligate you,” said a believer familiar with the cult of elder Elijah.
Once upon a time, the famous old schismatics, Archpriest Avvakum and Boyarynya Morozova, were imprisoned in Pafnutiev-Borovsky monastery, but now it’s occupied by one of the most loyal elders — Vlasius. He is typical of our time, interested in politics and alternative medicine.
The official who went to confer with the elder, said he had heard about him from friends in the security forces. They also helped him get to the reception, bypassing the queue. The elder made a good impression. During the conversation he offered a light meal. And at the end, he stared hard at the visitor, and made it clear that in the future he would become Deputy Prime Minister. The forecast has not come true yet.
However, in terms of understanding Russian policy, Vlasius is still inferior to Elijah. One day, one of the governors came to Elijah to complain about his difficult life situation, and received two pieces of advice (according to a former regional official). First, move away from his wife and mistress. Elijah referred to the divorced Putin: “Do you see women next to our President?!” Second, take care of nature, and solve the problem of a local pulp factory.
The Project’s sources named several former and current heads of regions who “stand in line for Elijah.” In addition to Brovko, there are the Governor of Kaluga, Anatoly Artamonov, the head of the Bryansk region, Alexander Bogomaz, the Governor of St. Petersburg, Alexander Beglov, and the Deputy Presidential Envoy for the Central Federal District, Vadim Potomsky.
At the end of 2013, an adviser to President Sergey Glazyev came to Elijah with a very sensitive assignment, according to a source close to the elder. At that time, Russian leadership was concerned about the plans of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to sign an association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. Moscow was looking for ways to influence the Ukrainian President, and Glazyev was one of those responsible for the Ukrainian crisis. “Father Elijah knew Yanukovych, and he was asked to organize a plane to Kiev, so he could talk to the President,” says the priest from Optin Monastery.
Elijah politely refused to go to Yanukovych. As his friend said, “maybe he already knew something about Ukraine.”
The story could not be fully confirmed, but Elijah was well known overseas. For example, he communicated with representatives of a large Donetsk financial group. He also had experience in foreign negotiations and flew to the United States before the unification of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, says a friend of Elijah.
According to legend, the Lord gave the mother of God Mount Athos in Greece. Russian politicians and businessmen began flocking to Greece during Putin’s second presidential term. Trips abroad were something suspicious already at that time, but no one could forbid them to go to the Holy Mountain,” recalls former banker and Senator Sergei Pugachev, who was close to Putin in the early 2000s.
This place is well known to the main Russian elder. Elijah once lived on Mount Athos. From the mid 1970s until 1989 he was the Confessor for the Panteleimon Monastery there. It is well known that President Putin also visited Mount Athos. The Project’s source, who accompanied Putin in his trip to the Holy Mountain ten years ago, recalled how the local priest spoke rather scornfully about then-President Medvedev, “He is a liberal.” But about then-Prime Minister Putin, he said: “Putin was sent to Russia by the Lord.”
Of course, President Putin is also among Elijah’s spiritual children.
In early August 2000, the newly elected President Putin traveled across North Western Russia and stopped at the old Pskov-Pechersk Monastery. Journalists were not allowed to follow him. Putin walked through the caves of the monastery, accompanied by unknown guides, who later became very influential people, Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov (later Putin’s confessor), and guards Alexei Dyumin and Yevgeny Zinichev, who became, respectively, the Governor of the Tula region and the head of the Emergencies Ministry. At the monastery, Putin went to the cell of the elder Iohann Krestyankin, the most prominent Orthodox elder of that time. This 90-year-old monk was convicted of anti-Soviet agitation under Stalin, and since the late 1960s earned a reputation as a visionary.
Due to lack of reports about the event, the meeting later grew into legend. Allegedly, Putin and the elder talked for more than an hour, and Iohann became the spiritual mentor of the President. In fact, it was not like that, said the banker who accompanied President Sergei Pugachev. Putin did not want to stay at the cell for long, was there less than a minute, and left with the words “funny old man.”
At the beginning of his reign, President Putin, a native of the KGB, poorly oriented in сhurch affairs. “And how to address him?” he asked before his first meeting with Patriarch Alexy II, Pugachev says. The President was embarrassed to learn that he should say, “Your Holiness,” and eventually at the meeting, he just said, “Hello, Alexey Mikhailovich.” The Patriarch was not surprised, Pugachev says.
Over time, the President got used to all the rules and began to attend church often. Due to fashion and sincere interest, he was rapidly copied by the bureaucracy. It is believed that in 2011, when Putin decided to return to the presidency, he consulted with the clergy of the Valaam Monastery, according to a federal official. “It is believed that he had a conversation with the vicar of the monastery, Pankratiy,” confirms then-head of the Synodal Department of the Patriarchate, Vsevolod Chaplin. However, according to him, Putin is “peculiarly religious.” “He is not one of those who will unconditionally listen to the council of clergy. And I don’t think he looks into the Patriarch’s mouth. Quite the contrary.”
The President has met with Elijah. It is unknown when exactly this meeting took place. But they met several times, said Dmitri Peskov, press Secretary of the President. And it is known that on March 8, 2017, Putin called the elder on his own initiative (a fact not reflected on the website of the President.) The president called personally to congratulate Elijah on his 85th birthday and say that he does a lot “for our Church, for our people.” Elijah did not hide his joy and sympathy for the President. “Of course, I would very much like to hear this many times. And, of course, may you live as long as possible. We are already weak, old, and you are not so. You still have lots and lots to give our Holy Russia.” (this conversation was aired by Orel TV station).
Probably, in this episode lies one of the reasons for the elite’s interest in the elder. Officials are drawn to everyone standing next to the First Person. They believe that “through Elijah, you can convey information to the President in two days,” says a former regional official.
Several years ago, Elijah came into the building of the presidential administration in Moscow. There, he had two good acquaintances and both were in key offices — the head of administration Sergey Ivanov (now the special representative of the President) and his first Deputy, Vyacheslav Volodin (now the speaker of the State Duma).
Volodin at the time of the meeting led the internal political bloc of the Kremlin and was responsible for election campaigns. Elijah then became an indispensable assistant in the elections, said a current employee of the Kremlin administration. First, officials asked him to publicly support the government. Second, Elijah, as an influential figure of the Church, as well as a person who often travels through the region, could transfer the authorities’ requests for support in the elections to the clergy on the ground, a Federal official told The Project.
If you look at the records of Elijah’s speeches that are unknown to the general public, it becomes clear what ideas the government asks the Church to convey to the people:
“These rallies are a disgrace, they are a trash” — the elder said in an interview with Orel television about anti-Putin protests.
“Enemy acts in our country attract dark forces from an abyss, and thereby create and provoke chaos, which is more dangerous than the period of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution” — , he said about events on Bolotnaya Sedquare in 2012.
And here are examples of what Elijah did to support Putin in the 2018 elections:
Two months before the vote, he flew to Krasnodar and went to St. Catherine’s Cathedral and immediately told the believers there that they needed to go to the polls and make the right choice, “so that atheists do not come to power again.”
And in the Tver region, he said directly that we all need to unite to support the head of state, because “he became the ruler thanks to the prayers of the Holy fathers.”
Elijah calls Vladimir Putin’s opponents “mutts”.
Do not think that someone makes Elijah love power, said the priest at Optin Monastery. “Even when you come to him for a personal conversation, he often asks, ‘Do you pray for the President?’ ”
* * *
In early 2012, just two years after taking office, Anatoly Brovko was fired from the post of Governor, ending his short political career.
Parishioners of father Elijah continue to talk about the miracles and prophecies of the Kremlin’s elder.