Church punishes clergyman, but probably does not silence him


Moskovskii Komsomolets, 30 December 2020


At a session of the diocesan court of Moscow, Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev was stripped of clerical status—one of the most well known and successful Orthodox preachers of the 1990s and 2000s. In recent years he was a tough church dissident and critic of the official position of the Moscow patriarchate. We have figured out what deprivation of clerical rank means in practice.


The court found Andrei Kuraev "subject to dismissal from clerical status," principally for a post on LiveJournal on 21 April of this year. After the death from coronavirus of Father Alexander Ageikin, the rector of the Elokhovo cathedral, the preacher wrote a brief, but insulting "obituary," calling the deceased, in particular, "a dumb careerist." This is not Kuraev's only offense underlying the decision. The court mentions in addition "signs of blasphemy against the church," and also "slanderous activity," in particular, accusing the Russian Orthodox Church of "creation of schism."


Prior to this, Patriarch Kirill—in the aftermath of the same statement in the blog—inhibited Andrei Kuraev from ministry. This was a milder disciplinary measure than dismissal from clerical status. In particular, the preacher remained an archdeacon and retained the right to wear vestments. Both of these attributes Kuraev will now lose, if the patriarch, as ruling bishop, confirms the court's verdict, and he will become a layman who does not have, "by default," the right to enter the altar. However, he remains an Orthodox layman and he has the right to attend church services and he may serve in a "friendly" church as a reader.


Does this mean that Kuraev is excommunicated from the church? No. Excommunication from the church is a more severe punishment. In that case, a person is forbidden to have liturgical fellowship with fellow believers. However even that punishment—which was imposed, for example, this year on the former Schehegumen Sergius Romanov, who on 29 December was arrested and interrogated in a criminal case—does not, according to Orthodox canons, deprive a person of the grace of baptism. He may repent, return to the bosom of the church, and he is not required to be rebaptized.


The history of Andrei Kuraev's conflict with the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church has lasted now for several years. Thus, in 2015 the cleric was dismissed from his position, as a number of his statements evoked special "exhortations" on the part of the diocesan spiritual director, Archpriest Georgy Breev, and members of the disciplinary commission. Kuraev provided plenty of reasons for displeasure on the part of the patriarchate. In the 2010s he continually took action as a church dissident, sharply criticizing the policy of the Moscow patriarchate and Patriarch Kirill personally. Kuraev's expressed sympathy for the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, and the "homosexual scandal," during which the preacher exposed a number of bishops and priests, became significant gestures.


"The court did not want to cut the dog's tail in pieces but severed it all at once," Andrei Kuraev himself responded to the court's decision on his Telegram channel. "There were no bans until repentance. . . . The court did not accuse me of heresy. That is, the most horrible accusation for a theologian was not uttered, which is not a trifle and is pleasant. A rare success. Few people get to read their own obituary. But this luck befell me on the day of my canonical murder."


In addition, the preacher once again emphasized just what his "aesthetic disagreement" with the patriarchate consists of. "In our time," Andrei Kuraev declared, "it is better to avoid collective identities, especially with pro-government structures. Do not give out your kopecks and build temples for Mars in my name."


"This is not excommunication from the church; it is simply deprivation of one of the options," Kuraev noted in commenting on the court's decision. "I will not be able to proclaim 'In peace let us pray to the Lord,' but for the rest, we will see. We should simply celebrate New Year's."


For very many believers who came to the church in those years, Kuraev's articles and speeches meant and mean a great deal, and his website with a forum—the so-called Kurainik—became one of the first vital Orthodox on-line platforms. Nevertheless, one cannot say that the court's decision was a surprise. At the end of 2020, the "abscess" finally "burst"—if Patriarch Kirill confirms the court's verdict. And it is this that is expected from the primate of the RPTs. Andrei Kuraev will finally become an outside observer and critic for the church hierarchy. Remaining, one must think, no less sharp and harsh.


"It's a very difficult situation. It is difficult to comment on it," said a cleric of one of the Moscow churches who has been acquainted with Andrei Kuraev for more than a quarter century. "On one hand, very much of what Father Andrei said in past years, and is saying now, are true things. He points out the moods that really exist in the church. Because it is an earthly organization. It consists of ordinary, sinful people, and it all really happens.


But, after all, one can talk about one and the same things with love and hope for a better future, and one can be malicious. Unfortunately it seems to me, with each year Father Andrei has become ever more malicious and the situation was really strange. Within the church, in the clergy, there is a man who says such words as are confusing for many believers."


According to the priest, many Moscow clerics are especially strongly upset by Kuraev's statement on the occasion of the death of Fr Alexander Ageikin. "What was written disturbed me personally not so much by its content as by the degree of hatred," MK's interlocutor emphasized.


"I think that Kuraev will continue his line. He is a smart and ambitious man who rarely has doubts about his choice," the priest noted. "That is, he will be an external critic of the church, yet more harsh. I would not like that, but it seems to me it will be more likely. I pray that it not be so."


That the stripping of Andrei Kuraev of his clerical status will make him yet more radical has already been expressed by a relevant—critical of the patriarchate—Telegram channel, Tserkvach. "In excluding Kuraev from the clergy, Patriarch Kirill finally loses control over him," the author of the channel notes. "Blogger Kuraev, regardless of his status, is a brand that is more authoritative than, for example, the brand of Legoida." (tr. by PDS, posted 30 December 2020)

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