Staunton, January 26 – In Soviet times, the KGB engineered the promotion of gay priests into the hierarchy in order to control the church from the outside, Father Gleb Yakunin says. Now, reflecting that past of which he was a part, Patriarch Kirill is doing the same but from the inside, confident that he will be able to control the hierarchy and use it for his own political ends.
According to Yakunin, who was jailed by the Soviet state, twice anathematized by the Moscow Patriarchate, and is now secretary of the independent Apostolic Orthodox Church, the majority of the 70 priests Kirill has elevated to higher church ranks are gay and thus under his total control (novayagazeta.ru/politics/61944.html).
“We democrats and members of the religious avant-garde are against homophobia,” Yakunin told “Novaya gazeta.” “And we say that the danger is not in the fact that someone is a homosexual but rather in what he [may out of fear be forced] to say.” Andrey Kurayev is wrong when he talks about a “homosexual lobby” in the church. “The danger is elsewhere.”
It lies, Yakunin continued, with the way in which Patriarch Kirill is using the presence of gays in the hierarchy to convert the church into “a political force” that he alone controls. “No one ever has dealt with this theme,” the dissident religious leader says, “because there was a taboo on it.” Kurayev, for all his shortcomings, has opened the door to discussion, Yakunin said.
“The chief reason and misfortune of [the Russian] Orthodox Church is that the elements of democracy which were in the early church are now completely absent,” Father Gleb says. “That tradition must be restored,” he continued, as part of the purification of the church from its descent into magic and authoritarianism.
For the church today, he added, homosexuality is a problem not because some people think it is a sin but rather because its exploitation by the hierarchy has “been converted into a system, a social-political lift” that allows the patriarch and those around him to enforce absolute discipline. They have become like “members of the Politburo.”
“This creates a serious threat,” Yakunin says, “and Kurayev feels this sharply. He is afraid even to speak openly about this [because] he does not want to draw the whole unattractive picture.” But even if he is suppressed, the issue is now more out in the open, and its discussion should force society and the church to change.
Given President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to exploit anti-LGBT attitudes and his signing into law a ban on “homosexual propaganda to children,” the Kremlin leader has put Kirill in a difficult position: Putin can’t be entirely comfortable with a religious leader whose control rests on exploiting fears among hierarchs of exposure and legal action against them.
Yakunin pointed out that the current situation represents a kind of paradox. In Soviet times, “when the church was under the complete control and influence of the KGB, it was still possible to explain [what was happening] by reference to the fact that the church was ‘a prisoner.’”
But today, Father Gleb said, “if one speaks about the FSB, then [that security agency] fears the church [more than the other way around] because in fact the church has been put in the position of the former Central Committee of the CPSU.” That makes what Kurayev is doing all the more important.
In the past, the Soviet security agencies pushed the church to promote gays knowing that they would be at risk and thus subject to KGB control. Now, the Patriarchate is doing the same in the expectation that it and no one else will be able to control the hierarchy. From the perspective of the church, that is even worse, Yakunin suggested.
“For me,” he concluded, “what is important is not who supports Kurayev but who opposes him.” What he is doing presents an opportunity for cleansing the church not so much of its KGB-dominated past but of its Kirill-dominated present, Yakunin added, and he thus deserves “all possible support.”