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"Gay Lobby" Accusations Inside Russian Orthodox Church

Two priests have recently accused a secret and vindictive "gay lobby" of undermining the Church, from the inside.

Ulyanovsk metropolitan Bishop Anastasius
Ulyanovsk metropolitan Bishop Anastasius
Emmanuel Grynszpan

Ulyanovsk, which happens to be the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin, is at the center of one of the worst scandals to shake the Russian Orthodox Church since it reemerged 25 years ago after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Monday night, in this city 560 miles west of Moscow, the faithful gathered and started to boo the metropolitan Bishop Anastasius before he could even begin his sermon. Newly appointed at the city's church, Anastasius has been haunted by a scandal since 2013, in which he allegedly harassed homosexuals at the Kazan Theological Seminary.

As Anastasius approached the entrance, 50 people who were waiting for him began to shout: "Anaksios!" (Greek for "disgraceful"). The Cossacks in charge of his security struggled to hold back the protesters, who followed the cleric up to the altar, and a brawl was just about avoided.

Two local Orthodox priests, Ioan Kossykh and Georgy Roschupkyn, were among the protesters. They started the movement soon after they heard about Anastasius' promotion to metropolitan.

"When I learned of his designation, I was taken aback," Kossykh wrote on his blog. "How can a man in such an ill-repute be appointed to our community?"

The two priests are calling for his public repentance or, at the very least, explanations from the Church hierarchy, which so far has rejected their demands and declared that Anastasius will remain in his position.

The day after the incident, Metropolitan Anastasius answered to the uproar: "Someone is trying to recreate another Maidan …" a reference to the political uprising in Kiev which has become synonymous with foreign infiltration to undermine Russian interests.

Sexual abuse accusations

The case was brought to light by Russian publications online but has not gotten wide coverage on TV channels or national newspapers. Le Temps contacted officials in the Russian patriarchate, but none agreed to comment publicly on the incident.

Andrei Kouraiev, a priest at loggerheads with the clergy, is of the opinion that "the patriarchate had to show to its members that it will not give up on them, if they are loyal. It serves to intimidate the lower ranks as well."

Kouraiev accuses a gay lobby of undermining the Orthodox Church, and foresees a harsh punishment for the two outspoken priests, Kossykh and Roschupkyn.

Elena Volkova, a specialist of Orthodox Church affairs, says "the existence of a gay lobby is beyond doubt," and being part of it "assures you will climb the hierarchical ladder very quickly."

Volkova says there have also been many cases of sexual violence against young priests. "It doesn't surprise anyone, but it is absolutely taboo. Those who dare to talk about this are hunted down and harassed," she said.

Senior officials are dead-set on a "no public apologies" policy for incidents of abuse, Volkova says. "This policy explains the patriarchate's violently homophobic campaigns. The criticism against the gay community are meant to divert the people's attention away from their own vices."

Both the Orthodox Church and the Kremlin have been aggressively and openly homophobic since 2012, when President Vladimir Putin launched his campaign for a third term with a far-right agenda. The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill regularly praises Putin in public, and in exchange enjoys material and administrative privileges. There is also control over the judicial system, which in the latest case meant that an investigation has been opened in Ulyanovsk against the two dissident priests.

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