UOC, dead monasticism, merciful Epiphany: what Kuraev’s right & wrong about

02 February 2021 22:06
Kuraev believes that monasteries are Kuraev believes that monasteries are "a bachelor community". Photo: UOJ

The article analyzes a number of theses about Ukrainian church life and Christianity in general expressed by the famous blogger and deacon Andrey Kuraev.

Protodeacon Andrey Kuraev, banned from the priesthood and found liable to be defrocked, gave an interview to the Ukrainian edition “Glavcom”, in which he said a lot of things that need to be thought about to draw conclusions often directly opposite to those that Andrei Kuraev makes. So, first things first.

We should say that we will not focus on the relationship between Deacon Andrey Kuraev and the Moscow Patriarchate or relations within the Patriarchate itself to find out who is right in the conflict, whether Andrei Kuraev should be found liable to be defrocked or not. More interesting and important are the moments related to the characterization given to the UOC, the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Orthodoxy in general by Kuraev.

Is the Church silent?

Protodeacon Andrey Kuraev believes that yes, She is silent.

“The Church confessed in the Creed and the only one that deserves to be written with a capital letter is the 'One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic' Church. But this Church is silent. She stopped speaking over a thousand years ago. And before that She spoke through the lips of the Ecumenical Councils. And She said very little – several dogmatic definitions about understanding Christ as God-Man. <…> This means that the voice of the Church sounds extremely rare. And on a very small range of topics – the Trinity and Christ. But that is precisely why the voice of the Ecumenical Church has not compromised itself in any way."

Let's think about the following: is the Church silent? And is it right to reduce the voice of the Church only to the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils? Of course, this opinion was expressed by Kuraev in the context of his conflict with the Moscow Patriarchate, but, nevertheless, in the two-thousand-year experience of the Church, one can find an answer to this question as well. The Church is not silent through the lips of its saints, through the lips of councils, even local ones, through the lips of martyrs, through the lips of the monks. The Church is not silent in its worship. And the most important thing about which the Church is not silent is the attainment of the Holy Spirit, the ways to achieve it. The Church speaks on this topic both through the writings of the Holy Fathers and through the life experience of people who have attained holiness.

These people were very different, with different characters, different fates, different living conditions, different eras in which they lived. But they were united by one thing: the fulfilment of the commandments of God in their lives so unlike each other. This experience, this voice of the Church very clearly defines what contributes to the attainment of the Holy Spirit and what opposes it. For example, some people go and seize a temple, cut the locks off the doors, commit violence against believers, and so on. And other people give in their temple, go to another, often completely wretched, room or try to build a new church. They offer, according to the commandment of Christ, the other cheek, because the new temple can also, in principle, be seized, destroyed or burnt. The question is: which of these people gains the grace of the Holy Spirit, and who drives it out of their souls?

The Church court found Kuraev liable to be defrocked for public slander against Protopresbyter Alexander Ageikin immediately after the tragic death of the latter. Commenting on the possibility of removing the punishment after a certain period of time, Andrey Kuraev cited a rule according to which "beatings by a cleric causing grievous bodily harm entails a ban for a period of 1 to 5 years". And he added: "But I didn't beat anyone." That is, the ban period should be shorter. But the point is not how long Andrey Kuraev will be banned from the priesthood. The fact is that by his slander he hurt his own soul or, more precisely, the dangerous state of Andrey Kuraev’s mind gave rise to the fact that he published insulting words against a newly deceased person who did not live to be 50 years old.

It is not the Church's reprisal for an offence that is terrible but the unrepentant sin that corrodes the human soul from the inside. And the Church is not silent about this, She cries out about this with every word!

It is not the Church's reprisal for an offense that is terrible but the unrepentant sin that corrodes the human soul from the inside.

Do Ukrainians need autocephaly?

Deacon Andrey Kuraev's opinion about Ukrainian autocephaly is quite original. He can write, for example, that "... if Constantinople proposes some kind of legitimation of Ukrainian autocephaly, then I think that the majority of the Ukrainian episcopate and clergy will gladly accept this option." And maybe, something like this: “... I'm not for or against Ukroautocephaly. Let this, in general, minor issue be decided by the Ukrainians themselves. And, having decided, they will discover that universal happiness did not come with the tomos."

In an interview with Glavcom Kuraev said the following:

“It all depends on Metropolitan Onuphry. If he had the ultimate goal of gaining freedom and had a roadmap to achieving it, Moscow would not be able to prevent him. But he has no such goal. And in general, it is not clear what exactly actions of his are being held back by Moscow, whether it is hindering him in any way (except for his image in the eyes of notorious opponents). And if the head of the UOC (MP) does not set such a goal, it means that he does not feel such a need. Other hierarchs see this behaviour of their metropolitan and do not put pressure on him towards autocephaly. This means that there is no such pressure on them from their clergy, sponsors, or parishioners. And so forget about Moscow here. This is a question about Ukraine itself, about a significant number of its citizens. If these millions do not have a request for autocephaly, is this their fault or disadvantage? It does not bother. The Ukrainian political and ecclesiastical situation quite favours if not the implementation then, at least, the voicing of such a request. But neither I in Moscow nor Metropolitan Onuphry in Kiev hear such voices from within the Church. And this is not Moscow's fault."

The general tone of this statement is outwardly impartial, but there is a kind of lordly disregard in it – they say, Ukrainians from the UOC have not matured in their minds to this autocephalous "freedom". “It doesn't bother them,” as Deacon Andrey Kuraev said.

Why don't Ukrainians need autocephaly? Because in the UOC even ordinary believers understand what, unfortunately, super-educated intellectuals fail to grasp. And even more regretfully, secular rulers cannot understand. Ukraine is various. Residents of different parts of our country have a different mentality, different historical experience, different cultural and national values and traditions. We speak different languages, we have different heroes, we have family ties in different neighbouring states. And if we value our unity, then we should not try to remake others for ourselves, but hear and take into account the opinion of other people. So far, the UOC is the only structure in Ukraine that values this unity.

In the UOC, there are both ardent supporters of autocephaly and equally ardent opponents. But we value our unity and therefore we preserve the canonical status of the autonomous Church, which suits all of us. If this unity were not a value for us, then the UOC would have been divided long ago. Some would have become independent, others would have entered the ROC no longer in the status of autonomy, but in the status of, probably, simple dioceses or metropolises. Moreover, such a division would be accompanied by numerous conflicts over monasteries, churches, dioceses, property, etc. The preaching of Christianity would end, and mutual squabbles and accusations would begin.

Another, even more important question is: why do we need autocephaly? If our spiritual life would improve with the obtaining of autocephaly, if we began to love our neighbour more, help him/her, if we prayed more, sin less, and so on, then we would all vote for autocephaly with both hands. If the mores of society improveв, the number of divorces, abortions, crimes decreaseв, if our legislation stopped drifting towards recognition of LGBT people, euthanasia and other issues that contradict the Bible, then autocephaly should be recognized as necessary. But this is not the case. Autocephaly, according to its supporters in power, is needed to strengthen Ukrainian statehood and confront Russia. That is, for purposes completely different from the goals of the Church of Christ on earth.

Faithfulness or openness?

When asked by “Glavcom” about the next patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Deacon Andrey Kuraev replied: “Whoever becomes a patriarch, by and large, this will not change anything. In the Church itself, there must be a need for some kind of change. If this is not the case, then there is only one way – marginalization. The name of the one who will lead this historical going into the socio-cultural catacombs is not so important. He will still cement the Church in its faithfulness to its past."

It is said correctly, but for some reason again in a negative sense. Kuraev seems to scoff at the faithfulness to the past and dreams of the need for change in the Church. But in the Church, there is a need for only one change: to turn down the old man and be embodied in the new one. And apparently, it is not these changes that Kuraev has in mind. Which ones, we learn from his own words, which follow:

“The main difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is that Catholics want to be Catholics, while Orthodox Christians want to be Orthodox. This is not a meaningless tautology. Catholicity is universality. It is very important for the Catholic consciousness to be inclusive. The Church is everywhere and with everyone. Accordingly, the loss of certain groups of the population is very painful for the Catholic pastoral consciousness. And for the Orthodox consciousness, the most important thing is to be Orthodox, that is, the most important thing is to preserve the identity with the image of one's past. It is important to be one not with contemporaries, but with ancestors, “Holy Fathers”.

Again hitting the target and again mockery. Indeed, what we are сurrently observing in Catholicism is an adaptation to the needs of society. These requests are well-known: LGBT rights, women's priesthood, ecumenism, and so on. Many Catholic bishops speak out officially in support of all this. Likewise, Pope Francis does not hide his sympathy for non-traditional people, people of other faiths and other "population groups". Perhaps this is correct from a human point of view, but Christ commanded something completely different: "... whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of His Father with the holy Angels" ( Mark 8:38). And if we are ashamed to call what the Holy Scripture calls sin as a sin, will these words not apply to us?

Indeed, today religious organizations calling themselves Christian are faced with a choice: to change their creed and moral norms to please modern society in order not to lose "some population groups" or to remain faithful to the Gospel, the teachings of the Holy Fathers, but at the same time to lose these most "population groups", endure social disapproval and eventually become outcasts.

The Protestants have long chosen the first path for themselves. Catholics have taken it relatively recently, from the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The Orthodox still adhere to the second path, and even if Kuraev calls it marginalization, “going into socio-cultural catacombs”, but it was about this path that the Lord said: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Is modern monasticism dead?

The "Glavcom" resource tried to force Deacon Andrey Kuraev to call to transfer the Ukrainian Lavras to the OCU, but he heard the unexpected: monasteries are an obsolete past and there is nothing to cling to at all.

“Anyway, why fight for stones and for the past? Create something new! No, not new monasteries, but a new icon of your faith. Why should a bachelor community be the main symbol of the Christian faith? <…> Let the Lavras of the UOC (MP) be famous for their antiquity and architecture. Let them have dinosaurs like Metropolitan Paul. Let the dead bury their dead. Do not fight them."

Yes, in monasticism from its very emergence there have been various shortcomings and disorders. Different people lived in the monasteries and different customs reigned. Often shameful sin coexisted with the highest holiness. To be convinced of this, it is enough to read the ancient (and not only) patericons. But monasticism has always been and will be the striving to fulfil the commandments of God in their fullness. The words that monasticism is perfect Christianity belong to many Holy Fathers. From the past we know many saints who pleased God in monasteries, but what about modern monks? Are they dead, as Kuraev says?

Instead of the answer, here are a few modern stories. In 2002, in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, Schema-Archdeacon Stephen (secular name Maxim Nikolaevich Bondarevsky) died at the age of 26. When he learnt that he was suffering from cancer in the last stage, he humbly accepted the schema and began to prepare for death. The abbot of the Lavra, Metropolitan Pavel, blessed him to receive communion every day and himself read over him the canon for the repose of the soul. Father Stephen peacefully departed to the Lord on the second day of Christmas. One of the oldest monks of the Lavra, Archimandrite Polykarp (Linenko), recalled it this way: “We clothed him, put him in his cell, waiting for a coffin to be brought. And I was sitting next to him, sniffed his hand – and it smelt of fragrant oil, and it was so touching ... And here's what else is remarkable. He died at the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos, and one monk, schema-hegumen Agapit, who died in 1991, said: 'The old monks said: Sing in the kliros, and the Mother of God will love and cover you.' It turned out that Fr. Stephen sang in the kliros for 8 years, all his life, both seminary and monastic, and on the day of Her feast the Mother of God took him into the Kingdom of Heaven to her Son."

And in 2020, the monk of the Zverinets Monastery of the Archangel Michael in Kiev, Schema-Archimandrite Job (Grishchenko), died at the age of 51. Before coming to the Church, he managed to be both a Protestant pastor and a “bishop” of the UAOC. Realizing the falsity of these paths, he repented and came to the Church as a simple monk. He brought many people from different sects and heresies to Orthodoxy. After a while, his kidneys failed, and then on dialysis, he was infected with hepatitis. He also did not complain but humbly accepted the schema, preparing to meet the Lord. He understood perfectly well that in case of infection with coronavirus, he had no chance of surviving ...

Here is the answer to Andrey Kuraev: only people alive in spirit can so humbly and peacefully leave for Eternity. And this is what we know because monasticism is an exclusively closed and non-public community.

There are a lot of monks for whom monasticism is not a mere name and not "a bachelor community" in our monasteries. Many ascetics, both ancient and modern, believe that monasticism will endure until the end of the age and that through the prayers of monks the earth is held.

Humour from Kuraev

And finally, a little humour from Deacon Andrey Kuraev. Against the background of the ongoing seizure of churches and violence against UOC believers, against the background of the war with the "honourary patriarch", against the background of the constant lies and hypocrisy of the head of the OCU, Sergei (Epiphany) Dumenko, Kuraev's call to him sounded very sarcastic: “So let Epiphany try to create from his Сhurch an icon of love and care, mercy and ministry”.

We fully support Andrey Kuraev here – let Sergei try to understand the meaning of the words “love”, “care”, “mercy” and “ministry”. After all, in the history of Christianity, there are many examples when the most hardened robbers and scoundrels were transformed by the action of God's grace. And we sincerely wish the same transformation to Father Deacon himself.

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