Vienna, April 6 – Patriarch Kirill’s elevation of Russian Orthodox activist Andrey Kurayev to the status of archdeacon was obviously a reward for Kurayev’s enthusiastic backing of former metropolitan in his election campaign, but it remains an open question whether this new status will restrain the controversial deacon or empower him to be even more outspoken.
Yesterday, during his visit to St. Petersburg, the patriarch elevated Andrey Kurayev nominally “for his active missionary service and work with young people,” but most Russian commentators, including those most sympathetic, suggested that this represented a reward for Kurayev’s past support (www.rus-obr.ru/ru-web/2444).
But a far more interesting question is whether this elevation of the 46-year-old churchman to a rank that many say is itself somewhat archaic will have the effect of restraining Kurayev from making the kind of controversial statements that he has regularly issued or allow him to make even more, given this vote of confidence by the patriarch himself.
In his commentary on Kurayev’s elevation, Anatoly Stepanov, the chief editor of the Rusk.ru portal which has close links to the Moscow Patriarchate, writes today that Kurayev “undoubtedly deserved the award” but that “in recent times,” the deacon has “more and more often been involved in various kinds of scandals” (www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=105687).
These, Stepanov says, “harm not only his reputation but also, considering how well-known he is, the reputation of our Church.” And consequently, the portal editor said, Kirill may have taken this step not just to award a loyal supporter but also to restrict the public activities, including regular media appearances and speeches at rock concerts.
“The rank itself,” the Rusk.ru writer continues, “carries with it obligations.” Unless someone is quite old, the status of “archdeacon” sounds odd. And it would seem especially odd if used to introduce someone at a rock concert. Telling rock fans that a deacon is about to speak to them is one thing; telling them that an archdeacon will is quite another.
Thus, according to Stepanov, the patriarch was telling Kurayev that “you have worked a lot and fruitfully, but somehow you have begun to forget that you are not simply a publicist and a missionary but also a SERVANT OF THE CHURCH and that you need to participate in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and be less involved in polemics and public statements.”
This is potentially an important signal because as Stepanov says, “Father Andrey Kurayev is considered and not without foundation the number one missionary in our Church. However, in recent times, the very term missionary is being discredited by the active and even aggressive group of so-called ‘political Orthodox.’”
Many of those involved in that movement, he continues, believe in “mission for the sake of mission” rather than for the sake of the individual soul and the Church. And if Kirill has elevated Kurayev to separate the latter from this group, then the patriarch is “clearly indicating that “the chief missionary work is to take place inside the church,” not beyond it.
Such an interpretation is reasonable, especially since Kirill since the late 1990s has repeatedly stressed his opposition to missionary activities by any religious group directed at members of one of what he and others call the four “traditional” religions of Russia – Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism.
But it is far from certain whether Kurayev, who has a website and entitles an autobiographical article “how a scientific atheist became a deacon,” will be ready or even able to restrain himself out given his conviction that he is empowered to argue with everyone from the patriarch on down (kuraev.ru/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7&Itemid=1).
Currently a professor at the Moscow Theological Academy and a researcher at the philosophy faculty of Moscow State University, Kurayev has made an interesting career. Born in Moscow in 1963, he studied scientific atheism at Moscow state before transferring to the Theological Academy and then the Bucharest Theological Institute.
Since that time, Kurayev has served in a variety of Church educational institutions as a deacon but refused to become a priest lest he, in his own words, be “prevented from speaking his own opinion. And he has worked closely with the former metropolitan and current patriarch, even when the deacon’s opinions have diverged with Kirill’s
And what Kurayev does over the next few months will provide an important indication of where the Russian Orthodox Church is going to head under Patriarch Kirill. If Kurayev restrains himself, that would suggest that the head of the Church really is more interested in establishing a “power vertical” within the Church than expanding its influence over other groups.
But if Kurayev continues his past outreach efforts, that could indicate that Kirill will work to discipline clerics within the Church itself but is quite interested in having as his ally someone who is in a better or at least freer position to reach out to younger groups and to say things about other than Kirill himself.