A prominent theologian who claims to have outed a powerful "gay lobby" within the Russian Orthodox Church says he now fears being defrocked over his allegations.
The allegations by Deacon Andrei Kurayev, a firebrand missionary who taught at the Orthodox Moscow Theological Academy, are potentially damaging and expose the church to charges of double standards.
Not only does the church consider homosexuality to be a grave sin, but it has also helped spearhead a Kremlin campaign targeting gays and lesbians -- most notably a law banning the propagation of "non-traditional sexual relations."
Kurayev is known for his radical but eloquent tirades that have often put him at odds with the Moscow's Patriarchate's official line.
He has made anti-Semitic remarks, spoken in support of recently pardoned former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and protested the jailing of Pussy Riot members for their iconoclastic performance in Moscow's largest Orthodox cathedral.
But according to him, it is his decision to battle what he describes as a "gay metastasis" within the Russian Orthodox Church that caused his downfall.
On December 31, Kurayev was dismissed from the academy, the church's top educational institution, which explained it was no longer willing to tolerate his "shocking statements" and his "scandalous and provocative" activities in the media and the blogosphere.
Kurayev says he is bracing for more retaliation.
"Anything could happen," he told RFE/RL. "I could even be defrocked."
Kurayev is a protégé of previous Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexi II, who died in December 2008. He rejects speculation that the current head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, wants to silence him.
Instead, he blames his sacking on the "gay lobby" that he so virulently denounces and that, he warns, is rapidly consolidating its influence within the church.
"It's a very powerful group of people, some of whom hold important posts, including in the synod," he says. "What's really sad is that they influence the church's personnel policies. They appoint each other to vacant posts, and there are currently many vacancies."
Surprised By Backlash
His dismissal has only emboldened Kurayev, who now launches almost daily attacks against this alleged network of homosexual clerics.
He has been using his blog to cite testimonials from men who recount their sexual encounters with Orthodox priests and bishops.
Kurayev is a popular man. His LiveJournal blog is Russia's 37th most read and he has many supporters among churchgoers and clergymen.
He admits having "no recipe" for battling homosexual influence but nonetheless believes that his efforts to clean up the Russian Orthodox Church are overwhelmingly backed by clerics.
"I receive numerous letters and calls of support, mostly from priests but also from bishops. I understand that what I say reflects the opinion of the moral majority."
Kurayev says what prompted him to launch his campaign against gay clerics was the patriarchate's recent decision to fire a teacher accused of molesting students at Tatarstan's Kazan Seminary.
Despite the risk, he admits he never expected the campaign to seriously backlash against him:
"I made a mistake," he says. "I assumed the fact that the patriarchate sent a commission to the Kazan seminary and that, based on the commission's findings, the rector who molested the seminarians was dismissed meant the patriarchate had finally decided to pay attention to this problem and wished to tackle it. But I seem to have overestimated the patriarchate's readiness to follow this path."