Alexander Usatov was a priest for 15 years, but then he lost faith in God and left the Russian Orthodox Church. And after that he moved to the Netherlands – and came out. We talked to him

Alexander Usatov studied the Bible for 30 years and served as a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church for 15 years. Gradually, he lost faith in God, and in March 2020 he left the Russian Orthodox Church . After that, Usatov moved to the Netherlands and received refugee status. In March 2021, he  came out . Meduza’s special correspondent Alexandra Sivtsova spoke with the former priest – about himself and what is happening in the Russian Orthodox Church.

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– You have  served in the church for 15 years. Have you been satisfied with everything over the years?

– No, it didn’t. In the church I was in a myth. As a youth, I imagined that everything sinful must be overcome, and in the end you will achieve holiness and eternal life. When I was a schoolboy, I read the Bible and decided that all this [homosexuality] was unacceptable, I shouldn’t think about it. 

– When did you realize that you are homosexual?

– It’s called “wake up.” At school there was an interest in the topic, and at 22 [years old] I realized that this was not curiosity, but mine. Then I confessed to myself. This is a personal story, I would not want to discuss the details, but self-acceptance came at 22 years old. At that time I had already read the Bible for many years, knew church texts, taboos, the attitude of the church and society to this topic. 

– What else were you doing then?

– Graduated from a secular university and defended his diploma.  

– Who did you study for?

–  I graduated from the South Russian State Polytechnic University. He worked at a plant where attitude control systems for spacecraft and rockets were manufactured.

Later he received a theological education at the Orthodox St. Tikhon University for the Humanities as a teacher of theology. Passed two candidate exams as a graduate student of the Russian Christian Academy for the Humanities and the General Church Postgraduate and Doctorate Studies of the Russian Orthodox Church.

– How did you get to church?

– I came to the temple in 1992, already having experience in reading the Bible. I soon became a zealous believer.

– You are homosexual and you understood this about yourself from your youth. You knew the official attitude of the church to this topic. Why did you decide to go to serve?

– I fought with [my] homosexuality. The church offers healing and salvation. They say that everyone has their own passions. Some want to drink, others – to steal, others – to hooligan, fifth – to fornicate. Church people know that homosexuality is just one of the many vices that exclude a person from salvation. If all these people are kicked out [from the church], who will be left? On the other hand, the church exists for the healing of sins. 

This [homosexuality] itself is not a problem. Passions must be overcome, “healed” – in the church jargon. Therefore, gays remain in the [church] system.

– That is, you went to the Russian Orthodox Church, hoping that your orientation will change?Advertising

– Yes. In fact, within the church there is a relationship only to actions, and not to orientation. Homosexuality as a term is a remake, there are no such words in the canons and the Bible . 

It seemed to me that my life could straighten: everything would be different, the church would help me in this, because God himself had promised. This is a manifestation of faith: when you believe in God, you do as he tells you to. If he commands to fight with himself, we will do it. If a person wants meat in fasting, it is not necessary, because the church says “it is not necessary”. And I had this “post”: the fight [against homosexuality]. 

People who shout “Why didn’t you leave right away?” Do not understand the psychology of believers. Believers expect God to help them overcome their passions. 

– How did you solve this dilemma for yourself during 15 years of service in the church? You are homosexual and serve in a church where there are people with the same orientation. At the same time, the ROC does not officially approve of such relations.

– One saint says: “The church is a gathering of repentant sinners.” So I thought, “Yes, there are people in the church who have a penchant for drinking, swearing, smoking, but they have to fight it.” On the other hand, in order to maintain the beautiful facade and PR of the ROC, it must be argued that such a problem does not exist.

As an expression: “There is no sex in the USSR.” This is a lie. This is what the naked king does: he goes to the people and pretends to be dressed beautifully, but he is naked. 

– So how did you put up with it?

– I realized that even in church rules, the attitude towards relationships between men is ambivalent. Some extreme forms are prohibited, and everything else is perceived, in my opinion, as the norm or self-indulgence. For example, the Church Rite says about the Easter custom: “And the churchwomen come, and the elders and the abbot kiss on the lips.” But all this time I was struggling with being gay.

– What are you talking about, comparing the church and the naked king? 

– To show our importance for the state, we [ROC] will tackle a narrow topic [the fight against homosexual minorities], which should unite the nation, distract it from economic and social problems. We will find enemies according to the old tradition – we will declare a witch hunt.

I believe that the church is looking for sodomites and enemies of the king, serving the interests of the ruling circles; she distracts people. The energy of the people’s anger is directed at the so-called “enemies of the people.” At the same time, the church positions itself as the bride of Christ. But in fact – the “naked king”.

I’ve seen it before, it confused me. This seemed to be the inevitable cost of the Fall.

– Why is the church looking for “enemies of the people”?

– When there is no clear enemy, people are worried. Remember what anxiety was when the pandemic came. Then they came up with an enemy – that almost aliens or Freemasons chip people. If the enemy appears in the field of view, it is immediately easier. 

And real work in the moral field does not take place, because the church is not interested in this. For her, in my opinion, the most important thing is power, money, sex. But in secret. And the rigid vertical of power from the patriarch to the village church should be covered with words about love and holy hierarchy.

– In  your address where you came out, you mention the “church gay lobby”. You say: “Everyone knows about the existence of the gay lobby and the opportunity to make an easy career after going through the bishop’s bed.” What is this gay lobby? 

– In my opinion, these are, first of all, influential gays in the [church] system, who are united not only by church politics and finances, but also by common sexual interests; they support each other and cover each other in case of scandals. These are bishops, career monks , privileged clergy. They do not exist in isolation in the church. In my opinion, the patriarch and other bishops know about them, they are used in their own interests. I think that almost the entire ruling elite of the Russian Orthodox Church is involved in the gay lobby, one way or another. The rest cover it, some bishops cohabit with women.

Many influential gays want to have a special environment where they can share love affairs, brag about young men, and behave in a relaxed manner. Along the way, the environment solves career problems, provides a refuge in case of problems – for example, one gay bishop can host another, give him a quiet haven during a scandal [if his orientation is found out publicly].

– Do the clergy have offers to engage in sexual contact?

– Yes.

– For what? 

– Just because the influential person wants it. Offering sex is a test of loyalty and, at the same time, a manifestation of trust.

Before that, the “candidates” are looked at: they must be with certain parameters. Either slender and beautiful, or pliant and ready for anything, or clever and able to serve, to help Vladyka in his everyday worries. If all these qualities are combined in one person, he will become the Vladyka’s closest companion and will follow him from diocese to diocese, and in time he will become a bishop himself.

The usual picture for most dioceses: the fast-paced careers of the bishop’s favorites against the backdrop of the bulk of priests who have been waiting for promotions and awards for decades.

– Do you need to have sex with influential hierarchs in order to advance your career? 

– Not necessary. People can simply please the eye of the bishop: he is pleased to be surrounded by beautiful people. It is even better if they are talented at the same time, can sing well, write books, bring in sponsors. But often looks and ability to keep your mouth shut is enough. Not all of them will be offered sex, but all, one way or another, take into account this possibility. The main thing is that the bishop entrusts his intimate secrets to these people.

– Were you offered to make such contact? 

– From the bishop, thank God, no. The atheist said , “Thank God.”

Not everyone can get such a ticket to the top. To do this, he must have special qualities. Apparently, I don’t have them – that’s why they didn’t offer them. 

–  Do you think Patriarch Kirill is a member of the gay lobby, or at least knows about it?

– I think he is his ideological inspirer and leader. Everyone is dancing to his tune. I think the Cyril system covers the gay bishops. Except for striking cases with nudity in the photo.

– How did you publicly hide your homosexuality?

– It’s not written on the face. I lived like an ordinary person. Never visited gay clubs. Almost all gays in Russia live in secret.HOW GAY PEOPLE LIVE IN RUSSIA

–  Have you ever publicly expressed a common church point of view? Is it conditional that gays are evil?

– Not “gays are evil”, but then I thought that homosexuality is a consequence of original sin and a person’s free choice. And he called it a distortion of human nature, which must be overcome with God’s help.

– In 2012, you confessed to the Rostov Metropolitan Mercury that you were gay ( Usatov served in Rostov-on-Don – Meduza’s comment ). What for?

– It’s very difficult to hide. And at that moment I was ready to leave the church – I was at a dead end. [Because] by that time, I had begun to turn from a fighter against my own homosexuality into a gay. But the Metropolitan supported me, and I stayed on to serve.

– How did the Metropolitan support you then?

– There is repentance in the church: repent and do not do it again. He supported, said: “Serve on, do not leave the church.” 

– He gave you a decree on how to behave?

-Yes. He knocked on the table and said: “If you appear somewhere, someone will know [that you are gay], I will destroy you.”

– Still, why did you stay in the church, since you felt that situation was a dead end? 

– The Metropolitan knows how to inspire people. 

– What kind of Mercury is a man?

“When we were discussing the problems of staying homosexuals in church, he gave me advice:“ Don’t sleep with the person you work with, and don’t work with the person you sleep with. ”

He bluntly said that he does not get attached to the people around him and the priests. For him, they are living functions and workers. People feel this and call the Metropolitan “Barynya”.

– What did you expect from serving in such a church then?  

– If you are being treated in a hospital, there should be results. This is an important image for me. And today I say that in a hospital called the Russian Orthodox Church, treatment is offered, money is taken for it, but there is no result. 

– Were there many gays in your parish?

– I cannot say this, because then I will bring real people under the monastery. 

– And if we talk about the ROC as a whole? Are more or less than half of the priests gays?

– The ROC now includes millions of parishioners, 35 thousand priests and more than 380 bishops. The number of homosexuals in each group will be different. In general, in any community there are about 3% of them. There are more of them among the clergy, because this environment – the altar, the monastery – can attract them. Many gay people are creative and sensitive. The beauty of divine services, orientation towards good relations in the male collective – all this can attract a homosexual.

In my opinion, they [gays] are in the majority among the episcopate, because the career of a bishop is a monastic career. People of homosexual orientation are more likely to become monks, because monks do not marry and this is considered the norm. In other communities, celibacy may seem reprehensible. It is career monks who most often become the favorites of gay bishops – and subsequently become bishops themselves.

– You  wrote that when you served in the church, you still discussed the LGBT topic in “your circle”. Is this a church circle?

– It was a church circle close to me. People who understand theology and canons. We discussed what we wrote about this during Byzantium, in the epistles of Paul, the meaning of the terms.

In the Russian Orthodox Church, it is not customary to talk about sexuality at a scientific level. And outside the church, the priests live as they want, but consider themselves at the same time almost saints. This creates a certain cognitive dissonance in church people. I discussed this with interested people, and now I am also ready to discuss it, but only in a scientific manner. 

– Have you had conflicts with other gay priests?

– There was a conflict with one person who thought that I was preventing him from communicating with some guys. This is sometimes called jealousy, but it had no basis whatsoever. A contrived problem that provoked a scandal. 

– Are you talking about some priest from Rostov-on-Don [where you served]?

– Yes, very significant.

– What’s his name?

– I can’t say the name, but I’m sure that all people involved in the Rostov diocese understand who I mean. There is no other such thing anymore. He has been in this diocese for a long time. Head of the diocesan department. A significant person, and to remove him for the reputation of the church would be a terrible damage. Although the process of self-cleaning from cruel, unprincipled, vindictive and hypocritical people would be beneficial for the church.

– Tell us what happened.

– It was at the beginning of autumn 2019. The priest thought that I was crossing his path. There was a sluggish conflict, which by 2020 began to grow. I tried to articulate the idea of ​​freedom of speech and freedom of expression of human rights. The gay lobby did not like this as it could destroy the foundations of the entire organization. And for a franchise [that is, the Russian Orthodox Church], this is unacceptable. 

– Why did you quarrel besides jealousy on his part?

– He bluntly said that in sermons and in church meetings, gays should be harshly scolded – and it was not enough for us to support them. I voiced my opinion to him that homosexuality should not be stigmatized. This [his attitude to homosexuality] angered me, because the most famous gay Rostov diocese told me this. It turns out that an influential archpriest with money can indulge in anything sexually, and the personal life and needs of ordinary people should be crushed and denounced by the clergy. This is hypocrisy. After he heard that I was against it, things got worse.

– Were you threatened?

– Yes, an unknown man in civilian clothes approached me. He said that a denunciation was sent against me to a high government department. What happened to him [the denunciation] in the end, I do not know – since I left Russia.

– How widespread is this method of solving problems, when organs are involved, in the Russian Orthodox Church? 

– I know many examples. A stormy process is going on right now around Sergius. It was taken up by the power structures only when it ceased to be beneficial for the ROC.

– Is there any confirmation that a Rostov priest was involved in your situation? Or is it guesswork? 

– What we corresponded with the Rostov archpriest, went like quotes from the lips of a man in civilian clothes. I was also told that the denunciation comes from an archpriest from the inner circle of Mercury. I had no conflicts with other archpriests. 

– You mentioned that you were faced with libel in your address. What are you talking about?

– The fact is that many, having read the word “coming out”, did not read it further. And they began to think that I was expelled from the Russian Orthodox Church for homosexuality. This is not true. 

I decided to leave the Russian Orthodox Church on March 21, 2020 at the altar of the Rostov Cathedral. Because of disbelief, as well as threats for free thinking and talking with people about human rights – including about issues of sexuality.about:blankPublication of Alexander Usatov on Instagram on March 25, 2020

– You submitted an application for defrocking and indicated the reason that you became an unbeliever. How did you end up fired? 

– At the end of the conversation with the Metropolitan on March 24, 2020, he realized that I was not going to withdraw the application for defrocking because of disbelief. He got angry and kicked me out with the words “Get out!” An unbelieving priest is nonsense in Russia.

After that, his secretary issued a decree banning the ministry, since I had broken the oath I had taken when ordained to the priesthood. After all, I left the ministry, I do not contain the doctrine of faith, I violated the will of the archpastor, I do not believe in the Lord God. And also from himself, he added [that I am leaving] “due to illness” – indicating schizophrenia or asthenic-depressive state.

The Metropolitan immediately ordered to dismiss me from the theological seminary, although according to the law he has nothing to do with this process. I was asked to resign of my own free will. I refused and sent a complaint to the labor inspectorate. I was refused. After that, I sent a complaint to the regional prosecutor’s office, but they only advised me to seek protection in court. As a result, the rector [of the seminary] dismissed him by his order the next day.

– You also mentioned that after leaving the Russian Orthodox Church, some former colleagues spoke about your “secret adventures”: there were allegedly cases of harassment on your part. And a spokesman for Mercury has publicly called you “Rostov Harvey Weinstein” without providing any evidence. What are we talking about?

– These are fictions in order to discredit me as much as possible and divert attention from the internal problems of the ROC. For me, this slander did not come as a surprise: I was hinted that they would spread such a thing if I did not shut up.

– You were, among other things, accused of supporting Alexei Navalny. Do you support him?

– It was an absurd accusation contained in the denunciation. I don’t get into politics and I don’t know much about it. I have different goals and the means to achieve them: I am engaged in the popularization of scientific knowledge.

– Can priests support Navalny at all?

– It is not accepted in the Russian Orthodox Church.

– And in fact?

–  Priests understand a lot. They communicate with all kinds of people. But they cannot openly declare anything

– You have moved to the Netherlands. Have you thought about moving to Europe for a long time?

– Thoughts were long ago. But there were no ways to move, it was impossible even to think about it. It’s like going to Mars.

When the threat situation arose, I discussed it with a couple of people. They said to me: “Why are you sitting and waiting to be thrown into jail for far-fetched reasons? They will either break their legs or be sent to the hospital. ” I was really afraid of this. And in May-June 2020, I decided to think about seeking asylum. I was told that my threatening case was suitable for a move. I decided to leave. Although there were no guarantees.

– Who advised you to move?

– Through my acquaintances, I learned about the coordinates of people who deal with refugee affairs in Germany and the Netherlands. 

– First you received refugee status. What rights are you now in the Netherlands?

– This is a residence permit.

– How did you get it?

– After granting refugee status, officials decide for how long a person will receive a residence permit in an EU country. I have it for five years.

– Are you going to stay here?

– Of course! This is a wonderful country, I like everything, I have wonderful friends, girlfriends, neighbors, prospects with work and study.

Personal archive of Alexander Usatov

– What are the prospects?

– Now I cannot voice, but in parallel with training, I can volunteer, help sick people and do physical labor.

–  What do you want to work for?

– It’s too early to think about it. First you need to learn the language.

– What are you doing now?

– I live in my house, which is provided as social housing. I began to seriously study the Dutch language. Plus help to neighbors, neighbors, live communication, bike rides. The allowance pays me enough, and when I work, the income will be even higher – I think that’s enough for me.

– Do you miss Russia?

– In some beautiful places – yes. And most importantly – for people close to me.

Now I feel like in paradise among flowers, bicycles, canals. In silence. I rest, but I miss. 

– Someone may get the impression that the scandal was beneficial to you, so that there was a reason to move to Europe.

– This is nonsense, otherwise a huge number of people would have left for Europe. Checking before making a decision to grant asylum is a difficult psychological test. Specialists [of the migration service] are watching you for nine hours – they will understand by gestures, facial expressions, eyes if you are lying. A stream of questions on the same topic just as easily reveals pretense and deception.

Someone fantasizes that my coming-out is perfect for working out Western grants, but this is not so. I do not receive grants, only allowances. I am a full-fledged resident of the Netherlands. 

– Why did you decide to come out just a few days ago? Why not earlier?

– I had to get nervous, waiting for the decision [on the status of a resident], and also to live in a refugee camp. Now ripe. 

I had doubts if it was worth doing at all. Now a tub of dirt has poured on me from people who cannot see living people in gays. For them, a gay priest is a hypocrite, a opportunist, a careerist.

I expected this, but decided to open up to help other people who continue to break themselves in the church. I came out for the sake of those who “sit in the closet” and think how to erase their identity so that they are not punished by God. The scarecrows “by the wrath of the Lord” are inhuman; they cannot be called a heavenly revelation. I think my story can serve as a lesson for them and cause them to think. And I became even more convinced of this: many write me letters of support and share their church experience, which is in many ways similar to mine. 

– Did any of your colleagues contact you after coming out?

– Yes, former colleagues wrote to me – all with words of support. On the whole, I rather feel sympathy among the Rostov clergy. But, of course, they don’t talk about it publicly. 

– You stopped believing in God when you were still a priest. What do you believe in now?

– I am a materialist, in the ethical sphere I am a secular humanist. I don’t believe in gods: neither in Zeus, nor in Krishna, nor in the Trinity. 

– How does it feel to completely change your view of the world?

– This is my human evolution as a person. Someone asks why this has not happened before? How do I know?

At some point I finished school, university, read books, talked to people. Then I came to this conclusion [that I am an atheist]. Some do not come to him either at 42, at 50, or at 60. They are happy with everything. I don’t want to disturb them.

– As a result, you pre-evolved to the point when you became an unbeliever. During this journey, did you not have the feeling that you turned somewhere wrong? For example, when they did not read biblical literature, but books about science.

– You know, how some people end their love for a person, I also ended love for the church. I began to perceive it as a minefield – wherever you step, there will be a failure, an explosion, a blow. In any area – moral, historical, scientific, philosophical.

At the seminary, I was a teacher of “basic theology.” This is the line between religion and the scientific sphere, philosophical, psychological, social. I had to think a lot and, in a sense, even defend the position of the church. I saw how weak they are; saw a lie, distortion, violation of logic.

– What lies and violation of logic are you talking about?

– From school I leafed through the books of creationists , where the historicity of the Great Flood and the impossibility of the development of life forms in an evolutionary way were “proved”. In other publications, the exodus of two to three million Jews from Egypt to Canaan was presented as a historical event. The Holy Fire in all seriousness was presented as an argument against heterodox [other confessions] Christians . 

This accumulated over the years until I admitted to myself: everything that happens in the church is “human, too human.” And there is no need to braid the “hypothesis of God”. I see the influence of human psychology, human error and the way the brain works in the way the church works and the way “religious memes” are spread. I stopped believing in the church. The church method of salvation not only does not work, but even harms. 

Now, in order to understand a person, I am more interested in neurophysiologists and historians, rather than the holy fathers.

I was blown up by theological mines. I was undermined for a long time, after all, I am 42 years old. Maybe someone will stop earlier after reading me? He will think five times before going to church and breaking his life according to medieval patterns, thinking that here is salvation and grace. 

– Are there any regrets now that you have been doing the wrong thing for 15 years? 

– Of course, there have been many mistakes in my life, but I accept that. This is my story, all of this has shaped me as a person. Now I accept my story with all the pros and cons. But in the conditions of church life, it was impossible to accept oneself. There was cognitive dissonance. 

(C)MEDUZA 2021

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