Controversy in Moscow: Stalin icon revered
by Nina Achmatova
The initiatives of some Russian parishes that exhibit portraits of the Soviet dictator alongside those of proclaimed saints stirs controversy.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The figure of Stalin continues stir controversy in Russia, where the bloodthirsty dictator has left behind him a confusing tangle of veneration and rejection. Icons of the Red Tsar are still present throughout the country and rumours that some see him as a saint. The latest in a series of sacred representation of the "little father" has appeared in Moscow in the church of Saint Nicholas (Starovagankovsky lane): the icon depicts the life of Matriona, the blind saint, in an alleged meeting between her and Joseph Stalin. The Soviet dictator is not depicted in a religious manner, but he is placed next to the famous ascetic. An aspect that makes the story even more grotesque, is that Matriona (1885-1952) was forced to live in hiding to avoid arrest by communist regime. According to a legend, which was rejected by the Orthodox Church, Stalin visited Matriona in 1941, who predicted victory over the Nazis. In July of that year he is said to have addressed the nation on radio using the traditional greeting of the Orthodox Church "brothers and sisters". Almost a sign of his change of attitude towards Christianity.

A church is a strange place to find Stalin, who, despite his education at a seminary in Georgia, was responsible for a brutal religious repression in the USSR.

The author of the icon ins unknown but according to the priest in charge of churches in the district Fr. Vladimir, "is likely to have been donated to the parish."

The small church of Saint Nicholas is not the only one to exhibit the image of Stalin next to the icon of a proclaimed saint, like Matriona. In the winter of 2008 the story of Fr.Yevstafy Zhakov, pastor of St. Olga Strel'na near St. Petersburg caused uproar after he hung a portrait of the dictator among other sacred images. "I remember him on appropriate occasions  - the priest had declared- the day of his birthday, his death and that of Victory (World War II, ed.) He was a true believer”.

Among Russians there are even those who call for his beatification, but the Orthodox Church is in firm in its niet. "Some consider him a monster and a murderer – says Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Director of External Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow - for others it was as if he were a zealous orthodox." The positions of the church hierarchy are clear: "He never even had a moment of repentance," says Chaplin. A few weeks after the controversy, the Patriarchate of Moscow forced Fr. Yevstafy to remove the controversial icon from his parish.

Meanwhile, however, outside the church of St. Olga, and in various cities across the country holy cards are still distributed that depict the bloody politician with a halo. For those who already consider Stalin a saint.