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Patriarchate of Georgia: “Change the icon of Saint Matrona with Stalin, or we will do it ourselves”

The Patriarchate of Georgia requests the change of the icon displayed in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, depicting Saint Matrona of Moscow blessing Joseph Stalin.

Georgian authorities are currently investigating an incident involving the vandalism of an icon portraying Joseph Stalin within Tbilisi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral.

The controversial display, showcasing the Soviet leader alongside an Orthodox saint has reignited divisive sentiments across the nation regarding Stalin’s historical legacy.

Reports from the Georgian news agency Interpress detail an unknown assailant splashing blue paint on the icon, sparking public outrage. The icon, which has been exhibited for several months, depicts the Georgia-born Stalin alongside St. Matrona of Moscow, a revered figure in Russian Orthodoxy.

The country’s interior minister has initiated an investigation into the incident, prompting heightened security measures around the cathedral. The defaced icon has been cleaned, and police officers are on patrol outside the cathedral to ensure its protection.

The controversial icon has brought attention to the ongoing debate surrounding Stalin’s image and the legacy he represents. While some view him as a hero for defeating Nazism during World War II, others condemn him for his tyrannical regime, which led to mass atrocities and millions of deaths in labor camps.

Former Georgian MP Giorgi Kandelaki expressed dismay over the icon’s portrayal, denouncing it as an attempt to glorify Stalin’s dark history. He highlighted Stalin’s role in the creation of a totalitarian regime and the perpetration of mass murders.

Despite the ongoing discussions and divisions within Georgian society, there remains a lack of consensus regarding Stalin’s complex legacy. Recent polls indicate a divided public opinion, with some acknowledging his ruthless reign while others express pride in his leadership.

This divisive sentiment was evident among Georgians outside the cathedral, with conflicting views reflecting the ongoing debate. While some praised Stalin as a historical figure, others vehemently opposed his glorification, citing the suffering he caused to countless individuals.

The incident has reopened old wounds and reignited discussions about how the nation should perceive and remember Stalin’s place in history, underscoring the ongoing struggle to reconcile differing perspectives on this controversial figure.

Following the recent controversy surrounding the depiction of the Georgian-born Stalin—a declared atheist who violently suppressed religion throughout the Soviet Union—and the incidents that occurred when an unknown perpetrator threw paint on the image, the Patriarchate of Georgia issued a statement taking a stance.

According to the statement, based on the rules of iconography, “an icon can depict not only the saint but also real stories related to the life of the saint, including rulers and ordinary people, heretics, and persecutors of the Christian faith.”

“However,” it adds, “this does not mean at all that the image glorifies these figures or attributes any dignity to them.”

Regarding the controversial icon, the Patriarchate of Georgia clarifies that, based on the available evidence about the life of Saint Matrona, there is no record of a meeting with Joseph Stalin.

“It is necessary to change the depiction of Saint Matrona with Stalin and take into account other details related to the canonicity of iconography. The donors of the icon are called upon to make the appropriate changes to the image themselves; otherwise, we will do it ourselves.”

The Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia has instructed an investigation into the incident with the icon, as reported by the Georgian news agency Interpress, without providing further details. The icon has been cleared, and the cathedral is being guarded by police.

The nationalist party of Georgia, the “Alliance of Patriots”, which also expresses pro-Russian views, announced that it donated the icon to the cathedral. President Vladimir Putin has been seeking the restoration of Stalin in recent years as part of efforts to support national pride.

A former Georgian parliament member, Giorgi Kandelaki, was the first to draw attention last weekend to the presentation of the icon in the cathedral, condemning it as a politically motivated move to enhance Stalin’s reputation.

“I am outraged because the idea behind this icon is to praise Stalin and portray him in a positive light. He committed the greatest mass murders in history, the creator of the Soviet totalitarian regime,” Kandelaki told Reuters.


The Division among Georgians

Stalin, whose real name was Joseph Dzhugashvili, was born in 1878 in the city of Gori, Georgia, where there is a museum dedicated to his life and work, continuously attracting tourists, although the dictator’s statue in the city square was removed in 2010.

After consolidating his power following the death of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin in 1924, Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist until he died in 1953.

While Stalin’s supporters – both in Russia and Georgia – praise him as the man who defeated Nazism in World War II, his critics see a bloodthirsty dictator who sent millions to the Gulag labor camps and presided over the Great Terror of 1936-38, during which, according to historians, up to 1.2 million people lost their lives.

Former parliament member Kandelaki, who now works at the Tbilisi Soviet Past Research Laboratory, a think tank, stated that some Georgians – not just the elderly nostalgic for the Soviet era – believe that Stalin was a secret Christian trying to preserve ancient culture, even when overseeing the systematic persecution of religion.

Thirty years after Georgia gained its independence (from Moscow), Georgian society has not truly clarified its stance on this individual,” stated Kandelaki.

A 2021 poll conducted by the Caucasus Research and Information Center showed that the majority of Georgians believe Stalin was a tyrant responsible for millions of deaths and also a tough leader who brought prosperity to the Soviet Union.

According to the survey, about half of the respondents said that Georgian patriots should be proud of Stalin.

Outside the cathedral, Georgians also appeared divided over Stalin.

“He was a great personality,” said grandmother Mariam Bampunashvili. “He was god-sent, and we need more like him.”

However, 29-year-old Natia Bosler stated that she “had a stroke” from the depiction of Stalin in the religious icon. “Stalin did many wrong things to the people. He destroyed lives, and there is no place for him here,” she said.

Source: ANA-MPA /