An icon of St. Matrona of Moscow, which also depicts Soviet commander-in-chief Joseph Stalin, was placed in Tbilisi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral. The icon was placed a few months ago, but on the eve of the Nativity of Christ in the old style, it was moved to a more central place, where it attracts the attention of visitors. Georgian historian Giorgi Kandelaki posted photos of the icon on his Facebook page with the words: “Icon of Joseph Stalin, the initiator of the destruction of Georgia’s independence, the murderer of thousands of clergy and the creator of the Soviet totalitarian system, in the Holy Trinity Cathedral.” Another success for the Russian information war machine.”
His publication found a strong public response and the patriarchate had to comment on the case. The head of the press office of the patriarchate, Fr. Andrija Jagmaidze confirmed in a conversation with the Georgian publication CNews that Stalin is indeed depicted on one of the icons in the cathedral, but reminded that the icons sometimes have images of people who insulted or persecuted the Church. He gave as an example the persecutor of Christians Diocletian, who is depicted on the icon “St. George advises Diocletian”. According to the representative of the patriarchate, it is not the icon itself that is a provocation to the feelings of the faithful, but the drawing of attention to it on the eve of the holiday.
However, his words did not convince the outraged people, who rightly note that on this icon Stalin is not represented as a torturer, as is the case with the icon of St. George, but as a meek Christian standing humbly next to a saint. She wants to legitimize the myth of Stalin’s secret Christianity, which is particularly popular among supporters of the Soviet regime.
On January 10, the icon was covered with blue paint. Civil activist Nata Peradze published footage of the painted icon. This is the reason why dozens of supporters of one of the far-right Georgian movements with a pro-Putin orientation surrounded her home and attempted to lynch her, “finishing what the state does not do.” The police did not allow suicide. As RFE/RL’s Georgian Service reported, an angry mob swarmed the house of Georgian activist Nata Peradze on January 10 after she posted a video online showing blue paint splattered on an icon of St. Matrona of Moscow in Tbilisi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral that had recently sparked controversy because it carries an image of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. It was initially unclear whether Peradze had defaced the icon, but as activists of the pro-Russia Alt-Info group gathered outside her home and loudly accused her of “insulting the icon,” she admitted she threw the paint.
Georgia’s Institute for the Study of the Soviet Past has called for the icon to be removed from the central Georgian temple. They remind that the icon was placed in the temple on the eve of the 103rd anniversary of the Soviet occupation of Georgia, “which began precisely on the initiative of Joseph Stalin”, and is “an insult to the memory of the victims of Soviet Russian totalitarianism”: “During Joseph Stalin’s rule in Georgia saw the execution of hundreds of clergy, most of them pastors and parishioners of the Georgian Orthodox Church, especially during the anti-Soviet uprising of 1924 and then during the Stalinist terror of 1937-1938. during Stalin’s rule, some 80,000 clergy and up to one million citizens were executed simply for their religious beliefs,” the organization said in a statement.
However, after the paint splatter incident, the icon was cleaned and placed in an even more central location in the temple, and media access to the temple was temporarily banned “without permission”.
Meanwhile, it is clear that the icon was donated to the church in Tbilisi by the leaders of the pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots party Irma Inashvili and David Tarkhan-Muravi. It aims to revive the cult of Stalin on church grounds, so that he is presented as a patron of the church and not as a persecutor. This goal is clearly recognized by the faithful who react sharply to this provocation, especially since in the recent church history of Georgia, its most popular contemporary saint Gabriel (Urgebadze) is known for his act of protest when during the Holy Week of 1965. publicly burns a portrait of Lenin with the words: “The Lord says: Do not make for yourself an idol or any image of that which is in heaven above, that is on the earth below, and that is in the water under the earth; do not bow down to them and do not serve them.’ Lenin’s portrait was carried at a demonstration on the eve of Easter, and neither the saint nor his contemporaries could have guessed that the time would come when the images of the persecutors of the Church of Christ would occupy a place of honor in the temple.