Patsourakos: An “icon” of Stalin is sacrilege

George Patsourakos, an AOI Observer commentator, recently posted this essay on his website Theology and Society.

In a news story that shocked Christians throughout the world this week, it was revealed that Joseph Stalin — the Russian tyrant responsible for murdering millions of innocent people — was pictured on an icon at an Orthodox Church in Moscow.

Joseph Stalin portrayed in "icon."

Joseph Stalin portrayed in 'icon.'

The icon appeared in the Church of Saint Nicholas, and depicts Stalin with Matriona, the blind saint, in an alleged meeting between her and the Russian tyrant. Apparently this icon, whose author is unknown, had been donated to the church by a parishioner.

According to a legend — one that has been rejected by the Orthodox Church — Stalin visited Matriona in 1941, and she predicted victory over the Nazi Germans who had attacked Russia. Her prediction turned out to be correct, and this made Stalin more religious at that time, but he died as an atheist.

Although he was a student at an Orthodox seminary in neighboring Georgia, Stalin was expelled at the age of 20 in 1899, because of his revolutionary activities.

After the death of Lenin in 1924, Stalin took over as head of the Soviet Union and remained its dictator until his died in 1953. He eliminated threats to his power by means of purges and widespread secret executions. Indeed, Stalin was responsible for the murder of millions of innocent people during his dictatorship.

So why in the world would Russians today want to praise this “butcher of millions of people,” and include his image on a church icon?

The answer is that many Russians today are still impressed — even mesmerized — with Stalin’s military acumen that resulted in Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II.

On the other hand, this victory also proved to be very costly, because more than 20 million Russians were killed in defending their nation.

Another major reason that some Russians still revere Stalin is the fact that he did manage to make the Soviet Union into a world superpower — the most powerful nation in the world, after the United States.

But what about Stalin’s murders of millions of innocent people? Also, what about the repression and fear he instilled in all of the Russian people? Should these critical aspects of Stalin’s dictatorship be ignored, in order to justify his image on an icon and displaying that icon in an Orthodox Church?

Of course not! In fact, painting an image of Stalin on an icon, and displaying that icon in a church is a sacrilegious tragedy — a tragedy that contradicts the teachings of Christ and everything that Christianity represents.


  1. cynthia curran says

    Also, Stalin sign a pact with Hitler until Hilter invaded him and with the pact Hitler could Western Poland and Stalin Eastern Poland, a power grab by both dicators. Studying in seminary doesn’t make you a christian.

  2. George Michalopulos says

    What a sacrilege. Hitler could not have begun his own evil quest for domination had he not further allied himself with Stalin. Stalin deserves an equal share of the blame.

  3. Stalin does not have a halo. This seems important. Judas is often shown in icons of the Last Supper. How is it sacrilege to show and evil man in an icon? If he had a halo and prayers were directed to him, yes, I would worry a great deal. It makes me a little uncomfortable how regal he is portrayed, but I do not think it is sacrilege.

    • George Michalopulos says

      Boniface, I thought about that as well. All icons of the Last Supper for instance have Judas in it but it has never resulted in his being lionized in any way, that’s probably because the story of the Last Supper was much more well known than any of its iconography. (Good question, when was the first icon of the Last Supper written? I don’t know.)

      Anyway, getting back to depictions, true, Stalin wears no halo. But he looks very determined, one could say regal. I could easily imagine a minor cultus arising around his personage because of the not necessarily negative way in which he’s depicted. Plus the story behind this fanciful meeting lends itself to much interpretation.

  4. The only depiction of Stalin on any icon should be as a demon or a willing resident of Hell, period. Anything else is complete and utter sacrilege.

  5. Eliot Ryan says

    According to legend, Stalin often talked to Blessed Matrona of Moscow and she gave him advice on how to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II. The persecuted Orthodox Church called upon Christians to help defeat the Nazis. Apparently Stalin was impressed by both the attitude of Church leaders and the saint. As a result, persecutions lessened in intensity. Stalin allowed the reopening of churches and seminaries.

    The conclusion we may reach is that meeting the saint humbles the atheist, perhaps making him doubtful, but certainly does not make him a saint. This was true for the entire existence of Communism. Saintly people helped many subhuman atheists to become human, especially in prisons. Brutal guards were softened by saintly people.

    The uproar was caused by the “Communists of St. Petersburg”. They printed and distributed about three thousand “icons” depicting “the Kremlin tyrant alone and with a halo above his head”.

    Millions of people were executed under Stalin, and many died from abuse or disease in the gulag system of prison camps. According to historians, he is responsible for between 20 million and 40 million unnecessary deaths — with victims ranging from monarchists and priests to the upper ranks of the military and the Bolshevik old guard.

    A new period of persecution began in the late 1950s under Nikita Khrushchev [97] . The church had advanced its position considerably since 1941, and the government considered it to be necessary to take measures in response.

    New instructions were issued in 1958 attacked the position of monasteries, by placing them under high taxation, cutting their land and working to shut them down in order to weaken the church.

    From 1959-1964, the persecution operated on several key levels. I) There was a massive closure of churches [53] (reducing the number from 22,000 to 7,000 by 1965 [99] . )

  6. Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

    Met. Hilarion on Stalin: “I believe that Stalin was a monster, a spiritual cripple who created a horrible anti-humane system of governance built on lies, violence and terror.”

    Source: Russian Orthodox Church

    Interviewer: Patriarch Kirill’s recent remarks about the victory in the Great Patriotic War have provoked rather harsh criticism coming also from those close to the authorities. The Patriarch was criticized for seeing the victory as a miracle, while the war hardships as retribution for apostasy. The Patriarch was also criticized for underestimating the role of Stalin and the Bolsheviks. To which extent are you ready to oppose this criticism?

    Met Hilarion: I am ready to oppose it and so much as to provoke a wave of criticism against myself by stating my own view of Stalin. I believe that Stalin was a monster, a spiritual cripple who created a horrible anti-humane system of governance built on lies, violence and terror. He unleashed genocide against his own people and is personally responsible for the death of millions of innocent people. In this respect Stalin is quite like Hitler. Both brought so much grief into this world that no military or political successes can redeem their guilt before humanity. There is no essential difference between the Butovo firing ground and Buchenwald, between GULAG and Hitler’s system of death camps. And the number of victims of Stalin’s repression is quite comparable with our losses in the Great Patriotic War.

    The victory in the Great Patriotic War was really a miracle because Stalin did before the war all that was possible to destroy the country. He eliminated the whole army top leadership and by his mass repression put once a powerful country on the brink of survival. When a census was carried out in 1937, it was found the country was a dozen of millions of people short. Where did these millions vanish? They were eliminated by Stalin. The country entered the war almost bleeding white. But despite all the flagrant repression, the people showed unprecedented heroism. It cannot be called other than miracle. The victory in that war is a victory of the people who showed the greatest will of resistance. The miracle of victory in the war is a great manifestation of our people’s fortitude which could be crushed by neither Stalin nor Hitler.

  7. Harry Coin says

    In keeping with iconography’s sense of NOT being portrature but of communicating a message, Stalin ought to be pictured doing what it is he did. In this picture (I can’t call it an icon) we see a man in regal bearing walking– more portrature than icon. Doesn’t communicate much. In the ‘ladder of divine ascent’ icon there are demons there and one knows they are misdoing characters not only for lack of halos but because they are shown doing harmful things. Those in icons (for good or ill) have indicators about what they did– St. Barbara holds a little castle, St. Katherine the wheel is there, St. John in the hair coat with the ‘Metanoite!’ scroll, etc. So anyhow this picture should be withdrawn and redone if at all.

  8. This is an agenda from the communist party and people who hate God. It has absolutely nothing to do with Orthodoxy. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

Speak Your Mind