Cybersecdn- In the heart of Tbilisi, Georgia, an unusual and contentious piece of religious art has sparked a wave of protest and debate. The icon in question, located in the revered Sameba Cathedral, features St. Matrona alongside Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, a juxtaposition that has drawn ire and controversy from various quarters of the Georgian public and beyond. This icon was introduced to the cathedral several months ago by the pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots party, but it only gained widespread attention after a social media post on Christmas Eve.
The controversy primarily stems from the depiction of Stalin in a seemingly positive light, a stark contrast to traditional Eastern Orthodox iconography, which typically reserves such reverence for saints and holy figures. Critics argue that Stalin’s depiction violates the sanctity of religious art, especially given his historical role and the atrocities associated with his regime. The Georgian theologian Beka Mindiashvili notably criticized the icon, pointing out that Stalin’s dominant posture and casual stance with a hand in his pocket symbolically placed him above Matrona and the Church.
Despite the backlash and an incident where paint was thrown over the icon, the Georgian Orthodox Church has refrained from removing it. They argue that its presence is not an endorsement of Stalin but rather a depiction of a historical figure in the context of St. Matrona’s life. This explanation, however, has done little to quell the discontent among the public and certain churchgoers.
The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs has initiated proceedings under the petty hooliganism law in response to the vandalism, while the church has restricted media access to the cathedral. The situation reflects broader tensions within Georgian society, where the legacy of Soviet rule and current geopolitical alignments continue to provoke deep divisions.