The icon “Matrona and Stalin” (“Blessed Matrona blesses Joseph Stalin” [) is an icon depicting the Holy Matrona of Moscow (1885-1952) and I.V. Stalin. In 2008, for some time from November 26, she was in the Church of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Princess Olga in Strelna, Petrodvorets district of St. Petersburg. The author of the icon is the icon painter I. I. Pivnik.
The plot of the icon is common in the hallmarks of the hagiographic icons of St. Matrona, available in the churches of Moscow, Pskov, Kursk and some other cities. According to the initiator of the creation of the icon, priest Eustathius (Zhakov), the icon is “canonical, since it has all the attributes of a holy image.”
The fact of the appearance of the icon in St. Petersburg caused a wide public outcry. According to the statement of the representative of the St. Petersburg diocese: “This is an unauthorized image, since the conversation between St. Matrona and Stalin is just a legend and does not correspond to the real state of affairs.”
Description of the icon
According to the information provided on the official website of the St. Petersburg Metropolis, after the October Revolution, Matrona moved to Moscow. “I lived where I had to – with friends and acquaintances. There is a version that when the Germans threatened to take Moscow, Stalin visited her. The saint said: “The Russian people will win, victory will be yours. You will not leave Moscow alone from the authorities.”
On the icon, the blessed Matrona blesses Stalin for the defense of Moscow. Stalin on the icon is depicted in a full-length overcoat. The icon was created on the initiative of the rector of the temple, hegumen Evstafiy (Zhakov).
According to Father Evstafiy, the icon of the Matrona of Moscow in the church of St. Nicholas, located between the buildings of the Russian State Library in Moscow, prompted him to create the icon. This icon is located near the entrance to the church, and next to it are images of key moments in the life of the saint, and on one of these images the Matrona of Moscow is depicted in the company of Stalin. According to the Dean of the Churches of the Central District of Father Vladimir, the Church of St. Nicholas received the icon as a gift, and it could have been painted by one of the icon painters of the Intercession Monastery, where the relics of St. Matrona are buried.
Hegumen Evstafiy, in an interview with Konstantin Erofeev, spoke about the circumstances of Stalin’s meeting with Matrona:
“In the history of the country and the Russian Orthodox Church there is a certain invariant – a blessing to the saints or a saint of a commander or leader. Let us remember Dimitry Donskoy, blessed by St. Sergius, Minin and Pozharsky, blessed by St. Hermogenes, Mikhail Skobelev, blessed by St. Philaret of Moscow. What is wrong with St. Matrona blessed the leader, who did not leave Moscow and became the organizer of the defense of the capital. Moreover, it is very strange that the Germans did not enter Moscow, although on some days they had every opportunity to occupy the city. The strange actions of the German generals, which cannot be explained logically, as well as the coming frosts – all this reveals the effect of the prayer of St. Matrons. And in the 70s I knew an old woman, Anastasia, who came to visit Valentina Katushkina, a well-known believer in Ivanovo, who had letters of thanks from Archbishop Ambrose. Muscovite Anastasia witnessed the visit of I.V. Stalin to St. Matrona. However, Stalin himself did not want, of course, wide publicity, and Anastasia told this story almost in a whisper, although it was already the 70s. At one time, Anastasia’s story simply shocked me. Stalin’s visit to St. Matrona is an event from the life of a saint. The icon does not lie, it tells the pious truth about the patroness of Moscow.
Public response to the creation of the icon
Individual representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church condemned the actions of hegumen Evstafy Zhakov. In particular, the head of the press service of the Moscow Patriarchate, priest Vladimir Vigilyansky, noted: “Talking about the holiness of Stalin is blasphemy against the memory of the martyrs who died during the Stalinist regime, because under Stalin no one suffered as much as the clergy, who were exterminated by almost a hundred percent. A disciplinary violation has occurred: a cleric has no right to hang a non-canonical icon in the church. The ruling bishop (Metropolitan of St. Petersburg and Ladoga Vladimir) will deal with the act of the priest.”
Some representatives of the St. Petersburg diocese called the actions of the hegumen “sectarianism”, since “one or another character can be venerated as a saint in the church only after canonization.” The head of the missionary department of the diocese, Archpriest Alexander Budnikov: “I think the metropolitan will deal with this priest. We have such church extremists, unfortunately. It is unacceptable to exhibit even non-canonized saints in the temple, and what can we say about such personalities as Stalin. This is a temptation, this self-made, arbitrariness. It confuses people. We cannot confuse believers with such icons. In the near future, this icon from the temple should disappear.”
Hieromonk Job (Gumerov): “There is a myth that I. Stalin came to the blessed old woman Matrona. This is absolutely impossible to assume from what we know about the life of this wondrous saint of God. In 1997, the hierarchy instructed me to prepare materials for the canonization of Matrona Nikonova. I had to collect bits and pieces of information about her. There is nothing that could confirm Stalin’s visit to her. She was driven. Any day I was ready to be arrested. This situation continued until her death on May 2, 1952. An attempt to present a cruel persecutor of the Church as a believing Christian and a benefactor of the Church is dangerous and can only bring spiritual harm. This blurs the boundaries between good and evil.
According to media reports, many parishioners refused to venerate the icon.
In their open letter, received by the Russian Line Orthodox News Agency, the parishioners of the temple note that “in the ongoing persecution, newspapers and television not only distort the facts, but are not embarrassed by outright lies.” The open letter also notes that journalists use their “favorite trick” when “with references to the parishioners of the church, whose names are not named, false information is given that discredits our church and its rector.” According to Vladimir Vigilyansky, this is a very small group of parishioners, “an exception that confirms the rule.