National Geographic : 2009 Apr
accused the West of deliberately humiliating Russia, fueling suspicion of denominations and groups with ties to liberal democracies. In right- wing circles, the call went out for Holy Russia to return to her roots. Some astoundingly dark and retrograde no- tions openly circulate in reactionary churches and on nationalist websites. One is a drive to canonize Rasputin and Ivan the Terrible, two of the more noxious characters of Russian his- tory who have been reinvented by extremists as "defenders of Holy Russia." Outside St. Petersburg, the decaying summer palaces of old Russia s tsars and grand dukes overlook the Gulf of Finland. Behind the ruins of one such palace stands a tiny, half-restored chapel. Inside I come face-to-face with a spec- tacle that makes me gasp---a large icon of Joseph Stalin. He s not wearing the halo of a saint, but a saint is blessing him. The icon depicts a legend in which Stalin, at the outbreak of World War II, secretly visits St. Matryona of Moscow, a blind and paralyzed woman to whom many people came for spiritu- al guidance until her death in 1952. According to the legend she counseled the Soviet dictator not to ee Moscow before the invading German Army, but to stand rm against the onslaught. e chapel s pastor, Evstafy Zhakov, is a ery nationalist highly regarded by his ock for his charismatic sermons. In an interview with the right-wing newspaper Zavtra, he defended the icon by explaining that Russia has a long tradi- tion of saints blessing warriors before battle. "But Stalin was an atheist," the interviewer interjected. "We re at fault, of course. But they could just as easily have sent us a notice reminding us to le it." e real reason for the ban, he says, is that his church doesn t belong to the mainstream Baptist group sanctioned by the government. " ey re not used to the fact that there are de- nominations other than the o cial ones, so they don t think we have the right to exist," Kirillov says. " e Orthodox Church is the dominant de- nomination, so of course they are represented in every sphere of authority. I watch the news: ey open a new artillery institute, new entrants are arriving, and there s an Orthodox priest. Why?" One reason traces back to the early post- Soviet years, when the euphoria of freedom gave way to disillusionment with the consum- erism, corruption, and chaos that followed. Reactionaries in the government and the church Above the Arctic Circle, a church rises for the rst time in the former gulag city of Vorkuta. Father Rafail (le ) hopes believers will ll its spaces, though church attendance remains low in Russia, with less than 10 percent of the population considered regular worshippers. If the church and state are intertwined, IT IS IN A PROFOUND SEARCH FOR A NEW, POST SOVIET IDENTITY, AND THE FINAL RESULT IS FAR FROM CERTAIN.