January 25, 2012

Kazakh Official Depicted in Church Fresco

Alexey Eremenko
January 25, 2012
RIA Novosti

In a throwback to medieval times, a regional official in Kazakhstan was included in a fresco of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that adorns a local Orthodox Christian church.

A striking likeness of Sergei Kulagin – former akim, or governor, of the Kostanai region – is found among the crowd of Jews welcoming Jesus in the freshly painted fresco above the church altar in city of Rudny, some 550 kilometers west of the capital, Astana.

Kulagin is the only one with a clean shave in the crowd, and faces the audience, not Jesus, according to photos of the fresco published by prominent priest Andrei Kurayev on his Livejournal blog.

Visages of patrons can be included in church decorations, but only near the exit and never above the altar, and also not in an icon that is based on an alleged historical event, Kurayev told RIA Novosti on Wednesday.

“It’s plain hubris to have yourself included in canonical Biblical iconography,” Kurayev said by telephone.

Kulagin, who is now a senator, did not comment on the story. Spokeswoman of the local diocese, Marina Korolyova, said the local bishop was on a trip to Moscow and would not be able to comment until February, local news web site Time.kz reported Wednesday.

Though the practice of depicting real people in frescoes was typical in the Middle Ages, it did not completely disappear in modern times. Among prominent figures commemorated that way in Orthodox churches were former Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov and even current head of the Russian church, Partiarch Kirill, who was depicted with a saint’s halo in a Nizhny Novgorod region fresco by overzealous priests shortly after his enthronement in 2009.

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev is a modest man, and will likely order Kulagin to have the fresco painted over at Kulagin’s own expense, Kurayev said.

The bill is likely to come to several thousand dollars, he added.

The artists, who came from the Russian town of Palekh, a traditional center of icon painting, might have also covertly satirized Kulagin in the fresco by situating him where Christ’s bane Pontius Pilate was supposed to stand, Kurayev wrote on his blog.

“This means we’ve a show of hypocrisy: the authorities who pretend to be benevolent to the Church are actually preparing the Crucifixion,” Kurayev wrote, adding that Palekh artists were “witty guys.”