Canonizing Soviet Pasts in Contemporary Russia: The Case of Saint Matrona of Moscow
Saint veneration is probably the most important and characteristic part of the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition as a lived religion. To become a “lived religion” again, post-Soviet Orthodox Christianity needed new, up-to-date saints who would attract the attention of the community. The canonization of a saint is always a political act. Every canonization is a political statement, whether openly articulated or not. In the post-Soviet period the recent history of relations between the state and church has been at the center of several levels of public debate. As a consequence, the official Church elaborated a number of projects in which its attitude toward the Soviet past was reformulated. On the one side, the New Martyrs project was promoted by the liberal Church establishment and inspired and initiated by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. The canonization of New Martyrs asserts that during the period of religious persecution, the Orthodox tradition in the USSR was interrupted and almost disappeared. The canonization of Saint Matrona, on the contrary, states that religious life continued under the Soviet regime, embodied in people such as this blind and paralyzed village woman.