February 6, 2007 / 5:09 PM / 11 years ago

Church painting of Lenin sparks Greek row

<p>The image of late Russian leader Lenin (R) is painted on the wall of the Greek Orthodox church of the Holy Virgin in Axioupolis, northern Greece February 6, 2007. The painting has offended traditionalists, who have threatened legal action to have Lenin's image removed. REUTERS/Griogoris Siamidis</p>

ATHENS (Reuters) - A half-finished painting in a Greek Orthodox church of Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin cutting off the beard of a Christian saint has offended traditionalists who want the revolutionary painted over.

The row erupted when photographs of the interior of the Church of the Holy Virgin in the northern town of Kilkis were featured in the media.

“This is a violation of holy ground,” theologian Giorgos Moustakis told Reuters.

“It’s a cheap show. What’s to stop them from putting up Marilyn Monroe’s pretty breasts next?”

His view was echoed by many in Greece, where the Greek Orthodox Church is a powerful force.

The church’s head priest, Father Dorotheos, defended the subject matter chosen by the painter, Costas Vafiadis, who started work on the project four years ago.

“There have been reactions from some, who feel Orthodox tradition is being violated, but I don’t think the Church forbids personal style and expression,” he said.

Other than the image of the former Soviet leader tormenting St Luke - painted as a symbol of communist oppression of the Church - Vafiadis has also included modern Greek writers and intellectuals among old saints and holy men.

Soldiers, people dressed in modern-day clothes holding cigarettes and scenes of everyday life are part of the Kilkis church’s iconography that clashes with the usual stylized, somber Byzantine saints in long robes and halos.

Opponents say they will petition the local bishop to have the Lenin image removed.

“A church is not a gallery or a political club to hang the portraits of political leaders,” Moustakis said.

Church authorities have not commented on the issue.

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