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Moscow, January 27 (Interfax) - An Orthodox bishop has argued that no Church laws were broken by depicting a Kazakhstan senator in one of the frescoes in a new cathedral, while the lawmaker himself has described the painting as a "sacrilege" and has said he asked for it to be erased.
Sergey Kulagin, a former governor of Kazakhstan's Kustanay Region who was recently appointed senator, has his face painted in a fresco showing a crowd welcoming Jesus Christ into Jerusalem in the new cathedral of Rudny, a city in the Kustanay Region, as a commission from two companies whose business underlies the city's economy.
He is shown as one of the people in the crowd.
"The fresco involves no departure from canon law. Furthermore, a painter paints an icon with Episcopal blessing and making use of his skills, experience and surrounding examples," Anatoly, bishop of Kustanay and Rudny, said in a statement sent to Interfax-Religion.
There have been depictions of Jesus and apostles as "Chinese, Japanese, Russians and others, but the compliance of such an icon with canon law has never been questioned," he said.
"The Savior lived among the righteous and sinful, the healthy and sick, the rich and poor, the possessed and wise, and all that has been reflected in frescoes - an icon of Christ the Savior then becomes part of a fresco. Today we can see icons showing Red Army soldiers shooting innocent people, and even demons trying to tempt the Savior, but it is martyrs and not torturers whom we venerate," the bishop said.
Moreover, "any depiction in light and color, in space and time, in a simple or complicated composition needs the consecration and blessing of a bishop," he said.
Kulagin himself claimed that he had not been consulted about the painting.
"Let me tell you how it was," he told the Kazakhstan version of Moscow-based daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.
"On January 14, we were opening the cathedral, and I noticed there was a picture there that looked like me. Then I said to my guys, What are you doing? Erase it immediately! The only problem is I haven't made sure the job is done completely. I think it's all rectifiable, though, they'll get it done," he said.
Those who had commissioned the picture did him "a disservice," Kulagin said.
The paining is "a sacrilege," he said, "It's wrong, it isn't even my style of doing things. I haven't tried to find out yet whose idea it was."
Kazakh newspaper Vremya said earlier that putting Kulagin into the fresco had been requested by the ENRC-Komek fund and the Sokolovsko-Sarbaiskoye Mining Production Association, a major iron ore producer and part of the ENRC holding company.
"The depiction of the regional ruler raises a multitude of questions. There are trite questions what on earth he is doing here anyway, but a hair-splitting viewer wonders why Kulagin is standing stone-still among the welcoming crowd as though he has been pushed far into the background," an article in Vremya said.
"One involuntarily gets the impression he is somehow feeling ill at ease."
The author of the article asked Professor of the Moscow Theological Academy Protodeacon Andrey Kurayev, a well-known Russian Orthodox theologian, for comments.
"I first visited that church before the frescoes were finished," Father Andrey said in his blog. "And I still remember the lamentations of the priests that the builders of the church [the company on which the city's economy is based and the local administration] didn't pay the slightest attention to the wishes of the Church."
There had been a practice of including portraits of construction sponsors, such as princes and emperors, in church frescoes but they had their pictures put "down below, on the western wall, in the narthex, near the entrance," the theologian said.
Kulagin's picture "is right up under the dome," Father Andrey said. "After the words 'Lift up your hearts,' the worshiper raises their eyes - and sees the Big Brother."