The Russian Orthodox Church is under fire for publishing a calendar devoted to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Pictures from the 2014 calendar have been making the rounds on the Internet, sparking a barrage of criticism and prompting a lively discussion on the Moscow Patriarchate's troubled ties with Stalin.
The calendar, published by the printing house of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius Monastery in Moscow, presents photos and biographical information documenting Stalin's evolution from a young seminary student in his native Georgia to the gray-haired Soviet leader.
The publishing house advertises the calendar
on its website as a bestseller and "an excellent gift for veterans and history buffs."
It sells for 200 rubles ($6) online and in bookshops.
Mikhail Babkin, a noted Russian historian specialized in Russian Orthodox Church studies, fuelled the controversy on January 8 by posting photos
"The link between the Moscow Patriarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church and Stalin," he wrote, "remains close to sacred."
His post has sparked a flurry of outraged comments.
"The Russian Orthodox Church has long turned into a business structure and churches into shops offering religious services," wrote one reader. "Worshippers are only considered to be sources of wealth."
"It's shameful, a disgrace and an insult against all those who died" under Stalin's rule, another one said.
Stalin had a complex relationship with the Orthodox Church.
He attended an Orthodox seminary in his youth but was expelled for reasons that remain unclear.
As Soviet leader, he oversaw a vast campaign of persecution against the Russian Orthodox Church that saw countless churches being destroyed.
After World War II broke out, however, Stalin softened his stance and allowed the Church to operate, albeit under close state scrutiny.
-- Claire Bigg