A regional official in Kazakhstan asked to paint over his image included in a fresco of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem adorning a local Orthodox Christian church, the Tengrinews.kz portal said on Thursday.
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 the city of Rudny, some 550 kilometers west of the Kazakh capital, Astana.
Kulagin is the only one who is clean shaven in the crowd and looks out in the direction of the church's interior and not at Jesus.
The Kazakh official denied it was his initiative, saying he “never gave any instructions to anyone.”
“When we opened the church on [January] 14… I noticed a certain likeness,” the official said. “Of course, I told them to remove it immediately, to paint it over. Such things are unbecoming and unattractive, further still this is blasphemy.”
“It is sure to be removed in the next two or three days,” he added.
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.
A prominent priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, Andrei Kurayev, said the artists 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.