SOVIET UNION: The Icon Klondike

Among the hottest items on Moscow's black market these days, along with long-playing records of Jesus Christ Superstar and bell-bottom blue jeans are, of all things, icons. "Words about God in paint," as they have been called, these centuries-old religious images painted on wooden panels are celebrated as one of the most sublime achievements of Russian culture. Even though the Soviet government still severely discourages popular support of the Orthodox faith, icons have lately regained some of their old luster and status in the U.S.S.R., and have inspired what Moscow's Literaturnaya Gazeta calls an "Icon Klondike."

Middle-class Muscovites have been buying...

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