In the history of venerating the Blessed Matrona, a wide spectrum of recent sociopolitical processes and conflicts were reflected as though in a mirror. Matrona Nikonova was born blind in a poor village near Tula in 1881 or 1885. In her youth, she lost the use of her legs. Nearly all her life, she received pilgrims who came to her for comfort, predictions of the future, and life advice. Matrona was a psychic, a therapist, and a sort of spiritual leader all in one for those like her: illiterate and disenfranchised peasants, who were forced in the 1920s to resettle to the cities en masse. For nearly thirty years, she wandered among acquaintances and relatives, living in the capital illegally under constant threat of arrest. Today, she has made the Moscow monastery where she is buried one of the richest in the post-Soviet space, and the cult around her has become truly massive: in a day, up to 5,000 people might visit Matrona's grave, with numbers exceeding 20,000 on her name day. She is the main figure in post-Soviet "deep religion," if the analogy can be made to the deep state. Matrona died in 1952, but there is almost no reliable evidence of her life. Texts about her written by religious and secular researchers are full of high-minded distaste for the harmless everyday magic on which her cult is built.  Such a relationship, however, is characteristic of how the intelligentsia perceives the people in general: it considers itself the ambassadors of rock 'n roll in a country of squares, but at the same time, they depend on power and are essentially a part of it (at least in the people's perception). They see the people as an unenlightened, obedient mass. This estrangement—which appears to be mutual—between the people and the intelligentsia has been reinforced by Russian political culture since the times of Tsar Peter. The contemporary regime constantly tosses sticks onto this smoldering social conflict, which is unquestionably advantageous to the powers that be.
But let's return to Matrona. Another group of works about her are "popular" biographies and testimonies of miraculous healings and salvations, successful careers and lucky marriages, all containing a great deal of practical advice, rituals, and legends. Judging by the language of these texts, they are targeted mainly at the poor and downtrodden residents of remote regions, who have seen little in their lives save for hard labor and humiliation. Anthropologist Zhanna Kormina makes the curious conclusion that these popular biographies are more creative than the dry canonical texts. The authors who work constantly in this literary field and the convent where Matrona is interred constantly produce new stories and rituals. This gave rise to the recent tradition of bringing flowers to the shrine where the saint's relics are held. The church is simultaneously trying to "normalize" the cult around Matrona, purifying it of "witchcraft" and materialism while adapting it to the demands of urban believers. This, however, doesn't stop it from selling holy water (more accurately, labels for plastic bottles), the "oil of Matrona," and other goods. At one point, there was a brutal battle within the church between the "liberals," who considered her 2004 canonization to be a break with canon, and the conservative-nationalist wing of the hierarchy. The latter's conservatism, incidentally, is not manifest in a strict adherence to Christian dogmatism, but in a pragmatic expansion of the number of followers and the advancement of chauvinistic imperial ideology. Everything can be used for this, even the people's Saint Matrona. The nationalist-conservatives currently dominate in the Russian Orthodox Church, and they are the ones who forced through her canonization, regardless of the fact that the canonization commission was initially opposed. Matrona's first grave was exhumed and her remains were brought to a convent to which she had had no connection whatsoever during her life. Now it is known as the "Temple of Matrona." One legend mentioned in a people's biography was very suitable: how Stalin in 1941 came to Matrona for advice and blessing. The creators of church policy follow a simple gospel: if you can't beat 'em, lead 'em. Such was the case once upon a time with Christianity itself, and such was the case with other Russian popular saints, who were first venerated by the people and only later canonized by the church with much reluctance. Among them is a victim of homosexual harassment, the martyr Basil of Mangazeya (17th century); a boy killed by lightning, Artemy of Verkola (16th century); an elder who called himself emperor, Feodor Kuzmich (19th century); and the exiled deserter Daniel of Achinsk (19th century).
The incorporation and adaptation of popular cults, traditions, and rites isn't anything new in the history of Orthodoxy and religion in general. These rites and cults came about partially because the church, as an arm of the state, attracted neither respect nor trust (for example, Peter the Great effectively abolished clergy-penitent privilege), while Christian legends and virtues were too ancient and abstract, poorly resonating with people's real lives. The holy fools, elders, and pilgrims that they venerated and rituals directly connected to agricultural cycles were much closer and comprehensible to them. Not all of these unofficial saints were necessarily dissidents—the majority remained within the walls of the church and preached meekness before the authorities—but this was nevertheless a form of unofficial piety, full of everyday rituals and an escape from the official canons of Christianity, which many in Russia consider a forced Jewish religion even a thousand years after the country had officially adopted it as a state faith