PHOTO CREDITS: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP
A Russian cult leader who claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus has been arrested by Russian authorities, according to the Guardian.
Sergei Torop, known to his followers as Vissiarion, is a former traffic police officer and has run a cult in the depths of Siberia for the past three decades. Russain authorities mounted a special operation which included helicopters and armed officers that stormed communities run by Torop, and arrested him and two of his aides. Russia’s investigative committee said it would charge him with organizing an illegal religious organization, claiming that the cult extorted money from followers and subjected them to emotional abuse. Torop, 59, was led by masked troops to a helicopter.
Torop, who lost his job as a traffic officer in 1989, claimed he experienced an “awakening” as the Soviet regime began to collapse. In 1991 he founded a movement now known as the Church of the Last Testament. Several thousand followers live in a series of remote hamlets in the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia. Converts to the cult have included professionals from across Russia as well as pilgrims from abroad. “I am not God. And it is a mistake to see Jesus as God. But I am the living word of God the father. Everything that God wants to say, he says through me,” Torop told the Guardian in 2002.
Russian media reported that in the original ideology of the cult, Torop claimed Jesus was watching over people from an orbit close to Earth, and the Virgin Mary was “running Russia”, but later he declared himself to be Jesus. His commune mixes a selection of rites drawn from Orthodox Christianity with environmental edicts and a series of other rules. Money is banned inside the commune and veganism is enforced. Members wear plain clothing and count years starting from 1961, when Torop was born. Christmas has been replaced by his birthday, January 14.
It is not clear what will happen to the disciples now that their leader has been arrested, nor is it clear why authorities decided to move now. The official Russian Orthodox church has long condemned the group but officials have largely left the devotees alone. Some Russian media outlets reported that the community had become involved in a dispute with local business interests.
ARTICLE: CONNOR KMIECIK