The Vissarion Christ: Inside Russia’s End-Times Cults

Cupping candles in their hands, wrapped in white silk and knit robes, nearly 3,000 people knelt on the snow in the middle of the Siberian woods. Tall pine trees served as the walls of their church; the stage for their chorus was carved out of ice. Fluffy snowflakes landed on their heads as they sang their prayers: “God, illuminate our souls with your light, warm up our souls.” The next moment, silence fell over the forest as a bearded, chubby man in long white robes emerged at the top of a hill. His followers call him the Vissarion Christ, or just Teacher; they pray to his portraits and celebrate his birthday, Jan. 14, as their Christmas. And they obey his every instruction, living in expectation of the apocalypse he has predicted.

                                                             Siberia’s End-Times Cult

Church of the Last Testament
Vissarion’s followers live in the Abode of Dawn City or a handful of villages in Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk region; they believe their religious community is the only ark that can save them in these troubled times. (Yuri Kozyrev / NOOR for Newsweek)

The Christ of Siberia walked carefully onto the ice stage and observed the crowd kneeling before him in the snow. Most of them live in the Abode of Dawn City or a handful of villages in Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk region; they believe their religious community is the only ark that can save them in these troubled times. Their numbers have multiplied tenfold over the past 20 years, up to about 4,500 total. They do not drink or smoke, or eat meat. Convinced that the End of Light—as they call it—is near, they intend to survive the apocalypse in Siberian Arks. “I am Jesus Christ,” Vissarion introduced himself to the newcomers, some of whom hailed from as far away as Germany, Bulgaria, and Poland. “It was prophesied that I would return to finish what I started.”

The Vissarion Christ (who declined to be interviewed but allowed journalists to observe his ceremonies) is not the only superstar among Russia’s new religious idols. There’s also Vladimir Sobolev, the self-proclaimed reincarnation of the Chinese sage Confucius, who has led a neopagan cult of a few hundred people since 1995. They worship a deity called the Queen of Copper Mountain in the remote Ural Mountain forests—not to be confused with the Siberian goddess Anastasia, known as the Sister of Jesus Christ, a naked blonde deity documented by mystical literature througout the past decade. Over the past three years, the Anastasia legend has inspired thousands of disillusioned Russians to join a new-age exodus to the woods and countryside across the nation. Known as the “Anastasia Back-to-Land Movement,” or the “Tingling Cedar Movement,” its followers relocate to eco-villages (called “Kin’s Domains”), where they plant cedar trees to serve as antennas to connect to “space of love.” Some Anastasia followers meditate naked under the trees. “We escaped from big cities to create new social models, as the state systems have been destroyed by liars and outrageously corrupt managers,” says Dmitry Ivanov, a former army colonel who lives in one of the Kin Domains.

Adherents of these cults and many others are flocking to the Siberian taiga, Karelian woods, or Ural and Altai mountains to leave the material world behind and find enlightenment. Whereas a decade ago, Russians escaped the post-­Soviet crisis by joining foreign religions—such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the Church of Scientology—domestic sects have been on the ascendant for the past decade. (The Russian Orthodox Church is growing, too—it has built more than 22,000 new monasteries since the collapse of the Soviet Union.) Many of the followers say they are exhausted by decades of corruption, terrorism, ethnic violence, and fading morality in Russia. This year, the feeling seems to have intensified as the date of the supposed Mayan apocalypse—Dec. 21, 2102—approached. Russian TV channels have taken to running shows about world disasters, including one popular one called “Apocalypse: Unfriendly Universe.” (Earlier this month, Prime Minsiter Dmitry Medvedev felt the need to reiterate that the Doomsday was not upon Russia. “I do not believe in the end of the world,” he said, “at least, not this year.”)

Analysts see the rise in cult membership to be indicative of a larger vacuum of values in mainstream Russia. “The Orthodox Church has no moral authority,” says Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Center for International Peace in Moscow. “The country’s president and prime minister often contradict each other. Russians feel lost searching for any definite truth.” Pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov adds, “Feeling spiritually hungry, people create their own tiny islands of survival. The government is aware of the issue, but has no concrete plan of persecuting the cult leaders.”

 

Fonte: The Daily Beast

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/12/16/the-vissarion-christ-inside-russia-s-end-times-cults.html

 

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