Rocco Castoro’s story “The Mysteries of the Teacher”, VICE, 30 January 2015
In Russia there is a man by the name of Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop who calls himself Vissarion, which translates to the Teacher, who has acquired many followers that believe he is the Messiah. Sergey founded the Church of the Last Testament, which is a cult or new religious movement comprising of 4,000 people who live in a religious community in the Taiga forest in Southern Siberia. Sergey has declared that he is reborn as Vissarion over two decades ago. Previously he was employed as a patrol officer. He calls his religion a ‘unified religion’, which incorporates elements of Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, pagan and other spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, Vissarion has written a book called the Last Testament that has ten volumes and thousands of pages. Many of the followers of the church, which includes more than 5,000 people worldwide, consider Vissarion as the Messiah. The church focuses on health living, banning tobacco and meat. In the early days of the church’s formation, Vissarion and his disciples moved to a settlement near the rural town of Petropavlovka, which they have named The Abode of Dawn. Every year there is a community celebration, which is their equivalent of Easter called The Holiday of Good Fruits. The celebration has attracted more than 2,000 people for the pilgrimage, as this is the only time of year annually Vissarion speaks to visitors and community members on the mountain. During the liturgy, people kneel around a Christian cross with a circle around the crux, with statues of angels surrounding it. The circle is said to symbolize the all-encompassing nature of their faith. Furthermore, the community’s roads are even symbolic, accumulating to 14 roads branching out from the city center. A community member states that 13 is a number of significance in the New Testament, and since their religion focuses on the Last Testament, 14 signifies what is beyond. Vissarion addresses the crowd for only ten minutes and doesn’t say anything of much significance, speaking in vague and broad statements.
I believe the Church of the Last Testament could be defined as either a New Religious Movement or a Cult because the religious community does seem to be convinced that Sergey is Jesus or the Messiah in the flesh. A form of brainwashing is apparent, through the writing of the Last Testament by Sergey, requiring the religious followers to abide to a strict diet and abstain from tobacco and alcohol. Sexes are also segregated in schools and taught only ‘female’ or ‘male’ jobs based on gender, implying gender roles are fixed and applied the same to each individual. You can read more about this topic from the Huffington Post’s article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/17/siberian-jesus-vissarion-russian-cult_n_3612265.html, and you can watch the documentary if it is of interest on VICE’s youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2Cv5hZfOmk.
Furthermore, Sergey represents a vision of a Christ-like figure, dressed only in long white robes and descending to speak to the community once a year in a slow, calculated deity-like manner. I think Sergey’s claims of being Vissarion are suspicious because of the fact that he claimed this revelation right after he lost his job as a cop once the Soviet Union fell. That seems a little too convenient.