Deep in the heart of Siberia’s birch forests lies one of the largest and most remote religious communes of the planet. More than 5,000 people have left their families and their homes to move here and join the Church of the Last Testament, which has more than 10,000 followers worldwide. The church centers on one man. He is known simply as Vissarion, meaning “he who gives new life,” or simply as the teacher, and he claims that he is Jesus Christ.
Vissarion was born Sergei Torop in 1961 and worked as a traffic cop up until his revelation. He started the Church of the Last Testament in 1991, the same year as the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a desperate and chaotic time for people. And after decades of religious oppression, suddenly thousands of new religions and sects burst onto the scene, all claiming to have the answers that people were so hungrily craving.
My first impression seeing the teacher was that he did actually look how one might imagine Jesus. With his long hair, flowing white robes and kind smile, he looked the part. But as the interview began, my feelings soon changed.
I asked him to tell me some of the principals of his religion. After a good 20 second pause, he replied, “The same as all other religions have. People should learn how to love each other.” I asked him what he enjoyed to do every day and what he thought the most important philosophy to live by was. Each question provoked the same long pause followed by a monosyllabic reply.
Finally I asked him the question I had traveled all this way to ask: “Are you Jesus Christ?”
“It’s not necessary to answer this,” he told me.
I asked whether he believed in Judgment Day,
“There is a time, a certain period of time, during which the destiny of the whole human society will be decided. This period is going on already.”
He would not elaborate on what will happen at the end of the period of judgment, nor on when that would be.
The next few questions I asked provoked the same truculent answer, “That doesn’t interest me.” So I finished by asking if he had anything that did interest him that he would like to communicate to our viewers and to Americans.
His reply, “I am not interested to tell them anything. Their time has not yet come.”
It seemed that the interview was over before it began. I hadn’t expected Jesus to be a man of so few words. Leaving, I noticed a quad bike parked in front of his house. It seemed ironic that he was zipping around while his followers trekked up and down the mountain. Traveling back to civilization, I marvelled at the zeal of Vissarion’s followers. What did they see that I did not? Or what did I see that they did not? I felt inexplicably disappointed.
Yet the numbers of Vissarion’s followers continues to grow as more and more people abandon their lives and flock to this remote corner of the world, and to this chameleon of a man. Vissarion? The Teacher? Jesus Christ? Or perhaps just Sergei Torop, the self-proclaimed messiah of Siberia.
– Source: Clarissa Ward, Ex-Traffic Cop Says He’s Jesus ABC News, June 23, 2008
See also this ABC News slideshow of self-proclaimed saviors