THE GUARDIAN: Four thousand feet up a mountain deep in the Siberian taiga, the middle-aged man appears in a velvet crimson robe, long brown hair framing a beatific smile. He sits down in a log cabin perched on the brow of the hill. It is a room with a stunning view. The snowy Sayan mountains sparkle in the distance. The silver and pink of the birch forests shimmer in the clear sunlight. Down to the right, the pure blue water of Lake Tiberkul mesmerises. Behind the cabin, for much further than the eye can see — a thousand kilometres — the Siberian wilderness stretches, bereft of human habitation.
“It’s all very complicated,” he starts quietly. “But to keep things simple, yes, I am Jesus Christ. That which was promised must come to pass. And it was promised in Israel 2,000 years ago that I would return, that I would come back to finish what was started. 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.”
Meet the Messiah of Siberia, Vissarion Christ — the Teacher, as he is known to his thousands of disciples, who are convinced that he is the reincarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, come back to earth to save the world. To find Vissarion, you fly 3,700km east from Moscow to the southern Siberian town of Abakan, north of the Mongolian border, then drive for six hours along rutted roads through a string of villages. Where the road ends in a rollercoaster of craters, the bog begins, and you trudge knee-deep in mud and ice for three hours before the final ascent to the “saviour,” a steep hour’s climb up a mountain path.
To witness the lives of these New Age dropouts in the hamlets of Kuragino, Imisskoye, Petropavlovka and Cheremshanka is to get an inkling of how things must have been in 17th-century New England for the pilgrim fathers toiling away at their new Jerusalem. “Life is so hard here,” says Denis, a 21-year-old Russian emigre who arrived last week from Brisbane to see if Vissarion really was the answer to his questions. “No doubt about it, mate,” he affirms. “Definitely the Son of God.”
To his critics in the established churches who accuse him of brainwashing and embezzling his followers, Vissarion is a charlatan deluding the devotees of “a destructive, totalitarian sect”. More prosaically, he is Sergei Torop, a 41-year-old former traffic cop and factory worker from Krasnodar in southern Russia, who moved to Siberia as a youth, experienced his awakening a decade ago, and now leads one of the biggest and most remote religious communes on the planet. MORE
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