A special operation deep in Siberia has arrested a former traffic cop who declared himself Jesus reincarnated, reports The Jerusalem Post.
Sergei Torop, 59, who renamed himself Vissarion, has been running the Church of the Last Testament in Siberia since 1991. He and two assistants—Vladimir Vedernikov and Vadim Redkin, the former a drummer in a Soviet-era boy band—were also arrested in the raid. The raid was orchestrated by agents from Russia’s FSB—the secret security force in the nation—and other police agencies, reports the Post.
“Fifty police vans, 50 buses, an ambulance and medical workers are driving over here,” the Tayga.info news website quoted local resident Alexander Staroverov, who witnessed the early-morning raid, as saying on social media.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Torop started his cult deep in the wilderness of Siberia. He claims that after he lost his job in 1998, he had an “awakening” in which he adopted the persona of Jesus Christ.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2002, Torop said, ““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.”
A 57-year-old Bavarian engineer named Hermann told The Guardian that year, “[Torop] radiates incredible love…I met Vissarion last August. He told me we had to follow two laws. It was like an electric shock, like bells ringing.”
Torop originally claimed Jesus was watching humanity from close orbit to Earth, and that the Virgin Mary was “running Russia,” according to Russian media. He then later claimed to be Jesus. The community he ran has beliefs that draw on Orthodox Christianity and environmentalism. Veganism is enforced, and monetary exchange is banned within the commune, reports the Post. The plainly dressed cult members also count their calendar from 1961, the year of Torop’s birth, and Christmas has been replaced by a feast celebration on January 14, Torop’s birthday.
The Russia Investigative Committed said Tuesday the raid on the commune came amid accusations of Torop and his deputies using followers’ money and psychological violence to inflict harm, reports The Moscow Times
The nearest airport to Torop’s commune lies 2,300 miles east of Moscow, in the southern Siberian town of Abakan, north of the Mongolian border. From there, its a six-hour drive until the road ends, and followers must walk a three-hour hike through bogs and up a mountain where the “savior” resides, according to The Guardian.
The Orthodox church has condemned Torop’s group for many years and Russian law enforcement has been content to leave the group alone until now. It is unclear why authorities decided to swoop in now but some Russian media has reported the community was at odds with local business interests, reports the Post.
According to The Moscow Times, Torop’s church reported raids and interrogations in February in connection with a fraud investigation into a school attended by its members’ children.
Torop’s deputy Vadim Redkin told The Moscow Times at the height of Russia’s coronavirus outbreak this spring that the Church of the Last Testament’s membership applications have tripled since the start of the pandemic.