Thousands of Russians have flocked to southern Siberia to follow a man who claims to be Jesus Christ reincarnated.
Sergey Anatolyevitch Toro, 56, was once a traffic policeman and a Red Army soldier before the collapse of the Soviet Union. He is not that man anymore. Now, the man formally known as Sergey calls himself “Vissarion,” and says he’s the founder of the Church of the Last Testament, The Guardian reported.
Vissarion, who normally dons a long white cloak and sports long hair and a beard, lives with his followers in Petropavlovka, or what he calls his “Siberian utopia,” The Guardian reported. Since the early 1990’s, Vissarion has been able to attract some 5,000 followers who live by strict rules. They are not allowed to drink, smoke or possess money.
The leader teaches his followers about the apocalypse, reincarnation and vegetarianism, the Mirror reported. Vissarion says his goal is to join every religion on the globe together.
The BBC’s Simon Reeve interviewed Vissarion and a teacher who lived in Petropavlovka as part of a documentary slated to air Thursday, the Mirror reported.
The leader, who reportedly has two wives and six kids, teaches a “great flood is coming and he promises salvation and spiritual perfection to his followers,” the Mirror reported.
Newsweek reported Vissarion’s first wife left him after he wed a 19-year-old woman, who posed nude for his paintings.
A teacher who lives in Minusinsk told Reeve: “We have a school of noble maidens here. We’re preparing girls to become future wives, future brides for worthy men. She has to understand not to rise above the man, not to be proud of her independence but to be shy, inconspicuous and weak.”
“I genuinely felt like I should be calling social services. They’re teaching Vissarion’s ten-volume sequel to The Bible,” Reeve said.
Reeve asked Vissarion about his critics’ accusations that the leader is “brainwashing and embezzling” his followers. Vissarion said the accusations made him feel “sad.”
“Sad, what else can I feel? This is unavoidable. I’ll put down the basis that will change all humanity,” Vissarion said.
Reeve noted at the end of the interview Vissarion requested his followers “donate money and provide labor for his profit-making businesses.”