May 14, 2011

Russian Sects: From Rasputin to the 'Jesus of Siberia'

Russia has spawned a number of bizarre sects since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union as ordinary Russians have struggled to make the transition from state-sponsored atheism to a society where the Russian Orthodox Church is again in the ascendancy.

Andrew Osborn
May 12, 2011
The Telegraph

Experts say there are as many as 700 sects in Russia attracting between 600,000 to 800,000 followers. The latest sect to make the headlines is an all-female group, which believes that Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, is a reincarnation of early Christian missionary Paul the apostle.

Here is a list of some of the other notable sects to emerge in Russia down the ages:

Grigory Rasputin, known as the 'mad monk,' was perhaps Russia's most infamous self-proclaimed healer and spiritualist. Rasputin wormed his way into the affections of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra by claiming to have the power to heal their son Alexei of haemophilia. Often accused of being part of a sect, he appears to have believed that salvation could only be achieved by at first sinning and then asking God's forgiveness, which is how he justified his famously debauched behaviour. He was murdered in a bizarre plot in 1916 by a group of Russian nobles who feared he had grown too powerful.

Grigory Grabovoi, a self-proclaimed psychic and healer, became notorious in Russia after the 2004 Beslan school siege that culminated in the death of more than 300 hostages, many of them children. Grabovoi, who controversially claims he has the power to abolish death and cure cancer and HIV, got into hot water with the authorities after allegedly promising the mothers of the dead children in Beslan that he could resurrect their loved ones. He charged followers cash to attend seminars in Moscow hotels where he promised to share some of his 'unique' knowledge. He was sentenced to eight years in jail for fraud but got out after only four years.

The Jesus of Siberia known to his followers as Vissarion. In the Siberian town of Abakan, thousands of Russians have abandoned their careers, families and homes to follow the teachings of Sergei Torop, a former traffic policeman who claims he is Jesus Christ. His more than 5,000 followers have built a rural community called Abode of Dawn out of a Siberian forest. Torop likes to don a velvet crimson robe and sports long brown hair. A strict moralist, he claims he has come back to save the world.

Piotr Kuznetsov, a divorced architect from Belarus with an unhealthy obsession for the Apocalypse. The founder of a sect called The True Orthodox Church, Kuznetsov was fascinated with the end of the world and convinced his followers to hole up in a rickety man-made cave to wait for judgment day. He predicted the world would end in May 2008. When it did not he was apparently so disappointed that he tried to commit suicide by hitting himself over the head repeatedly with a log. He did not let his followers watch TV, listen to the radio or handle money and was reported to sleep in a coffin.