20 years have passed since the moment when a former traffic policeman, Sergei Torop, decided to live in the taiga and create a new religion. Today, his Church of the Last Testament has several thousand followers who live in the villages of the Kuragino Region, and everyone in the Krasnoyarsk Territory heard of Vissarion (this is how the latter-day prophet calls himself). Let's visit one of those villages and see how people live in anticipation of the Judgement Day.
"The Kingdom of Heaven" on the Earth
In the early 90s, tens of thousands people left their friends and relatives, renounced wealth and came to these semi-abandoned villages. They believed in Vissarion's prediction about the imminent end of the world, and came to build "a new society based on spiritual love".
The picture clearly shows the condition of all these villages.
According to theologians, Vissarion's doctrine is a religious hotchpotch of Christianity, Buddhism, primitive religiousness and esotericism. Newcomers should follow the strict canons established by the local church. Basic requirements are naivety, obedience, strict vegan diet with no meat, fish and dairy products, readiness for continuous physical labor and reproduction, and the denial of medical care.
Having heard of all this, one expects to see gloomy men, exhausted women and oppressed children, but…
Entering the village of Petropavlovka (the earthly outpost of "the Kingdom of Heaven"), it becomes pretty clear that everything is different here. New wooden houses with carved window frames stand along dusty streets among large plots of land.
Pictured: the village shop.
The streets are full of young people walking with intelligent faces, bearded men in high polished boots, women in colorful kerchiefs and long skirts. All is clean, lawns are neatly trimmed.
Local shops sell neither vodka nor meat, only vegetables, fruit and sweets. The atmosphere of a commune reigns here.
The construction near the village is in full swing. A Bulgarian businessman, Misha (here everyone calls each other by name) is building a small wood processing plant where local people would be able to work.
The proponents of the new faith are eager to get to this "impassable backwater". And their chances are higher if they have money with themselves (though, money is supposed to be evil and should be despised).
"Nothing human is alien to us"
The cultural center.
A curious notice on the wall of the center reads: "The moral and ethical meeting to review the situation in the natural family of the Mamrikovs will be held at the Children's Art House at 6 p.m., Friday."
The house of worship. The believers gather there at weekends. On weekdays, its doors are opened to everyone.
A row of shoes at the entrance. Soft carpets on the floor. The photo of Vissarion covers the iconostasis. Several women and a little girl sit on the floor and sing in chorus. It's quite obvious that the latter wants to run away from here, to play on the grass or to have fun on the slide constructed near the playground.
The local youth spends long evenings at the cultural center studying role-playing games, languages and the infinitely long revelations of the verbose Teacher.
Pictured: the icon of Vissarion.
Some local people use the Internet. When being asked why they traded civilization for wilderness, the answer is almost always the same: they wanted peace of mind.
- I moved here 17 years ago – says the artist, Igor Mokhov. – I lived in Moscow and, like many other people, was searching for the truth and the meaning of life. Then I met the Teacher and moved to Petropavlovka. Here I found harmony… As for Vissarion, he is a wise man. He is at the same level with Christ, Mohammed or Buddha.
Unlike most followers, Igor Mokhov periodically leaves the taiga for Krasnoyarsk (and sometimes for Moscow) to sell his paintings or arrange exhibitions.
And this is Nikolai Petrovich, a former military interpreter and a teacher at the General Staff Academy. He hasn't been outside Petropavlovka for the last 19 years.
As Teacher Vissarion is far from the madding crowd, he lives in so-called Sun City built by his followers, located on one of the nearby mountains. He himself calls it the "Ecosettlement" and the "Abode of Dawn".
The New Year service at Sun City.
It's not so easy for ordinary people to get to Sun City. For this, they must get a permission paper from local security guards.
Sometimes though the God himself goes down the mountain in his snow-white "Land Cruiser" to get closer to his people.
No chances for the bright future
The positive thing about this way of life is the absence of crime. You can safely leave your car open, and if you lose your wallet or phone, somebody will definitely return it to you.
However, the administration of the Kuragino Region confesses that they have a lot of problems with the followers of the Church of the Last Testament. Many of them do not want to get health care. It's ok if an adult decides for himself whether he needs it or not, but when it comes to children…
"Very often we have to defend the rights of minors. There are cases when a child needs urgent medical care, but parents oppose. Then we have to persuade them, sometimes even threaten," says the head of the region.
Another problem of Petropavlovka is the absence of a school. Children have to go by bus to the neighboring village. But most parents still prefer teaching their children at home. The level of such education is not high, and the children's chances to escape from the "promised land" are almost none.
It is difficult to predict the future of the residents of Petropavlovka and other similar villages. The Judgement Day three times foretold by Vissarion still didn't come. And every year, more and more people realize how much they were deceived and go back to normal life.
"But as long as there is at least one follower, Sun City will exist," promises great Vissarion. Time will tell whether he's right or not…
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