KEY POINTS

  • Russia's Investigative Committee said the leader of a notable cult in Siberia was peacefully taken into custody alongside two aides
  • Sergei Torop, also known as "the Jesus of Siberia," founded the Church of the Last Testament in 1991
  • Members of the group said the Russian government would not succeed in its efforts to break it up

A Siberian cult leader claiming to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ was in custody Wednesday after Russian police conducted an operation to shut down the cult.

Sergei Torop, 59, was arrested along with at least two other men during a raid on the cult’s settlement in Russia’s Krasnoyarsk region on Tuesday. Russia’s Investigative Committee said the men were being charged with organizing an illegal religious organization for allegedly extorting money from followers and emotional abuse. Reports said while the force sent to arrest Torop was armed, no one living in the settlement was harmed.

The other suspects were identified as Torop’s alleged right-hand man Vadim Redkin and Vladimir Vedernikov, who was described as an aide.

Torop, also known as “Vissarion the Teacher” or “the Jesus of Siberia,” started the cult in 1989 during the dying days of the Soviet Union. He told The Guardian in 2002 after he lost his job as a traffic officer in Minusinsk, Russia, he experienced an “awakening” as the Soviet Union began to fall apart. He went on to establish the Church of the Last Testament to attract thousands of Russians after the Iron Curtain fell in 1991 and the country entered a period of economic chaos.

Reports said the group’s underlying premise was Jesus Christ was watching over Russia from orbit while the Virgin Mary was the country’s true leader. However, Torop later claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus, earning him the nickname “the Jesus of Siberia.”

“I am not God,” Torop told The Guardian. “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.”

While Russian authorities haven’t said if any additional charges will be brought against Torop, some members said the government’s efforts to crack down on the cult wouldn’t succeed.

“We followed our teacher to the depths of Siberia. About 5,000 people joined us. We built a unique eco-community. I don’t think that by arresting people the state will manage to ruin our beliefs,” Sergei Chuvalkov, a former Russian military colonel, told The Daily Beast.

Russian police officers patrol a deserted Red square in front of Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow as the capital and other parts of Russia go into lockdown to curb the novel coronavirus. Russian police officers patrol a deserted Red square in front of Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow as the capital and other parts of Russia go into lockdown to curb the novel coronavirus. Photo: AFP / Dimitar DILKOFF