This Man Thinks He's Jesus (& People Believe Him)

Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Tucked away in Siberia, there's a community led by a former traffic cop who believes that he is Jesus Christ reincarnated.

Some call him the "Jesus of Siberia." But Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop prefers to be called Vissarion.

He leads the Church of the Last Testament, a movement based in the Siberian taiga. Photojournalist Kate Brooks visited Vissarion's community in 2008 to learn more about him and his followers, and to document their way of life.

In her description of the project, Brooks explains that Vissarion's philosophy includes inspiration from "elements of the Russian Orthodox Church and Buddhism to Islam."

The community was "very welcoming," Brooks told Refinery29.

"They're vegetarian — I don't eat meat, so that was automatically something that connected me to them, even if I’m not following what they believe in, per se," she explained.

She stayed in the community for about two weeks while capturing the photo series.

Vissarion's following isn't a small one — roughly 4,000 people live in his community, according to Vice's former editor-in-chief Rocco Castoro, who reported on his visit to the settlement in 2011. About 250 of his closest followers live in an area called the Abode of Dawn.

Vissarion holds a weekly gathering, similar to a sermon, with his followers. "They had contact with him, but very limited contact with him," Brooks explained.

She observed that Vissarion's community was "more about living on the land, eating from the land, and being vegetarian, praying a number of times a day."

In other words, it was about the mindset, and not just Vissarion's teachings. Brooks said she observed "a disassociation with a number of aspects of modern life" in many members of the community.

Ahead, a look at what life is like for Vissarion and his followers.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Vissarion's philosophy is inspired by the Russian Orthodox Church and Buddhism. It has been amended to add that his church is also influenced by Islam.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, proselytizers flocked to Russia, and dozens of cults were born, filling the ideological vacuum left by the death of communism. Today, an estimated 1 million Russians belong to these various sects.

In 1990, former Siberian traffic cop Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop had a revelation that he was the reincarnation of Christ, and founded a religious movement known as the Church of the Last Testament. The head church is located in the Siberian taiga, east of the city of Abakan. The settlement, Tiberkul, was established in 1994, and has nearly 5,000 inhabitants.

Vissarion looks out at the "Abode of Dawn," a small settlement where 250 of Vissarion's most devout followers live.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Several times a day, bells ring to signify prayer time. Believers pray in the direction of the mountain where Vissarion lives, even though they say they are not worshipping him. Most followers, however, believe him to be Christ.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Believers must be invited to be residents in the "Abode of Dawn."
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Most residents of the Abode of Dawn give up their personal possessions before moving to the settlement. They then build their own homes by hand and live off of the land. Every morning, they gather to pray before starting their day.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Vissarion's religious teachings combine elements of various religions, including those of the Russian Orthodox Church and Buddhism.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Every Sunday, Vissarion meets with believers, who are given a chance to ask him personal and spiritual questions.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Vissarion's house is perched on a hill overlooking the Abode of Dawn.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Pictures of Vissarion can be found in every home, and adorn public spaces, from the dentist's office to classrooms.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Vissarion's followers are vegetarian and do not smoke or drink alcohol. Their way of life is based on ecological principals.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Children attend a community school in Petropavlovka.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Two young believers, Alexander Matish and Liza Sidorova, marry following the Sunday liturgy service. The priest, a former nuclear rocket scientist, Sergei Chevalkov, marries them.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Alexander Tsganko and his pregnant wife, Lucie, are two of the youngest residents of the Abode of Dawn. Lucie gave up her intentions to study in university once she moved to the community.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Birgitt Schlevog, a German citizen, believes Vissarion is Christ and travels to Siberia to be close to the teacher when she is not teaching elementary school in Germany.
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Photo: Kate Brooks/Redux.
Caption: Mariya Onishenko, 28, cried for three days the first time she met Vissarion. She named her first son Jesus after having a dream that she would have a baby named Jesus. Her second son is named Vissarion after the teacher, who she believes to be Jesus. Onishenko nurses her daughter, Spring, at the crack of dawn.
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