The Russian news agency, TASS, has reported that Sergei Torop, known as Vissarion, the leader of the Church of the Last Testament which is based in Siberia, has been detained with other leaders of the group following a raid by security forces on 22 September 2020.
A spokesperson for Russia's Investigative Committee said Vissarion and two other leaders were facing charges of "setting up a religious group, which exerts violence over citizens and inflicts serious damage to health of two or more people". He is reported to have rejected the accusations made against him.
Accounts of the group suggests that Vissarion's religious trajectory originated in an interest in ufology, and he established his movement when he took the name Vissarion in 1991. There are said to be around 3,000 followers living in around 40 communities (Lavrrentieva et al 2020). A 2013 article in The New Yorker reported that the movement "combines elements of the Russian Orthodox Church with Buddhist themes of reincarnation, as well as preparations for the impending apocalypse". A feature in The Guardian in 2015 said that the group abolished Christmas – celebrating a feast day on 14 January, which is Vissarion's birthday, instead – and expects a great flood after which members will emerge to repopulate the Earth. Journalist Alissa de Carbonnel, attending an annual celebration of Vissarion's awakening in the community in 2010, reported on a "festive mood … a throwback to the hippie fervour of the 1960s with a dash of apocalyptic fanaticism".
Solveiga Krumina-Konkova (1999) has described the movement as having "the typical features of Russian messianism" with services conducted in Russian and emphasising "the special messianic role of Russia". Discussing the history of the scholarly representation of "Russian messianism", Ana Siljak (2016), refers to the idea that Russian Orthodox Chritianity "with its mystical and otherworldly perspective [...] imbued Russian politics with a grand image of Russia's spiritual destiny to guide mankind" - a notion that has become a truism amongst some scholars and commentators.
In May, the Moscow Times reported that the Vissarion movement attracted new followers when the coronavirus began to spread, and that requests from people wishing to join had increased dramatically.
Krumina-Konkova, Solveiga. 1999. 'New Religions in Latvia'. Nova Religio 3(1): 119-134.
Lavrrentieva, Maria Sergeyevna; Turkin, Mikhail Mikhailovich; Kuchenin, Evgeny Sergeevich; Volkova, Maria Alexandrovna; Zolotareva, Alla Efratovna. 2020. 'New Religious Movements in a Secular State'. Journal of Advanced Research in Law and Economics 11(47): 107-113.
Siljak, Ana. 2016. 'Nikolai Berdiaev and the Origin of Russian Messianism'. Journal of Modern History 88: 737-763.