CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

New religions in Runet

 by Boris Falikov (Center of Religious Studies at the Russian State University of Humanities, Russia)
A paper presented at The 2001 Conference in London



Soon after a collective suicide of “Heaven’s Gates” a few articles appeared on potential danger of Internet as a means of spreading bad ideas. The objection is simple - Internet is a place where any kind of ideas can exist both good and bad. Since Gutenberg revolution nothing has changed – new information technologies are neutral; it’s the contents that are decisive.


However in this particular case I had some reservations. The teaching of “Gates” was obviously gnostic – for them material world was evil and doomed. It had to be left behind as soon as possible. Virtual reality was a kind of preliminary for supreme spiritual reality where they expected to be taken to by a spaceship, leaving their empty bodies on doomed earth. That’s why they were so much involved in Internet bodiless life of pure ideas. They felt much more real and good here.


To a certain extent this existence in virtual space also accelerated their demise. They shared their intimate expectations with other users of Internet and were mercilessly ridiculed. In everyday inferior life such ridicule wouldn’t be felt so sharply. So it was with certain premonitions that I started to research sites of Russian apocalyptic movements in Runet.


I have chosen three of them: “The Church of the Last Testament” founded in Siberia by Vissarion who proclaimed himself Christ born anew; “The White Brotherhood” which in vain expected the end of the world in Kiev in 1993 and “The Church of the Mother of God” which proclaimed a new apocalyptic era with Mother of God starting the direct rule over the Earth.


The kingdom of folk-crafts       


There are different types of apocalyptic movements. Some of them prefer to find the solitary place in the country and wait there, getting ready for the Kingdom to come. Others stay in the cities and go on with their missionary activity; usually they are more active and impatient than “country folks” are.


The Church of the Last Testament belongs to the former type. “The Reign of Force in which mankind has developed from the very beginning is now reaching the end of its existence, - declares Vissarion in his Last Testament, - The Reign of Force is entering its death agony, in which the essence of man will turn, accelerated, to a state of savagery”. In order to avoid it the Heavenly Father sent Vissarion to Earth where he offers a new revelation which unifies spiritual traditions of the past and helps people reach the Kingdom of soul.


Vissarion took his adepts to a couple of small villages in Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia, beautiful in summer but very cold in winter, where they cultivate their souls, building wooden huts in pseudo-Russian style which reminds very much of illustrations to Russian folk tales for children. They call their life style ecologically pure and expect that the new savages wouldn’t reach this earthly paradise.


The site (http://www.vissarion.ru/) is bilingual, though the English version is less detailed than the Russian one. It starts with the official information on the Church: the registration number, the sociological and statistical data on church members, the reports on their health made by medical doctors (the adepts are vegetarians), the results of the inspection by the local administration (positive). Then short bios of Vissarion, two his high priests Sergei and Vladimir and the evangelist Vadim who puts Vissarion’s words into a literary form are given. The information on ecological project “Tibercule” is also provided accompanied by the beautiful pictures of the construction site. Then comes the data on the official newspaper of the movement “The Promised Land” and its registration number.


Some of the members of the movement are presented. There are a poet, an artist, a singer and a few craftsmen. The samples of their creativity are given. The analogy comes to mind with anthroposophists who were building their Geteanum in Switzerland during the World War I. There were many artists among them. The difference is in the professional level. Famous German, French and Russian writers, poets and artists followed Rudolf Steiner. Vissarion’s adepts are rather dilettantes than professionals though very passionate ones.


After all this information comes the teaching of Vissarion but it’s only in Russian. The English version is limited by adepts’ correspondence with the revered teacher.


A user that visits this site might think that he came across a community of nature lovers who build their forest camp and try to live a pure life of unity with nature. All this is well organized and obviously a far cry from the apocalyptic prophecies of the leader. There’s rather a continuity with the well established tradition of the Soviet time when a lot of city dwellers – engineers, teachers, physicians – left their dull city life poisoned with communist ideology and went into freedom of forest trips. Apocalyptic vision of Vissarion gave this tendency a mystical dimension but basically it stayed the same. The structure of the site makes it obvious.


The cosmic intercourse of the divine couple


The site of the “White Brotherhood” looks very different. This apocalyptic movement started in Ukraine in the very beginning of the nineties and quickly spread into Russia. The young people in white gowns with icons of Maria Devi Christos could be seen in the streets proclaiming the end of the world approaching. Finally, it was announced it would happen in the fall of 1993. A lot of teenagers gathered in Kiev at this time waiting for the ascension of Maria Devi Christos and Iuoann Swami. They were arrested instead and given long prison terms for organizing street riots. They blamed each other for the failure of the prophecy but Maria was released earlier and started the movement anew.


Initially, the movement was the mixture of Christian apocalyptism and theosophical brand of occultism. Maria Devi Christos was considered to be an embodiment of Christ and Mother of God. This heavenly androgen entered the body of Ukrainian journalist Marina Tsvigun who left her husband and child and joined cybernetics specialist Yuri Krivonogov who had to play the hard role of the male prophet of the female (?) God. It’s not surprising that they parted their ways.


The site was started soon after Maria Devi Christos was released. (http://www.usmalos.narod.ru/cerkovmir/cerkovmir_r.htm)  The biggest event on it is the heavenly marriage of alive Goddess and another prophet she has chosen – Ioann Petr II – who looks very similar to the famous Russian movie star Oleg Menshikov (who by the way played Esenin with Isidora Duncan – Vanessa Redgrave on the London stage a few years ago. So you can imagine the type). They left the prison Sept.13, 1997 and  “In the noon two cosmic flames broke away from the chains and ran towards their happiness! The fiery constellation of Lion emanated the time of divine freedom of heaven and earth intercourse: that of Maria Devi Christos and Ioann Petr II! All powers of light and all cosmos exhilarated. But the darkness rose mightier than before”. 


The change from apocalyptic fright for millenarian hope is obvious. Instead of eschatological nightmares for all mankind only personal sufferings of Maria Devi and Ioann Petr took place. And this atonement was big enough to introduce the kingdom of love on earth, which the happy cosmic couple is presently doing. But the forces of evil are increasing and it’s necessary to expose them for everybody to see. The structure of the site reflects this dual mythology.


The colorful pictures of the Goddess and new prophet-husband accompanied by the exalted texts with a lot of capital letters (Germans would feel at home here) are numerous. The happy couple poses cheek to jowl in white and golden robes and very fancy hats with occult symbols.

The western occult tradition is stressed more than oriental theosophy of the previous time associated with Krivonogov who even got a Vaishnava initiation (The ISCON people swear he did it by cheating). On one of the photos the couple dressed as pharaoh and his wife poses with the Egyptian pyramids in background. The leaders obviously took the way opposite to that of Madame Blavatsky who went from magic Egypt to wondrous India. The users should share this ocean of bliss but also remember the dark side.


Forces of darkness are mostly associated with Ukrainian authorities that make all kinds of bad things. The button called “The church and the world” has the information on persecutions still going on. The enemies are threefold – police, mass media and the Orthodox Church. The latter called the “Red Church” in memory for its collaboration with communists is an ideological source of all lies, media is the means of their spreading and the police prevents brothers and sisters from missionary activity. But the Brotherhood has one mighty ally – The United Nations – that in 1998 sent the note of protest to the Ukrainian government blaming it of violating the human rights of the members. The text crowns the top of the list.


The last component of the structure is the teaching itself. It’s half prose half poetry. Maria Devi is a prolific poet of a graphomaniac kind. They say the translations of poetry don’t render the beauty of an original but the translations of bad poetry do render how bad it is.


The Feminine is rising from the Darkness,
appearing God's Spirit in its face.
Oh, New Epoch of Gold and Enlightenment -
My Heavenly Phenomenon took place!
All praise to Woman-Proclaimer!
All praise to God -Mother, She is a Savior!

There’s a button, promising data on the apocalyptic number of Antichrist from the Revelation (the mythology of it played very important role in the initial version of the teaching). Telling enough the button doesn’t work. The site is done in Russian, lingua franca of the post-soviet space. In case of Ukraine with its very strong nationalistic tendencies it has an additional connotation of the universalistic message of the Church. But the English version is very much abridged. In the table of contents only a couple of buttons works. There’s no serious attempt to reach an English speaking audience.


Saved already


The Orthodox Church of the Mother of God Derzhavnaya became popular in the beginning of the 90-s. The founder, father Ioann (Bereslavsky), was ordained in the "Sekachev" branch of the catacomb Genuine Orthodox Church. In 1984 he claimed to get the revelation of the Mother of God by the famous icon Odigitria in Smolensk. Since that time the revelation has been allegedly going on and resulted in 20 prophetic books. Soon after 1984 he was excommunicated from the Genuine Orthodox Catacomb Church but in 1991 ordained a bishop by the head of schismatic Ukrainian Autocephalous Church metropolitan Ioann (Bodnarchuke). 


It was about this time Bereslavsky founded the Center of Our Lady together with some of the former members of the catacomb church and numerous new converts In 1994 this Center was condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church. Nevertheless in 1997 it was registered under its present name.


“Derzhavnaya” literally means sovereign. The leaders of the Church say that the last Russian emperor Nicholas II had a vision of the Mother of God before he renounced his throne. She accepted his crown and since that time became “the sovereign Russian tsarine”. It explains her heavenly protection of Russia in difficult post-revolutionary times.


In the beginning Bereslavsky foretold in his prophecies the imminent and horrible end of the world but promised salvation to Russia if its population would accept the patronage of the heavenly tsarine, joining his church. There was a lot of street processions, signatures were collected, petitions published. When it became obvious that the number of the followers doesn’t grow fast enough, the accents changed. It was said that Russia had been saved already by the mother of God due to the sacrifice of the orthodox martyrs who suffered in the GULAG, refusing any kind of compromise with the godless regime. Apocalyptic fears receded and millenarian hopes took their place.


This change is reflected in the structure of the web-site with the telling name “New holy Russia”. (http://user.transit.ru/~maria/mainrus.htm). It consists of four units. The first one called “Sinless principle of sovereign Mother of God will transform the earthly church” stresses the role of Mariology in the orthodox teaching. The second unit “Catacomb Church is the sacred essence of Orthodoxy” tells about Russian orthodox martyrs who had the visions of the Mother of God in the Solovky camp. These visions confirmed that they took the right stand in their confrontation with communists and helped to preserve the true essence of orthodoxy in hard times. Due to their sacrifice the new millenium of the Holy Spirit was to be introduced into Russia by the Mother of God. “Holy Russia by numerous heroic deeds in Solovky obtained the beginning of new life and lux ex Oriente will go to the rest of the world from Russia”. 


The third unit “The Orthodox Church of the Mother of God Derzhavnaya is a branch of The True Orthodox Catacomb Church” traces the lineage of the movement to the orthodox Mariology. Finally, the fourth unit gives the bios of those archbishops and metropolitans of the catacomb church who allegedly passed the torch to Ioann Bereslavsky. The story of his excommunication by the Sekachev branch is not mentioned. The bio of Gennadyi Sekach is given together with the other members of the lineage.


The movement stresses its roots in what it calls “true orthodox tradition” and gets adapted to life in Russia saved by the martyrs who belonged to its lineage. The English version of the site is rather limited. It includes the brief information about the movement, a few revelations of the Holy Virgin given to Ioann Bereslavsky, his short bio and a couple of western texts on Marian apparitions. The latter is obviously done to put the Church into the world context of the world Marian movement but there’s no real effort to relate to it. The “Holy Russia” exclusivistic staff prevents it.




The sites of all three movements under consideration demonstrate their safe passage from apocalyptic fears to millenarian hopes. This world orientation of the movements is stressed. Vissarionians emphasize their image of an ecological village which makes them attractive to Russian “back to nature” сity-dwellers. White brothers stress the happiness of cosmic love, which can be shared by those mortals who believe in the heavenly couple. The Church of the Mother of God develops a tradition of “true Orthodox Church” built on innocent blood of new Russian martyrs.


All three sites are decorated with picturesque images and photos. Their aesthetic level is rather low but there’s nothing frightening in them. So I stay with the opinion that Internet is absolutely neutral technology that wraps up any kind of religious teaching, making its message more evident. In the case of the Heavenly Gates it was a suicidal gnostic message, in three Russian cases the message is full of millenarian hope, emphasizing the change that took place in the teaching. 

A Postscript on the Great White Brotherhood (by CESNUR, 2005)

Both Maria Devi Christos and her husband have received the benefits of an amnesty and have been released from jail. The movement reports that international pressures contributed to this development. For updated (presented from the point of view of the movement) please see the Great White Brotherhood’s own Web site at www.usmalos.com. For an interview with Maria Devi Christos see http://www.usmalos.com/.

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