'Reborn' Jesus Leads Vegans in Russia
Known as Vissarion, former traffic cop preaches against war
By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2009 6:17 PM CDT
Vissarion, formerly a policeman named Sergei Torop, speaks to a visitor from his residence in Sun City, eastern Siberia, the town he and his followers founded in 1994.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – A former traffic cop in Russia has declared himself a reincarnation of Jesus and amassed a following of 5,000 devotees, including artists and intellectuals, the Daily Mail reports. Sergei Torop, "reborn" as "Vissarion" after losing his job in 1991, preached against the evils of war and harming the environment. Now he passes his days painting in his chalet while 300 followers live in wooden huts around his church.

Critics accuse him of drawing on a national obsession with personality cults to swindle people in the far-off Siberian village of Petropavlovka. But believers willingly devote their lives to him, accepting veganism, and giving up drinking, smoking, and handling money. They also consider the current year to be 49—Torop is 48 years old—and have given up Christmas to celebrate on August 18, the anniversary of Vissarion's first sermon.