New East Digital Archive

The joy of sects: among the followers of the Siberian Jesus

German photographer Julia Sellman documents the Russian religious community, Ecopolis Tiberkul, led by mystic Vissarion

27 October 2015

In 2014, German photographer Julia Sellmann travelled to the Krasnoyarsk region in the depths of Siberia to capture an isolated religious community called Ecopolis Tiberkul, or The Church of the Last Testament. It was founded shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union by a former policeman, Sergej Torop, who now calls himself Vissarion and claims to be the latest reincarnation of Jesus Christ. He wrote the so-called Last Testament to follow the biblical Old and New Testaments, joining the fundamental beliefs of various religions. Today, there are approximately 4000 members. “The members of Ecopolis Tiberkul came from all over the world and sold all of their belongings, adopting simple lives in wooden houses,” says Sellmann. “They lead minimalistic existences without money, depending on the land to grow their own food. A core belief of the Vascarians is that a great flood is approaching, and when it comes, only those who belong to the sect will survive. The survivors will emerge from ‘The Promised Land’, as they call their territory, to repopulate the Earth and the Universe.” The photographer spent six weeks with the believers capturing their simple daily lives and the calmness of the surrounding landscape. Despite the strictness of the religion, the atmosphere in the settlement seemed joyful. “Living the life that’s demanded by Vissarion isn’t a walk in the park, but in general the people are happy and so is the atmosphere,” she says. Sellmann’s project offers a unique glimpse into the life of this isolated community in the taiga forest.