Who would you rather follow, a brutal neo-dictator and former KGB member or a guy who claims to be the Siberian Jesus and who teaches that people need to love one and support one another?
It is not surprising that in the turmoil of the new Russia, the outworn Orthodox church cannot meet people’s need for meaning and purpose and some Russians think that Jesus has returned, incarnated in a Siberian cop. That’s not any stranger, in principle, than saying that God was incarnate in a carpenter from Nazareth. Not in principle, anyway.
The only way to sort out whether a given revelation is true or false is finally to see what kinds of fruits it produces. This, at least, is the advice of the Apostle Paul who was preaching about Jesus Christ when there were a lot of new religions around. How really do you know the spirit, Paul writes, except by the fruits of the spirit? Paul is very clear, the fruits of the spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” It’s an excellent list.
The Greco-Roman world around the time of Jesus was also a period of tremendous turmoil and new religions sprang up frequently. The “internet” of the time, trade caravans, brought new ideas from the far east and these gave rise to new cults. The title of Jacob Neusner’s famous book, Christianity, Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults, reminds us that there was a time when these two, Christianity and Judaism, were not established religions but “cults”, i.e. marginal religions during the time when Greek and Roman religions were dominant. So, when any of the followers of Jesus preached in that Greco-Roman world, they had to fit in among these other new religions and make a claim the revelation they had received was true. So Paul suggested they not guess, but show the truth of their claim through the works of the spirit. It’s still a sturdy guideline.
So perhaps “Vissarion” is a charlatan and a fool, but is he a fake? He is most probably not the reincarnated Jesus, but that does not mean there is nothing of the spirit in him or his followers or indeed in any of us.
I can’t say for sure that if the life of an average Russian was my lot today that I wouldn’t take off for the woods and try to find some meaning and purpose beyond a winner-take-all economy and the abuse of vodka.
Human beings have a strong need for spiritual meaning and purpose and if they can’t find it in traditional religion because traditional religion fails them, they will still seek it, even in the most seemingly unlikely places. In the desert, if sand is all you have to drink, then some will even try to drink the sand.