A new religious movement of Russian origin creates confusion in Christian communities in the former Soviet Union
With the collapse of the Communist Empire and the emergence of a spiritual desert, the former USSR has not only become the target of Western religious groups who, often with the excuse of providing humanitarian aid, attempt to proselytise with the seduction of Western and Oriental messages. This is not occurring in only the big urban centers with their masses of people without any religious affiliation, but also in remote places like Siberian towns and villages, which have become objects of missionary campaigns which are strategically planned from logistic headquarters in Western Europe or USA.
Together with economic conquest, missionaries are proclaiming their formulas for salvation. The situation is not unlike the one in Latin America in the wake of its discovery some 500 years ago. Indeed, the former Soviet Union has become a new continent for mission, and the Russian Orthodox Church is battling a number of Christian and non-Christian groups in competing for souls.
Today we witness the phenomenon of a revival of the local occult movements which draw many of their doctrines from the Theosophical and Occult circles of former times. Theosophists like Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and the painter Nicholas Roerich are widely known, even in political circles.
Recently, a new group called the Great White Brotherhood is gaining an audience. It is one of the first new religious movements of post-communist Russian origin. In their extensive travels, the founders and adherents visit many Siberian towns trying to establish local communities after a few days of preaching. Strolling through the streets, they often contact people after their church services (Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist, etc), and introduce themselves as “Christians” who have overcome confessional separations. In a situation which is marked by tensions between the various Christian confessions, they try to overcome these divisions by proclaiming a new revelation with a strong millenerial outlook.
It appears, however, that their “Christian” behaviour is just a useful means to approach people of Christian faith, as it has been obeserved that in other surroundings they emphasize their Theosophical roots. By using Christian symbols (cross, rosary, little icon of Christ or Mary attached to white robes, reminiscent of the ritual dresses of the brethren of Taizé), they appear to many Christian believers like one of the modern ecumenical movements who, for instance on the traces of St. Francis of Asissi, attempt to live a “new” and young way of Christian commitment. In our Christian congregations they have created quite a lot of confusion.
Yoan Swami regards himself a reincarnation of “Father the Lord”, Nicholas Roerich, King Vladimir, John the Baptist, Osiris, Krishna, and Adam. Maria Devi, his consort, is supposed to be a reincarnation of the Holy Spirit, Helena Roerich, Olga (King Vladimir’s grandmother), Mother Mary, Ezeda, Radha, Eve. Jesus Christ is said to be the “spiritual son” of Yoan Swami and Maria Devi, and he is a reincarnation of Rama, Buddha, Thor, Hokma. The three above mentioned constitute the “Holy Trinity” - called “Usmalos”, a term supposed to be a transcription from Sanskrit (as they say) but which in fact seems to have been made up.
Yoan Swami and Maria Devi declare themselves to be the prophets Enoch and Elijah, the two witnesses that will prophesy for 1260 days. They would be killed and after three and a half days a breath of life from God would enter them; Jesus Christ will then appear in the sky and doomsday will be at hand (Rev 11:3 and 11 etc).
Yoan Swami and Maria Devi now wander all over the world and gather the “Great White Brotherhood”, a number not exceeding 144,000 people. The movement is also called the Knights of the World Mother or Usmaleans.
The main topic in their sermon focuses on “World Mother” Maria Devi. Jesus Christ entrusted her with his power here on earth. She brings to realization the third and last Testament. Its main topics are: 1) confession, 2) fasting, 3) prayer.
1) People shall confess to the World Mother Maria Devi. She will forgive everything and take away all sins. But only those sins which are expiated.
2) For 40 days people shall fast and after that period renounce meat, milk, onions, garlic, tea, coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and sexual activities. They say that “these destroy immunity, and lead to death in the last days. It leads to robotization.”
3) There is one single and simple prayer for every day: “Jesus Usmalos Ezudos Cristos”. Further, it is necessary to constantly repeat the names of Yoan Swami, Maria Devi and Jesus Christ. A rosary, consisting of 108 beads, has to be recited 20 times each day as a kind of continuous prayer: 7 times repetition of the above mentioned formula, 3 times repetition of the names of Yoan Swami, Maria Devi and Jesus Christ, 10 times repetion of “Usmalos”, the name of the Trinity.
The “Great White Brotherhood” distributes a publication with a lengthy title: Words of the Prophet Elijah to the Usmalians and to the Sinful Generation of Adam.
The front page pictures Yoan Swami and Maria Devi together with Jesus Christ who dominates the background, resembling an Orthodox icon. The publication contains many mistakes in grammar, style and confusing thoughts. It consists of two parts: study of cosmology and eschatology, while shifting from cosmology to details of life conduct. Several statements contradict each other. The text accuses Christians of Satanism. They state that all priests serve Satan and they are biological robots. The Eucharist also would contain a satanic microbe which will cause all people to become robots.
Repeatedly they praise Maria Devi as the single savior of the world. They talk about the birth of the Antichrist. He came to power during 1992 and he shall be an international authority. However, God has sent his mother Mary to the world, in order that people may not confuse Christ with the Antichrist. The World Mother is the Messiah for all humanity. She thus becomes the second coming of Christ to earth, because the Mother and the Son are one and the same.
The second part of their book is an appeal to the White Brothers, scientists, artists, and other influential people. It stresses the necessity to confess, to pray, and to follow the World Mother Maria Devi. People must give up their studies, jobs, and families; they are exhorted to destroy all electronic equipment and computers, and especially the electronical system of credit cards (actually there no such cards are being issued in the former USSR). They must eat only vegetarian food, they should not get married and give birth to children, because “in every woman in labor there is a devil’s soul.”
They appeal to children to leave their families, nor to attend hospitals and churches. All this is accompanied with frightening scenarios from horror films.
This brief description of their teachings clearly reveals the structure of a modern “crisis-cult”, which rejects many symbols of a threatening foreign culture and draws the psychological profile of the present situation of insecurity and transition in terms of eschatological destruction. Although the group frequently quotes the Bible, it appears that their ideas are mainly taken from Theosophical literature (H. Blavatsky, N. Roerich etc).The foundation of such a pseudo-Christian movement which attempts to overcome the traditional boundaries between the Christian denominations is not at all a service to the cause of Christian ecumenism.