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    Russian sect prays to Putin icons, claims he is the 'chosen one'

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    Vladimir Putin may be popular in Russia for saving the nation from the chaos of the 1990s, but a sect in the country has taken its devotion a step further by praying to 'presidential icons.'

    MOSCOW, December 11 (RIA Novosti) - Vladimir Putin may be popular in Russia for saving the nation from the chaos of the 1990s, but a sect in the country has taken its devotion a step further by praying to 'presidential icons.'

    The Bolshaya Elnya village in the Nizhny Novgorod Region is home to the "Rus' Resurrecting" sect, a group of local residents who believe that President Putin was both the Apostle Paul and King Solomon in previous lives.

    Rus' is the term used for the medieval East Slavic nation that gave its name to modern Russia.

    "We didn't choose Putin," Mother Fontinya told the Moskovsky Komsomolets paper, expounding on the first time she laid eyes on the "holy one."

    "It was when Yeltsin was naming him as his successor [during a live New Year's Eve TV broadcast in 1999]. My soul exploded with joy! 'An ubermensch! God himself has chosen him!'" I cried.

    "Yeltsin was the destroyer, and God replaced him with his creation," claimed Fontinya.

    The sect possesses a President Putin icon that Fontinya claims miraculously appeared one day.

    "He has given us everything," she said, pointing to the sky.

    A special newspaper published by the sect - 'The Temple of Light' - features interviews with long-dead religious figures, including the Apostle Paul. The sect members are also convinced that President Putin knows about and supports the actions of their 'Mother Superior.'

    Russian Christian sects have long been known for their unusual choices of icons, some of them praying to portraits of such well-known 'holy men' as Stalin and Ivan the Terrible.

    Another Russian sect is currently holed up in an underground shelter in the country's central Penza Region and has threatened to commit mass suicide if any attempt is made to bring them to the surface.

    Religion was tightly controlled in the U.S.S.R. and the collapse of the Soviet Union saw an explosion in sects and cults, as well as interest in New Age philosophies and beliefs. The back pages of many Russian tabloid newspapers are full of advertisements for 'healers' and 'magicians' who promise to bring happiness in love, success in business, as well as a range of other services.

    One of the most well-known sects in Russia has its base near the southern Siberian town of Abakan, where thousands of people, both Russian and foreign, worship a former provincial traffic policeman, Sergei Torop, as the second coming of Christ.

    There are currently believed to be around 500-700 such sects in Russia, containing some 600,000-800,000 people.

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