By Benjamin Bidder in Bolshaya Elnya, Russia, SPIEGEL ONLINE
Mother Fotina once led a “Center for Cosmo-Energetic Medicine,” and now she prays to Vladimir Putin. Her sect, in a village east of Moscow, honors Russia’s once and future president as a reincarnation of St. Paul. The group represents a rising trend in Russia, but its origins are surprisingly mundane.
Haggard women hike up a hill near the Volga, saying they’re following “the Law of Love.” The law brings them to a three-story building made of white brick, with golden turrets and a battered gate. They call it the “Chapel of Russia’s Resurrection.” At the gate they exchange dusty boots for green plastic sandals before spreading out prayer rugs made of foam and pray to their patron saint: Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister and soon-to-be president (again). They believe he’s a reincarnation of St. Paul.
The followers of this Russian Orthodox sect live in the village of Bolshaya Elnya, near Nizhny Novgorod, a metropolis 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) east of Moscow. Their leader is called “Mother Fotina,” a 62-year-old matron who considers herself the reincarnation of Joan of Arc. “I proclaim what God has revealed to me,” she says. Just as Saul persecuted Christians before his conversion to St. Paul, she believes Putin once beset the faithful as a Soviet KGB officer.
The Soviets blew up churches, or replaced them with swimming pools, but “when he became president,” she says, “the Holy Ghost came to him.” Since then Putin leads his flock “wisely, just as the Apostle did.”
‘We’ve Prayed for Him to Return’
Across Russia — not just in Bolshaya Elnya — popular affection for Putin has started turning to religious worship. The country’s top rabbi, Berel Lasar, swooned a few months ago that Russians had “every reason to ask God to bless you…