The Followers are a widespread but clandestine sect who believe in salvation through sin. To be forgiven, one must first transgress. There is no central organization or hierarchy. Rather, each individual branch operates on it’s own and there’s a lot of local variation in rituals and specific teachings.
Some of the Followers’ congregations are small, just a few dozen workers and peasants formed into a tightly knit religious community. Others have attracted the attention of local nobility and elites, often after rumors of charismatic leaders and wild ceremonies have started to circulate.
Most ordinary members only ever interact with their local branch. Those who have given their lives over to the Followers sometimes travel and visit other branches in other cities, exchanging ideas and participating in each other’s rites.
For the purposes of this larp, everyone associated with the Followers and all player characters sincerely believe that the Followers are fundamentally right. Some are only beginning to understand their ideas while others have served in the sect for years. Some embrace sin wholeheartedly while for others its a struggle. Nevertheless, in their heart of hearts all believe that this is the only way to salvation.
The Followers are led by the Elders, who are recognized to be committed, knowledgeable and authoritative members of the sect. However, the Elders are not priests. They’re just leaders who help their brethren along the way.
The basic setup of the Followers is fundamentally egalitarian in the sense that they reject the idea of human authority between a petitioner and God. This is reflected in how the Followers structure their rituals and ceremonies: Not as a congregation facing a priest in the front, but as a circle surrounding the speaker from all sides.
The Followers divide the participants in their ceremonies into members and newcomers. Members have already been inducted into the sect while newcomers are not.
The Followers don’t try to actively convert anyone. You have to actively look for them to be able to join.
A typical Followers congregation has 20-60 members. It’s not unusual for them to exist for a decade or two and then disappear under state oppression.
The Followers and the St Petersburg Elite
The Followers are fashionable among St Petersburg elites for three reasons:
1. Their ideas allow for sinful extravagances of the type that already typifies the lives of many Russian nobles.
2. There’s a great fascination with the idea that truth and honesty are present in ordinary people, who’s simple faith can reveal great secrets. It helps that the nobility rarely converse with such people.
3. Everyone is genuinely very worried about the state of their soul. The idea that someone holds secret knowledge about redemption is very appealing.
Although mere friendly association between social classes is considered suspect and sinful, the religious context changes things somewhat. An uneducated peasant can be seen to represent the true earthy soulfulness of the Russian people, the simplicity of pure faith. Because of this, the nobility, artists and other elites can project their religious fantasies on figures who come from much more humble backgrounds.
The Followers are not political, seeking to keep themselves apart from such earthly concerns. In a Followers ceremony a noble and a revolutionary may find themselves praying together. They are expected to be able to deal with the dissonance this creates, although such tensions are sometimes exploited in the rituals related to sinning.
In a sense, the Followers are based on an idea that has cropped up time and again in Russia. The St Petersburg sect of the Followers was originally founded five years ago by the members who would later become the Elders, and later connected to other similar sects who shared the same religious convictions.
Many of the other instances of the Followers in other cities have been formed in a similar way, through spontaneous religious inspiration that then attracted other similarly minded people.
The earliest instance of the Followers known by members of the sect is from 1645 when a peasant and a derelict soldier declared himself a living god after the Lord of Hosts descended upon him. However, written records that exist from different Follower sects tend to be sporadic, sometimes because their members are all illiterate.
The Followers have also been persecuted and arrested in many cities, their writings burnt. As a result, Follower history tends to be apocryphal.
In the parlance, the congregation is sometimes called a “ship” because they feel themselves to be abandoned on the sea of a profane world. However, this is not holy terminology but more like a slang term. Another term for the congregation is the “ark”.
Each member of the congregation is thought to be able to communicate directly with the Holy Spirit, without needing the mediation of a priest. Furthermore, community members can temporarily become “living gods”, embodiments of divine presence, either as Christ (Kyrios) or as Mother of God (Panagia). Some individual members may become known for particularly compelling manifestations of the Holy Spirit, so much so that other Followers start referring to them routinely using these titles.
It depends on the person which divine manifestation they embody and their declaration is always understood to be the truth regardless of previous gender presentation.
Sometimes the Followers assign members spiritual companions, creating pairs who are supposed to help each other along their path. The way this is done is sometimes capricious, with unlikely pairings meant to provoke members onto a higher spiritual level.
To reach the same goal, the Followers also sometimes annul marriages and demand that members find partners within the sect so they can be wedded in an appropriately sinful manner.
Follower beliefs are not entirely uniform and there is some debate. For example:
When exactly is the pivotal moment of redemption? For some Followers, it’s important to be forgiven for their sins while they’re alive. They confess their sins and seek redemption from those around them. It can be argued that this makes sense since the Holy Spirit is incarnated in the congregation. Others argue that the crucial moment is when you die and are judged. This is when God shows His infinite mercy and you are redeemed.
Is it important to seek forgiveness? Should you apologize for your sins? This varies member by member. Some engage in a cycle of sinning and apologizing, insulting God and Czar and then kneeling with teary eyes and asking for forgiveness. And then they do it again. Others posit that it’s even more sinful to not apologize and just brazenly continue sinning.
Since sin is the key to salvation, the Followers hold special ceremonies and gatherings in which they help each other sin communally and with the purpose of helping one’s soul go to Heaven. These events tend to be grueling, intense and life-changing.
The sinning in these ceremonies is no less sinful for the fact that it happens in a religious context. The ritual just gives it purpose.
The Followers don’t believe in mindlessly following dogmatic rituals. Rituals and practises are often developed and changed based on new ideas and revelations. Because of this, rituals can feel new even to experienced members.
The human voice is the holiest of all instruments because it was created by God. For this reason, many Follower rituals involve members vocalizing in different ways.
Although rituals build community, they also serve the purpose of helping members sin in new ways and thus get closer to redemption. It’s the duty of all Followers to help each other on this path.
The confession of sins in many forms has great ritual significance. Members confess sins to each other privately and it’s also done in public ceremonies. Progress on the road of sin is always cause for rejoicing.
The most common everyday prayer among the Followers is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is also known as the Jesus Prayer. Depending on tone, it can encompass a variety of emotional states from remorse to joy.
Most Followers still lead the same lives they did as before, whether as nobility or as common people. Being a member doesn’t mean you have to abandon everything. Still, some have done so, becoming the Elders who guide others on the path to redemption. They live together in a secret place, trusting in God to protect them from the police raids that threaten to end the whole sect in one blow.
Most Followers follow the path of sin as part of their ordinary lives. This is obviously blasphemous in the view of the official Russian Orthodox Church and must be kept very secret.
The sect is fundamentally communal. As a Follower, your spiritual and religious life revolves around the experiences you have together with other Followers. Because of this, if the authorities abolish a Follower congregation, members tend to lapse or drift to other, still functioning congregations. It’s harder to sin alone.