Russia is in the grip of an apocalyptic fever. The New York Times reports that Russians across the nation’s nine time zones are in the grip of a mass hysteria of sorts — and it’s all about the end of the world.

As Ellen Barry reports:

“Inmates in a women’s prison near the Chinese border are said to have experienced a ‘collective mass psychosis’ so intense that their wardens summoned a priest to calm them. In a factory town east of Moscow, panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches, kerosene, sugar and candles. A huge Mayan-style archway is being built — out of ice — on Karl Marx Street in Chelyabinsk in the south.”

She also explains the cause of the hysteria. It seems that even Russians are fascinated with the Mayan calendar. “For those not schooled in New Age prophecy, there are rumors the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012, when a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count in the Mayan calendar supposedly comes to a close. Russia, a nation with a penchant for mystical thinking, has taken notice.”

The apocalyptic fever has now concerned the Russian government, which spoke to the crisis through its Minister of Emergency Situations, who assured the nation that the End is not nigh”

“Last week, Russia’s government decided to put an end to the doomsday talk. Its minister of emergency situations said Friday that he had access to ‘methods of monitoring what is occurring on the planet Earth,’ and that he could say with confidence that the world was not going to end in December. He acknowledged, however, that Russians were still vulnerable to ‘blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes, floods, trouble with transportation and food supply, breakdowns in heat, electricity and water supply.’”

Well, there you have it. The Russian Minister of Emergency Situations has “methods of monitoring what is happening on the planet Earth,” and the End is not happening. Feel better now?

The Russian Orthodox Church has also stated its doubt that the End of the World is approaching, as have other government and cultural authorities. It is unclear that this is helping anything.

The government is also considering legislative action, making it illegal to “violate believer’s feelings.” One member of Russia’s Parliament, a doctor, warned that such anxiety could upset the nervous system. “Everyone has a different nervous system, and this kind of information affects them differently. Information acts subconsciously. Some people are provoked to laughter, some to heart attacks, and some . . .  to negative actions.”

The Christian worldview points to the End of the World as a promised reality — an end that demonstrates the righteousness and justice of God and the consummation of the Gospel. God’s judgment poured out on this world is certain, but so is the promise of New Creation.

Russia bears all the marks of a radical spiritual confusion. In the aftermath of official Soviet atheism, the nation is filled with New Age confusions and a host of spiritual fevers. The Mayan calendar is just one focus of those fevers, but a potent one.

The same kind of confusions are present here in the United States, but with less intensity than in Russia. Russians, Ellen Barry explains, “can be powerfully transported by emotions.”

That, we can assume, is true of all people. Confusion marks the worldview and spirituality of millions of Americans just like the Russians, and the Mayan calendar is being watched carefully by many of our neighbors as well.

If I believed in the power of the Mayan calendar to predict the end of the world, I am not at all sure I would trust the government of Russia to tell me it isn’t so.