Speaking to Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, Pyotr Kuznetsov, or Father Pyotr, spoke at length on the views and actions of his “True Russian Orthodox Church“.
Heavily medicated, Kuznetsov, 43, said that police had questioned him for four days to make him divulge the location of the sect’s cave. He explained away bruises around his eyes as a result of “falling face-down on the floor” in “dark corridors” at the police station.
Kuznetsov said the group had taken the decision to go underground in order to “save themselves during the time of the apocalypse.” The idea, he said, had come to one of the sect members in a dream, or a “night vision.”
The sect believes that the end of the world is due in May 2008. Kuznetsov did not explain why he had not joined the group in its snow-covered cave.
Kuznetsov said that “local drunks had beaten up our men, and sworn at our women. Then God showed us the only path – to move underground,” adding that the sect members had burnt their passports before doing so “as they contain the number of the Beast – 666”.
He also said that the sect had “spent one and a half months, often working nights”, digging out their underground shelter.
“God gave us cover, and angels helped us,” he expounded, adding that the tunnel was “fifty meters in length, and the height of a man”. He also said that the sect had dug out a well and a toilet.
Kuznetsov also expressed his willingness to travel to the cave to talk to his followers, saying that it was possible that some of the people underground might now want to “come to the surface,” and that “they should not be kept there by force”.
Psychiatrists have refused, however, to permit Kuznetsov to travel to the cave, located some 160 km (100 miles) from the Penza psychiatric hospital where the sect leader is being held.
The paper’s journalists also questioned Kuznetsov as to reports that the group was in possession of a large amount of petrol and other explosive materials, and had threatened to set fire to themselves if any attempt was made to remove them from the cave.
“This would not be suicide, but something else,” he said, going on to say that religious martyrdom was not considered a sin, admitting, however, to feeling somewhat confused due to the medication he was on.
Speaking at a RIA Novosti press conference, Alexander Dvorkin, a Russian expert on religions and sects, said that the actions of the Penza group could “act as a detonator,” provoking other sects to “announce the end of the world”.
Dvorkin earlier said that totalitarian sects were common in Russia, and that “control over their members is absolute, and anything that comes into the heads of their leaders has a direct impact on the entire group”.
He also said the group in the Penza Region was similar in outlook to the pseudo-Russian Orthodox groups calling for the canonization of Stalin and Ivan the Terrible.