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Russian doomsday sect leader returns to asylum

RIA Novosti, Russia
May 4, 2008 • Monday May 5, 2008

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, May 4 (RIA Novosti) – The leader of a Russian doomsday sect, nine of whose members are still holed up in a dugout in the country’s central Penza Region, has been readmitted to the asylum where he was held before being hospitalized in early April after an apparent suicide attempt.

“[Pyotr] Kuznetsov’s condition has improved, and he has been discharged from hospital. He was transferred to the psychiatric clinic where he was earlier held,” a source in the local prosecutor’s office said on Sunday.

He had been hospitalized with head wounds on April 2. Although initial media reports claimed that he had been beaten by disillusioned sect members, authorities later said that his wounds were the result of a suicide attempt.

Thirty five of Kuznetsov’s followers went underground in November to wait for the end of the world, which he had told them would come in May or June. He is also reported to have said that they would be given the power to decide who would be sent to hell and who would go to heaven after the Apocalypse. The sect had earlier pledged to commit mass suicide if any attempt was made to force them to come to the surface.

However, following the collapse of the dugout’s roof after heavy rain in late March, 24 members of the group quit the shelter. Two members have reportedly died underground and are buried in the dugout. The remaining nine sect members have said they will come to the surface after a religious holiday in mid-June.

Kuznetsov did not join his followers in the shelter, saying that he had “another mission in life.” He was charged with inciting religious and racial hatred, but was declared mentally unfit to stand trial in late March.

The sect is part of a wave of extreme Russian Orthodoxy in Russia and some former Soviet republics. Adherents of this radical form of Christianity refuse to own passports, as they “contain the number of the Beast”, and will not handle money or consume products packaged in containers bearing ‘Satanic’ barcodes.

Russia has seen a great number of sects throughout its history. One of the most famous of these was the Skoptsy, who castrated themselves and cut off women’s breasts ‘to avoid sexual temptation and sin’. The sect was first reported in the 18th century and is known to have still existed in the 1920s.

Another notorious sect was the Khlysty, an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Khlysty believed that the way to salvation lay through the repentance of sins. The greater the sin, the greater the repentance, the Khlysty reasoned, and following this logic they rejected conventional doctrines of ‘right and wrong’, indulging in sins that they could later confess to, being in this way ‘pleasing to God.’

Grigori Rasputin, the mysterious monk who had a major influence on the Tsar and the Tsarina prior to the 1917 Russian Revolution, is believed to have had links to the group, which was active from the 17th century to the early 20th.

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