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It is a 'sect' in the sense that its members have separated themselves from the religious body they formerly were part of, in order to form a group that adheres to one or more doctrines not accepted (or not given the same measure of importance) by that religious body.
While such a sect is usually considered extreme and/or heretical, it tends to see itself as the (only) 'true' expression of the religious movement it separated from.
Hence it is no surprise that this group refers to itself at the 'True Russian Orthodox Church.'
That said, on Apr. 1, 2008, Russian news agency RIA Novosti stated, "It was established on Tuesday that the group is known as 'Heavenly Jerusalem.'"
It should be noted that in many countries -- particularly in Europe -- the term 'sect' is often used instead of - or interchangeably with - the more loaded term, 'cult.'
For a look at definitions of the terms sect and cult, see CultFaq.org -- Frequently Asked Question about Cults and Sects. Cult FAQ also explains the differences between theological vs. sociological definitions of the term 'cult.'
The True Russian Orthodox Church was founded by Pyotr Kutnetsov, a 43-year-old engineer and self-declared prophet who forbids his followers from watching television, listening to the radio or handling money. They believe that credit cards and the barcodes on food packaging are Satanic.
Mr Kutnetsov set up the cult several years ago after splitting from the mainstream Russian Orthodox Church, recruiting his followers by writing books and touring monasteries in Russia and Belarus. He has told the group that when they die they will be allowed to judge whether others should go to heaven or hell.
- Source: Reuters, Apr. 1, 2008
A doomsday sect or cult is a religious group whose teachings focus on an apocalyptic event (anything from a local disaster to earth's final destruction).
In November, 2007, about 30 members of the True Russian Orthodox Church barricaded themselves in a what is alternately referred to as a cave or an underground bunker in Russia's Penza region. This bunker is said to be a pre-revolutionary convent with a well, a kitchen and areas for sleeping and praying.
The sect took this step in order to await the Apocalypse, which they claim will take place in May, 2008. Sect members have threatened to set themselves on fire or blow up the cave if authorities attempt to remove them.
Mr Kutnetsov ordered his followers to burn their passports and go into the cave last November, but did not accompany them himself, saying that God had given him different tasks.
Pravda reports that soon after he was arrested by the authorities and charged with setting up a religious organisation associated with violence. After a mental health evaluation however psychiatrists said that he was unfit to stand trial.
- Source: Reuters, Apr. 1, 2008
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.
- Source: Russian cult leader speaks of angels, the apocalypse and 666, RIA Novosti, Russia, Nov. 22, 2007
Until now, Russian authorities have -- from all appearances -- handled the situation with tact. Police have called in experts, including priests, rescue workers, doctors and monks.
Penza regional authorities have also sent emergency workers to ensure that the cave does not flood with -- or collapse due to -- thaw water.
On Mar. 29, seven female members of the sect left the cave after a partial collapse isolated them from the rest of the group.
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