A slander campaign targets the Russian branch of the International Restoration Church, whose founder Evgenyi Peresvetov was expelled from Russia in 2018.
by Massimo Introvigne
Russian anti-cultists have discovered yet another “cult” infiltrated by Ukraine into Russia for sinister purposes. In fact, their hostility against the Restoration Christian Center, the Russian branch of the International Restoration Church (IRC) headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, started long ago. Now, however, the website of Russian anticultist-in-chief Alexander Dvorkin has published an article accusing the founder of the IRC, Evgenyi Peresvetov, of having been infiltrated into Russia by the Ukrainian Secret Services. The Ukrainian branch of the church is also accused of having supported the local anti-Russian politician Viktor Yushchenko.
In fact, Peresvetov and his main co-worker Viktor Romanov are Ukrainians who came to Moscow in 2008, hoping to export there the explosive growth of new Pentecostal churches that Ukraine was experimenting at that time. They were successful, establishing churches in different Russian cities supplemented by shelters for women and children victims of domestic violence, and rehabilitation centers for drug and alcohol addicts. From Russia, the movement expanded to several other countries.
Devotees believe that they attracted the attention of the FSB and the anti-cultists for the usual capital sin that causes churches to be labeled as “cults” (sekty) in Russia. They converted a certain number of Russian Orthodox believers. As a result, opposition grew. In 2017, the rehabilitation centers were raided, with the FSB claiming that drug addicts had been “kidnapped” and brought there, brainwashed, and kept in a condition of “slavery.”
The independent newspaper “Novaya Gazeta,” whose editor was a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 and whose license was revoked in 2022 for its critical coverage of the war in Ukraine, investigated the matter . It concluded that the accusations had been fabricated as in other cases of groups accused of being “cults.” The FSB’s real aim was to harass a group the Russian Orthodox Church regarded as “stealing its sheep.”
The newspaper reported that Peresvetov had been stopped and prosecuted twice by the police for having a dirty car, with the consequence that its license plate was difficult to read. The real reason was that a foreign citizen such as Peresvetov could be legally expelled from Russia after two administrative violations. This happened in March 2018, and the FSB added to the violations concerning his car that Peresvetov represented “a threat to the defense capacity of Russia.” Peresvetov is now prevented from re-entering Russia for 25 years. In retrospect, his exile to United States and the foundation in 2020 of the church in Bellevue was a blessing in disguise for Peresvetov, as it powerfully contributed to the emergence of IRC as an international phenomenon.
While some believers involved in the shelter operation were arrested and prosecuted, the Restoration Christian Center continues to be active and hold services in Moscow and other Russian cities, under the leadership of Viktor Romanov and other pastors.
In the present context, the accusation of being part of a Ukrainian plot to infiltrate “cults” into Russia is, however, very dangerous, and may prepare further actions aimed at banning the IRC-affiliated churches altogether in the territory of the Russian Federation.