Monday, July 28, 2014


Features

Murder Of Priest Highlights Missionary Role In Russian Church

Daniil Sysoyev speaks with his parishioners in Moscow in July 2008.
Daniil Sysoyev speaks with his parishioners in Moscow in July 2008.
By Kevin O'Flynn
MOSCOW -- Flowers still decorate the gates of St. Thomas, the small wooden church in the south of Moscow where Father Daniil Sysoyev served. They represent an outpouring of grief for the priest who had built his parish from nothing and hoped to eventually build in place of the modest wooden structure a brick church big enough to hold 2,000 people.

Four red carnations adorn a photo of the priest, who was murdered November 19 after an unidentified gunman entered his church and shot Sysoyev twice. Someone has pinned up a poem dedicated to him. A sign nearby notes that surveillance cameras have been installed at the church in the wake of the tragedy.

St. Thomas held a service on November 28 to mark the ninth day after the killing. Sysoyev was only 35 years old but had already built a reputation as a priest who stood out for his proselytizing work among Russia’s Muslim community -- a relatively new phenomena for the Orthodox Church.

Andrei Zolotov, a journalist specializing in religious issues, says Sysoyev was known for his missionary zeal.

“He was one of the several most prominent missionaries, and also someone who was known as a bit controversial -- one of those who insisted on the necessity of missionary work among Muslims,” Zolotov says.

Sysoyev actively sought to convert Muslims, working in the capital city’s Muslim communities and reaching out to the thousands of immigrant workers who have come to Moscow from Central Asia, the North Caucasus, and elsewhere. He would routinely go to the city’s construction sites, where many immigrants are employed, and successfully converted as many as 80 people.

But his work didn’t stop there. He also wrote books warning Christians not to marry Muslims and posted online videos that attacked Islam. Copies of his book, “An Orthodox Response to Islam,” have sold out at St. Thomas in the days since his death.

Sysoyev also posted videos of himself on YouTube, in which he would often be heavily critical of the Muslim faith. In one of them, he ends his lecture with an expression of hope that all Muslims would eventually convert to Christianity.

"That’s it. May God help all of us," he says in the video. "We will pray so that Muslims will come to Christianity and not follow the conspiracy of the Prophet.”

'I'm Already Used To It Now'


Sysoyev’s outspokenness did not go unnoticed, and he wrote that he was continually threatened by Muslims angered by his work.

"You're going to laugh, but the Muslims have again threatened to kill me. The threat was by telephone this time," Sysoyev wrote on his blog in October. "It's already the 14th time. Before it scared me, but I'm already used to it now."

Sysoyev's wife and two of his daughters pay their last respects to the slain priest.
After his murder, his wife, Yulia, wrote in a letter of his premonition of death.

“He told us which vestments to bury him in. Then I joked that there was no need to speak about that, we still did not know who would bury whom," Yulia says. "He said that I would bury him.”

The Orthodox Church has come around to the importance of missionary work in Russia in recent years. Zolotov says it is a trend that has been especially evident under the new patriarch, Kirill, who has led the church for less than a year.

“In the last several years, missionary work has been increasingly recognized as a top priority, or one of the top priorities," Zolotov says. "Basically, the election of Patriarch Kirill to a large extent was the manifestation of this recognition that we need to carry out a mission. It is not enough to just be reconstructing the church or sit there saying how important we are for Russian history.”  

Part of that mission is to reach out to nominal Russian Orthodox Christians who do not attend church. Different figures show that only between 3 to 10 percent of Russians attend Orthodox Church services, when as many as 80 percent identify themselves as Orthodox.

But many in the church believe that missionary work extends beyond activating dormant Orthodox Christians to attempting to convert members of the Muslim community as well.

Zolotov says while official church policy does not publicly endorse proselytizing of Muslims, it does not discourage priests from missionary work. Patriarch Kirill presided over Sysoyev’s funeral, a gesture that many saw as emphasizing the Orthodox Church’s tacit support for conversion work.

Struck A Nerve

Sysoyev was one of only a few Orthodox priests active in full-time proselytizing work. One of his parishioners, Larisa Vasilieva, was brought up in Kazan, the capital of the Muslim-majority republic of Tatarstan, where her mother was a Muslim and her father an Orthodox Christian. She says Sysoyev struck a nerve by speaking openly about what otherwise remains a hushed battle by the church for influence over what may be as many as 20 million Muslims in Russia.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill
“Nobody speaks out about it [in Kazan]. But here [in Moscow], he spoke openly and wrote openly about his views, and that is what they did not like," Vasilieva says. "He wrote about what other people think but are too afraid to say.”

With the stark exception of the federal wars in Chechnya and spreading unrest through much of the North Caucasus, experts say contemporary relations between Muslims and Orthodox Christians have rarely been confrontational.

But there are fears that may change as the Orthodox Church, with the explicit backing of the Kremlin, seeks to assert its role as the standard-bearer of Russian national identity. The Sysoyev murder, it is feared, will bring latent tensions between the two communities out into the open.

(And the November 27 bombing of a Moscow-St. Petersburg railway, in which 26 people were killed, may stoke Christian-Muslim tensions further. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blast, but terror attacks in Russia frequently provoke speculation of a North Caucasus link.)

In the wake of Sysoyev’s murder, religious leaders from Russia’s Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish communities called the killing of a priest in his church a “mortal and unforgivable sin” and warned that “the tragedy might be used by extremist forces to foment interethnic and inter-religious conflict.”

Not all parishioners are convinced that an Islamic extremist was to blame for the killing, however. Some point instead to a land dispute. St. Thomas was facing problems getting permission to construct a larger building on its grounds. Some of Sysoyev’s followers say that his death may have been connected to that dispute and not to his proselytizing work.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
    Next 
by: Turgai Sangar from: turgai.sangar@yahoo.fr
December 01, 2009 12:29
Sysoev made a mistake when he actively tried to convert Muslims (even if it was a rather marginal phenomenon), because Orthodoxy and Islam should form a front to rid Eurasia of destructive neo-liberalism, the social degeneration that it brought, and all those evangelist sects.

by: Maxim
December 01, 2009 19:25
Christians should never team up with muslims. Praise God for Patriarch Kirill and his desire for evangelism. Whether it be Islam, secular humanism, liberalism, or atheism, spreading the good news of the Gospel should be high priority of every Orthodox Christian. Christ is in our midst!

by: Abdul Majid
December 02, 2009 17:00
No, no, no, NO!!! I do not try to convert ANYBODY to my religion and I reject that somebody comes and says I've got it all wrong and must give it up and take HIS religion. Or that the state harasses me because I don't have the state religion. Rather face death than being converted by force. I see some Christians still have the ideas of the 15th century or the Dark Ages. And then, the number of people who have converted to Islam from other faiths is significantly larger than the other way round, and who converted from Islam to Christianity was more often than not forced to. If that is what Christianity is then I'm glad I'm not a part of it! People who do evil trying to convince me that it is good!
But like I said, through history the effort of converting Muslims to Christianity has largely been unsuccessful and what with the doings of Christians to Muslims for the last 1000 years - the Crusades, the persecution and expulsion of Spanish Muslims, British, French, Italian colonialism in North Africa and the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Russian oppression of Muslims, the attempted extermination of Bosniaks and Kosovars, Chechens, Palestinians, European Islamophobia, demonizing of people just on ground of their religious and ethnic background, the murder of Marwa El Sherbiny; Radovan Karadzic, the Swiss "referendum" ... need I say more?

by: Jonathan
December 02, 2009 19:30

@Abdul: "need I say more?"

No need to say more; you've already ably displayed your ignorance of history and bigotry. We do not yet know who has murdered Fr. Daniil, but quite honestly - even if it turns out not to have been a Muslim - you've already displayed approval for, and therefore partaken in, his murder by replying in such a hideously inappropriate way.

If Fr Daniil turns out to have been murdered for preaching the truth, then the murderers will have produced 100 converts or more for every drop of priest-martyr Daniil's blood spilled.

Fr Daniil preached openly what he believed to be the truth and was utterly fearless in the face of threats and did not run away from his martyrdom; his murderer wore a mask, crept around in the dark, and said nothing as he shot the priest. There is no clearer example of the difference between those who love the light and truth, and those who love lies and shadow.

by: Turgai Sangar from: Eurasia
December 03, 2009 09:05
"the murderers will have produced 100 converts or more for every drop of priest-martyr Daniil's blood spilled."

Just like every drop of blood spilled by Muslim martyrs in Uzbekistan and East Turkestan brings 100 people or more (back) to Islam.

by: Abdul Majid
December 03, 2009 09:58
Thank you Jonathan! With that you have identified yourself as one who thinks like the Catholic Kings of Spain did at the end of the 15th century, like the Inquisition, like Ivan the Terrible!. And you say that I approve of the murder of that priest. Actually I do not but to you people it is all the same and if I had the misfortune of living in Russia I would be put under general suspicion for that alone. So for you all and any aggressive acts of Christians against Muslims are perfectly justified because "Christians possess the truth" and !"We like the dark?" What are you, a Klansman? Or just one of those anti-Muslim fear mongers? Indeed, we don't know if that priest was murdered for his alleged converting Muslims (history has shoen that over the centuries considerably less people have converted from Islam to another religion than vice versa) or over some territorial dispute or as a false-flag attack to blame Muslims: which would not surprise me. Nevertheless you declare war on me just because I am a Muslim: I have said I don't approve of coercing anybody to change his faith. For you that's not enough, you want my and my brethrens' unconditional surrender and I tell you, you will NEVER get it! You deny that any act of aggression against Muslims was ever committed by Christians! If that is the way you interpret Christ's message "Love thy neighbor as thou lovest thyself"; "what you have done to teh least of my brtothers youhave done to me"; "love thy enemy", then I don't want to have ANYTHING to do with such Christians! Bah, over history, Europeans have shown what good Christians they are to the Aztecs, the Incas, the North American Indians, the Africans they enslaved and even the Australian Aborigines! Islam says "I don't adore what you adore, and you don't adore what I adore, to you be your faith and to me mine!" It is my good right to believe what I want the way I want to as long aas I don't step on someone else's toes (which i don't) and you don't have any right whatsoever to deny it to me! If you do then I am not obliged to respect your faith!

by: Jonathan
December 03, 2009 20:37
@Turgai
Indeed, the blood of the martyrs is the foundation of any faith. Of course, this means a martyrdom in the manner of Fr Daniil, who did not do violence to anyone, yet received violence against his own person, even to the point of death, for the sake of witnessing to what he believed. If this is your definition of "martyrdom" too then we agree; if your definition of martyrdom also encompasses those who die whilst committing violence against others, then we do not.

@Abdul
I am very sorry that you would think I have "declared war" on you. I think this is less to do with what I have said, rather more to do with who you think I am. I approve of the crusades and the inquisitions as little as I approve of the excesses of the Ottoman Empire's yolk upon Jews and Christians. In fact it was your very odd, ironically Western-centric, view of Muslim-Christian relationships - totally ignoring, it seemed, Muslim empire building throughout the Middle East and Eastern Europe - that spurred me to point out your "ignorance of history". By doing this I was taking the more charitable route, rather than assuming that you *do* know about the violence and oppression done by Muslims to Orthodox Christians throughout history and are just ignoring it.

I am happy that you don't approve of Fr Daniil's murder, and that my first post brought this admission from you. Otherwise any one reading your first post might have been forgiven for thinking that you didn't care one jot that a husband and father of three young daughters had been shot in the head and left to bleed out in the nave of his church.

by: Jonathan
December 03, 2009 20:39
One thing that I do find sad is your stated view that you would not wish someone to change their faith (from Christianity to Islam), yet have such a poor view of those other faiths. If Christianity is so bad as you say, then why not try to draw people toward your own faith - are we not all human? You will disagree about Fr Daniil's views on Islam, but the truth is that he felt Islam to be a "conspiracy of the Prophet" and something that no man should be subjugated to. His actions followed quite naturally from this firm conviction.

You clearly have a very similar view toward the Christian faith, yet you are quite happy to let people wallow in it. Where is your love for your fellow man?

by: Abdul Majid
December 04, 2009 00:07
@Johnatan:
Was that supposed to be ironic?
I consider myself to be a very moderate Muslim. Yet, I will Not allow anybody to throw mud at me nor at my faith, which is also the faith of 1.5 billion people in the world. Would you say that they are all wrong? that they are all evil? that they are all lesser human beings? because that is the impression I get, and indeed the statement fo many anti-Muslims, that the West is at war with Muslims, like during the Crusades, like Spain in the Middle Ages, like the Turkish wars, like 19th century colonialism, like the Palestinian and now the Bosnian conflict.
It has not yet established who murdered that priest. In Russia, a human life is not worth much. And I don't have ANYthing to do with that, I do not feel that I should be made to apologize fro ANYTHING of that sort! But I do find his activities - if that is true, because truth is also a rare commodity in Russia - at least disturbing, controversial , if not outright offensive. But in Moscow - how many Muslims could he possibly have converted. As history proves, the number of converts from Islam to Christianity is rather small. Oh yes, the Spanish did convert all remaining Spanish Muslims to Christianity by force. But they still treated them as second-class citizens. And then, in 1614 they expelled them to North Africa anyway. So, why should any Muslim take up a faith that he rejects by heart?
Generally, more Muslims have been killed by non-Muslims than vice versa. So kindly refrain from telling me that I have the wrong faith. I am not inviting you to change yours, so kindly refrain from selling me that I should change mine: I feel very good as I am, because I am NOT responsible for any bad things going on in Muslim countries or Muslim society. I am only responsible for myself. I'd rather face death than be baptized. Even seeing an Orthodox church gives me the heebie-jeebies. Not that I would go blow up one. Just make a very large detour around it. I don't want ANYTHING to have to do with Orthodoxy and that's that. If you don't respect that you don't respect my human dignity. And I have no interest in converting anybody to the Muslim faith. Because I, contratry to most anti-Muslims DO respect the dignity of other people. But who would want to take away MY dignity I have no need to respect him. And history has shown that Christian imperialism is as violent or more than the Muslim kingdoms were! So stop pretending you are superior and that therefoer we must submit to you. I profoundly resent the violence and destruction Muslims who never did anybody wrong have had and have to face from Christians! Like those American soldiers whio killed a whole family to rape a 14-year old girl! Like Bosnia! Like Chechnya! The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed 1.000 times more people than the victims of Sept. 11th. (And I can tell you I was dismayed about that. An unnecessary, gratuitous act of senseless and evil violence. But I am NOT responsible for it! I say, Osama, not in MY name!) Is that not enough for you? is it not enough that since then, the West has killed so many. Is it not enough that Serbs killed NINE Bosniaks for ONE of their own? What do you want from us, blood? The Final Solution? Push off, Mister, I don't want anything to have to do with people like you. It is just as well that you don't know who I am and where I live and vice versa. It is just as well that nobody has yet approached me with such statements or murderous intent. But if they do, don't expect me to fall on my knees and beg for mercy, no, Sir! And don't you dare label me a terrorist for that!

by: Abdul Majid
December 04, 2009 00:16
Yeah, yeah, poor sod, and pity his wiveand daughters. Yet, at the same time whern thosands of people are killed by the "coailition forces" in Iraq and Afghanistan every day, when a bunch of stupid evil thugs in GI uniform killed a whole family so they could rape their 14-year old daughter, when civilians were bombed with phosphorus during "Cast Lead", when 8.000 people were murdered in cold blood at Srebrenica alone, for you, Johnatan, or for all the other anti-Muslims here it is perfectly all right and justified. if someone came and stuck a knife in me to avenge Father Daniil, you would approve of it too, becaus according to you I am guilty by association, right? People like you have already declared war on people like me. I don't want this war, but I am not waiting around to be led like a lamb to the slaughter! And in defending myself I am as guilty as teh Jewish partisans in Poland and Yugoslavia during WWII were guilty of killing Nazis!
And another thing: they always say the Bosniaks were Nazis because tehre was teh Hanschaer Division. What they don't say is that soldiers in the Handschar Division rebelled against the Nazis and were killed for it; nor that Bosniaks saved Bosnian Jews from the Holocaust! Or that many Partisans in Yugoslavia were Bosniaks!
You anti-Muslims think you are morally or intellectually superior. But you are not.
Comments page of 2
    Next 

Most Popular