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His Life for the Mission: The unprecedented murder in modern Russia of Father Daniil Sysoyev for his Orthodox missionary activity

03 December 2009

On November 19, as was customary, Father Daniil held a Thursday night biblical discussion in his small wooden church of Saint Thomas the Apostle.  Around 10 p.m., the participants began to disperse and only a handful of people remained in the building – a few women from the church’s staff, a couple of people waiting to say their confessions, and the choir regent, Vladimir Strelbitsky.  Sometime between 10:40 and 11:20 p.m., a thin man wearing a doctor’s mask walked into the church.  The first person he saw was Vladimir Strelbitsky descending the stairs. The assailant immediately fired a gunshot, leaving the regent seriously wounded (his condition at this moment remains highly critical).  The gunman then called on Daniil Sysoyev, allegedly in a “Caucasus accent.”  Father Daniil emerged from the altar to face his murderer and was shot several times.  As he laid helpless on the floor, the culprit approached for one last shot at close-range to the back of the neck.  A witness said the man then ran upstairs to look for a girl who had recently converted from the Islamic faith to Christianity.  He then escaped, taking her in a direction unknown to the witnesses.  Father Daniil was rushed to the hospital, where he died about an hour later.

The murder of Father Daniil was shocking and painful for our community, especially for those who knew about his mission and had read his books.  It is truly an unprecedented crime in Russia for an Orthodox priest to be murdered for performing Christian missionary work.

Nobody could make out the killer’s face and no one can clearly pinpoint the motives behind the murder.  However, it is obvious from this event that a significant religious figure like Father Daniil has been a major irritation for extremists who are opposed to Christian missionary work in Russia.  In the past, similar cases involving murder have occurred throughout the Caucasus region.  While no Orthodox priests numbered among those killed, there were a number of Christian missionaries from Protestant denominations who gave up their lives for preaching the Gospel among the local population.  The same thing regularly happens in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and numerous other states, where Catholic and Protestant missionaries die as martyrs.

Father Daniil was only 35 years old at the time of his death.  He became involved in missionary work among members of various religious “sects” back in the mid-1990s.  In 1996, Daniil Sysoyev, who was a young deacon at the time, initiated regular biblical discussion evenings at the Krutitsky Patriarchal Metochion, where he eagerly welcomed people wanting to leave other religious denominations in order to convert to Russian Orthodox Christianity.  That same year, he joined the St. Ioann Kronshtadsky Center, where he served under Hieromonarch Anatoly (Berestov).  In 2001, he was ordained to the priesthood and began active outreach work among the Muslim population, which many suspect is what led to his cruel death.

There are very few among the current Moscow Orthodox clergy who could come close to the level of commitment demonstrated by Father Daniil.  As a missionary, he traveled extensively; and not long before he was murdered, he had returned from a mission trip to Mongolia.  He was always willing to participate in events such as round tables, conferences, and radio and TV shows.  He published approximately 20 books and hundreds of articles in the printed press and had gained particular attention for his active daily blogging activities (still available to readers at http://pr-daniil.livejournal.com).

Father Daniil was a staunch creationist who denounced the theory of evolution and opposed secularism on the part of the state and society in Russia, claiming that this could inevitably beget an atheistic society.  The priest tended not to observe political correctness in his aspiration to proselytize individuals from the Islamic faith.  He denied the “canonical territories of traditional religions” and did not consider the political balance between the country’s “traditional religions.”  He did not share the official view that Orthodox preaching to the Islamic people could be equated with a “detrimental proselytism” for the country.

It must be said that many other Christian Churches, including conservative Protestants, Pentecostals and Charismatics who are also active in outreach work, tend to take the same uncompromising stance and openly demonstrate their disregard for political correctness when it comes to proselytizing among the Muslim population.  They too often end up paying for their convictions with the lives of their respective missionaries.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that Father Daniil always tried to maintain an open and sincere dialogue with Muslims, Protestants and members of other religious “sects.”  He would openly tell them Orthodox Christianity’s perspective on their faith, while at the same time respecting every person regardless of his belief because, in the end, he was just trying to fight for the eternal life of that person’s soul.  His example demonstrates spirited and open-hearted Christian preaching.

The last entry in his “Live Journal” blog appeared to be the words intended for all Christian missionaries:  “Missionaries, be heavenly citizens and call on everyone to join you there in heaven, for only in this way can you advance.”

Roman Lunkin

 

 
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