Voices from Russia

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Murder of Fr Daniil Sysoev Shocked Everyone in Russia

Fr Daniil Sysoev (1974-2009)

The Council of Muftis of Russia gave their condolences in connection with the murder of Fr Daniil Sysoev and asked the public not to blame this crime on the Muslim community. “On my own behalf and on behalf of my colleagues, I offer my condolences. This is a nasty and offensive crime. If a priest asks us questions, we must answer him in a civilised manner, not through murder”, Damir Gizatullin, the first deputy chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of European Russia told Interfax-Religion on Friday. “We engage many people in debate. Perhaps, we may not always agree, but, you can’t take someone’s life! Life is a gift of the Almighty!” he said. Mufti Gizatullin expressed his confidence that “this crime couldn’t have been committed by a believer of any possible religion. All religions, but, in particular, Islam, forbids us to murder another man. If you kill one person, it’s the same as if you killed all of mankind. Moreover, Muslims and Orthodox Christians share the common heritage of the Abrahamic belief. Such closely-related people shouldn’t raise their hands against their brothers”. Mufti Gizatullin believes that the murderer of Fr Daniil “is likely to be some sort of sectarian”.

Roman Silantyev, Orthodox human rights advocate, Islamicist, and Director of the Human Rights Centre of the World Russian Peoples’ Council, said that those who murdered Fr Daniel Sysoev meant to undermine inter-religious peace in Russia. “This murder committed in the courtyard of an Orthodox church on the eve of the birthday of ruling patriarch of the MP was the most serious challenge to interfaith peace in Russia in recent years”, he told Interfax-Religion. Professor Silantyev expressed his deep condolences to the family of “his fellow Islamicist Fr Daniil Sysoev”. He went on to say, “I’m confident that the same people who killed Fr Daniil are the same ones who kill Muslim imams on a regular basis in the North Caucasus, and they killed him for the same purpose, to create antagonism between Orthodox Christians and Muslims”. In his view, “The brazen murders of spiritual leaders that bedevilled our country in recent years are some of the worst manifestations of terrorism, and the authorities must ruthlessly destroy the terrorists along with their accomplices, most of whom, unfortunately, are concentrated in Moscow. The investigators should make every effort to expedite their efforts to find out the facts of the case so that we can punish the criminals“.

On Friday, at a meeting of the RF Gosduma, the murder of Fr Daniil Sysoev in one of Moscow’s churches prompted Deputy Vera Lekareva from the United Russia faction to ask the government to enact measures to frustrate the spread of illegal religious organisations and sects. “The Council of Europe is often contradictory towards us. At the same time, countries that belong to the Council of Europe constantly accuse us of harassing sectarians from various religions”, Ms Lekareva said. She suggested that the RF Gosduma Committee on Religious Affairs and Relations with Civil Organisations should seek relevant information in this regard for the government.

For his part, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Vice-Speaker of the RF Gosduma, suggested that his colleagues consider this murder of a priest from a different angle. [Fr Daniil’s] murder is the answer to yesterday’s extension of the moratorium on the death penalty by the Constitutional Court. This court had no right to declare such a moratorium. Their ruling was merely recommendatory in nature”, he said.

Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar urged the authorities to take measures to ensure that the murder of well-known missionary priest Fr Daniel Sysoev would be the last of a series of similar crimes. “The heinous murder of Moscow priest Fr Daniil Sysoev shocked not only his fellow Orthodox Christians. I’m sure that all religious people in Russia are deeply shocked by this crime”, said a statement that Rav Lazar sent to Interfax-Religion on Friday. Rav Lazar noted with regret that the police “are still not able to provide reliable security for the ministers of God. Indeed, this murder of a priest in Moscow is far from the first in the list of crimes committed against our religious leaders. In recent years, there have been more than a dozen such attacks, and the victims were Orthodox, Muslims, and Jews”. He demanded that the state should “take the most stringent measures” and expressed the hope that “the investigation of the massacre will be taken under special command, so that the perpetrators will be arrested and suffer their deserved punishment. The state must do its utmost to see that the murder of Daniil Sysoev is the last [terror-killing of a clergyman], so that nobody would dare to shed the blood of a priest”, Rav Lazar’s statement said. He noted that the Jewish community of Russia “mourns today, along with Orthodox Christians. We have no doubt that those who are the enemies of God and man carried out this murder… even if they hide behind a religious facade. After all, truly religious people will never raise a hand against anyone who has faith in the one God”. In his opinion, those who killed the Fr Daniil Sysoev and seriously wounded his assistant “did so hoping that it would intimidate our religious leaders and society in general. However, they will never reach this goal. We will continue to encourage the growth of religious spirituality in society, and we will even more actively encourage people to follow the law where God commanded us to love our neighbour, to help him, serve our motherland, and strive for peace”.

Mufti Talgat Tazhduddin, President of the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia (TsDUMR) hopes that the murder of Fr Daniil Sysoev would not incite sectarian strife. “We pray to God that this tragic event… the violent death of one of the servants of God… does not become a pretext to foment sectarian strife and hatred, and that missionary work would not lead to risk to life”, according to the letter of condolences that Mufti Tazhduddin sent to Patriarch Kirill, which came to Interfax-Religion on Friday. Mufti Tazhduddin stressed, “There is nothing more ungodly than the murder of a priest in the temple, as there is no excuse for this crime, not in the eyes of the people, nor before the Almighty Creator. The fact that this premeditated murder occurred on a festival day, your birthday, indicates that it is a crime of provocation, a challenge for the Moscow Patriarchate, those who serve as priests, and all those who want to see the spiritual space of Russia free and who wish the recovery of the roots of its traditional beliefs”. Mufti Tazhduddin said that Muslims in Russia knew Fr Daniil Sysoev as the author of a number of polemical writings. However, he continued, whatever his theological views, “they should not have been a cause of disputes and conflict, leading to the perpetration of violence. Such manifestations of intolerance in such a heinous form must unite and direct our joint efforts to actively oppose such blatant acts of lawlessness, as well as contribute to our affirmation in society of the true values of life”.

On Saturday, around noon, the coffin of murder-victim Fr Daniel Sysoev shall be brought to St Thomas church, where he was rector. “For a day and a half, until Sunday evening, parishioners, friends, acquaintances, and everyone who knew, loved, and respected him, can come and pay their respects to Fr Daniil”, one of Fr Daniil’s assistants told our Interfax-Religion correspondent on Friday night. Reports indicate that one of the mourners who shall pay their respects at that time shall be Patriarch Kirill. Priests from many parishes in Moscow shall read prayers over the coffin continuously in rotation. Our source noted that during the course of the day many people came to the church to express their sympathy to the orphaned parish.









Patriarch Kirill calls Fr Daniil Sysoev a Confessor and Martyr of the Faith

Fr Daniil Sysoev (1974-2009)

Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias expressed his condolences over the death last night of well-known missionary Fr Daniil Sysoev. “Fr Daniil was widely known to Orthodox Christians, not only in the capital, but, also, in many other dioceses. His zealous work in preaching the word of God, his care in involving people in the faith of Christ, and his care for the spiritual needs of our youth earned him the respect of both fellow pastors and the public”, His Holiness wrote. “The intense focus on mission of Fr Daniil inspired many, and he left a bright, emotional, and profound image of faith and hope in the Lord in the minds of people looking for a road to the Church. The Lord called to Himself His faithful servant and granted him the opportunity to be a confessor of the faith and a martyr in the cause of evangelical preaching”, said the message of the patriarch posted on the official website of the MP on Friday. His Holiness prayed that the family, friends, and spiritual children of Fr Daniil might have “strength and courage in facing this trial that befell them”.

Patriarch Kirill also offered prayers for the repose of Fr Daniil when he served liturgy today. “Today, I prayed for the repose of his soul when I celebrated the Divine Liturgy. I will continue to pray, along with his family and bereaved congregation, that the Lord shall receive His faithful servant in the celestial abode”, according to a special statement of the patriarch, published on the official website of the MP.

Fr Vladimir Vigilyansky, the head of the patriarchal press service, said in an interview with our Interfax-Religion correspondent, “The patriarch performed a Litany for the Departed during the Liturgy for his 63rd birthday in the home chapel of the Patriarchal residence in Chisty Perulok in Moscow. Sometimes, a Litany for the Departed is added [to the liturgy], especially when a hierarch serves, and, in this case, it was”. He also said that the funeral for Fr Daniil be on Saturday or Sunday in the church of Ss Peter and Paul in Yasenevo (podvorie of Optina Pustyn Monastery). This date is tentative, for the day of the funeral will depend on when the investigating authorities deliver the body of the deceased.

According to Kirill Frolov, the head of the Association of Orthodox Experts and friend of Fr Daniil, Fr Daniil’s funeral will be Sunday at the church of Ss. Peter and Paul in Yasenevo. Professor Frolov said that Fr Daniil served there as a priest and gave missionary lectures for some years. “I assume that Fr Daniil will be buried out of this church”, he said.

20 November 2009




Orthodox React to the Murder of Fr Daniil Sysoev

Fr Daniil Sysoev (1974-2009), renowned contemporary Orthodox missionary.

Today, the parishioners of St Thomas church are praying for the repose of the soul of Fr Daniil Sysoev, who died last night after an unknown assailant shot him. “This morning, we celebrated three Pannikhidas for Fr Daniil. In spite of it being a working day, people continue to come forward”, a spokesman for the parish told our Interfax-Religion correspondent. They told us that Fr Daniel had many friends in the clergy, and, probably, they will continuously perform Pannikhidas for him until the day of his funeral. “Anyone can come to our church and pray, however, we don’t allow reporters to use photo and video equipment here”, the sexton on duty said.

On early Friday morning, at St Thomas church in the Kantemirov district of Moscow, there was continuous reading from the Psalter in honour of Fr Daniil Sysoev, killed the night before. Parishioners and spiritual children of Fr Daniil read from the Psalms and offered prayers for the repose of his soul at an analoi {Editor’s note: A reader’s stand, but, not the same as the kliros.} set up for the purpose in the centre of the church, according to our Interfax-Religion correspondent. Mourners lit dozens of candles at the kanon (a memorial table with a crucifix).

One constantly sees all sorts of people bringing flowers to the church, including priests, members of the parish community and missionary clubs that Fr Daniil sponsored, and friends and relatives of the deceased priest. Most of them are weeping disconsolately. People light candles and quietly discuss the tragedy amongst themselves, as they recall their personal contact with Fr Daniil; they remember his care and assistance for his parishioners in their specific needs.

In the small wooden church, a memorial to the right of the altar marks where an unknown assassin murdered Fr Daniil the night before. Two white and two red roses lie crosswise around bouquets of flowers on the rug where he fell. Meanwhile, on the street outside, believers have laid more bouquets of flowers at the entrance to the church. Announcements of parish events signed by Fr Daniil still hang on the door of the church. Near the church fence, a few cops are on duty to keep order, but, the church is open to anyone who wants to come and pray. Several Russian television crews are on the scene, as well.

Hundreds of Russian-speaking users of the internet service Live Journal passed on a message urging everybody to participate in a procession on the day of the funeral of Fr Daniil Sysoev, who died early Friday morning after being shot in the head on Thursday evening. “We would like 400,000 to show up for a procession to remember the murder of a priest in Moscow. It would stretch from Tver to the Kremlin. However, it will not happen. There won’t be anything here”, political scientist Aleksandr Morozov wrote on his blog. In turn, Arkady Maler, a member of the Synodal Theological Commission said in his blog, “I think that the idea of a large religious procession is absolutely correct, and, moreover, it is one of those very rare cases where our differences do not matter… you just need to demonstrate that the Orthodox people really are there. It is not politics, it is much more important”. “If there are Orthodox in Moscow, then, our farewell procession to Fr Daniil Sysoev should attract several thousand marchers. If it does not, then, they will see that we are nobodies and they will just kick us aside”, a blog-owner with the user-name “samurfila” wrote. On Friday morning, hundreds of Live Journal users reprinted these three posts. Thousands of bloggers all over Russia confirmed their willingness to come to a procession in memory of Fr Daniil Sysoev. According to most Orthodox bloggers who expressed a desire to come to any such procession, it should be a prayerful religious event blessed by the Archpastors of the Church without any political dimension.

Boris Yakemenko, the head of the Orthodox section of the youth movement Nashi, a member of the Public Chamber of Russia, sees the murder of Fr Daniel Sysoev as evidence of our country’s moral crisis. “This heinous crime shows just how far society has gone in its spiritual degeneration. If the walls of a church, or an ordained priest, or even the cross itself didn’t stop such scum, it means that we see the onset of a crisis that is much worse than any global economic crisis… a crisis of consciousness, a crisis of the heart and soul”, Boris Yakemenko told Interfax-Religion on Friday. In his opinion, “Everyone with a heart and a conscience, not only Orthodox, but, anyone with an open soul, must oppose this spiritual decay now, or, we shall pay once again for our indifference with the best things in our lives, leaving our house in ruins. Fr Daniil was a bright, talented, and very active missionary; he was a very significant figure. He preached, spoke, wrote books, and dashed off anywhere at a moment’s notice to where anyone needed his help, pastoral support, or word of comfort”.

Mr Yakemenko noted that Fr Daniil worked with Muslims, with migrant workers, with counterculture types, “with very different sorts of people. Like any other exceptional or gifted man, not everyone cared for his ways, but, no one could say that he wasn’t the kind of missionary that people really need today”. He told us that Fr Daniil spent the entire term of the Orthodox youth camp this summer at Lake Seliger “because there were thousands of people there, and he just couldn’t stay away. He baptised, preached, and talked to the kids… It seemed that he was everywhere doing everything. We collected petitions in support of his church (when some wanted to tear it down), and he and I met on several occasions, and we discussed our plans for next summer”.

According to tentative plans, the funeral service of Fr Daniil Sysoev shall be on Monday at Ss Peter and Paul church in the Yasenevo district in Moscow. “In addition, people may pay their respects to Fr Daniil on Saturday and Sunday at St Thomas church in the Kantemirov district of Moscow, where he was the rector and where he was shot”, a source in the MP told Interfax-Religion on Friday. According to our source, on one of those days, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all the Russias shall come and pay his respects to the late Fr Daniil. At one time, Fr Daniil was a cleric at Ss Peter and Paul church in Yasenevo, which is a podvorie of the Optina Pustyn Monastery. His father, Fr Aleksei Sysoev (also a priest), is rector of St John the Evangelist church in the Yasenevo Orthodox classical gymnasium, also served in this podvorie as well.

20 November 2009







More Detail on the Murder of Fr Daniil Sysoev

Fr Daniil Sysoev (1974-2009), well-known Orthodox missionary, murdered by an unknown perp in Moscow last night.

Official sources in the MP called the murder of Fr Daniil Sysoev in the early hours of Friday a ghastly tragedy. “Firstly, I would like to express condolences to the family and friends of Fr Daniil, especially, to his wife and three daughters” Vladimir Legoida, the head of the MP Synodal Information Department, told our Interfax-Religion correspondent. “This is a ghastly tragedy and, as any murder is a violation of the commandments, it is a very great sin”, he said. He went on to add that Fr Daniil was a prominent priest, active in the educational field. “All believers should pray for the soul of Fr Daniil, Mr Legoida concluded.

The keen missionary work of Fr Daniil Sysoev was one of the motives for the murder of Fr Daniel Sysoev, said Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev, a professor of at the Moscow Theological Academy. “I’m convinced that his murderer was motivated by religious aims. If so, then, of course, we should add Fr Daniil’s name to the list of the New Martyrs of Russia”, Deacon Andrei told our Interfax-Religion correspondent on Friday. In his belief, “That’s the only thing that could cause someone to hate Fr Daniil Sysoev. It wasn’t due to anything personal nor was it some kind of business deal gone wrong; rather, we can find the cause in his very lively, heartfelt, and passionate preaching of Orthodoxy”. Deacon Andrei observed that the slain priest was an ethnic Tatar. “His mission was largely focused on work with Muslim intellectuals. His debates were heated, open, and public. Don’t rule out that maybe someone who attended or heard of his interviews lacked reasonable arguments and common restraint, so, a bullet was their last argument in their debate with an Orthodox priest”, he said.

As Deacon Andrei noted (he is a well-known missionary of long-standing himself), the murder of Fr Daniil must be the last word in the “overly-protracted intra-Church conversation about how the whole Church should surround its missionaries with prayer, support, and protection. The Church prays daily for the authorities, the army, the sick, and travellers… both priests and the people of God’s Church should ask the Lord daily to send us the gift of bold preaching and wisdom as well”. In his view, “Fr Daniil’s preaching and martyrs’ death will be a symbol of the missionary revival of our Church. No matter how sad are the circumstances of his death, we must at the same time note that a missionary, by definition, should be open and available. Therefore, this tragedy should not be taken as an excuse to restrict Orthodox missionaries”. If such evil things happen, “It only means that the Lord has called unto Himself this hard worker”, he added.

A source in the police told Interfax that the killer of Fr Daniil Sysoev agreed with him about a meeting by telephone. “Before the tragedy occurred, the unknown assassin called on their mobile and asked whether he would be in the church, our source said. According to him, when the priest replied in the affirmative, the killer drove to the church and shot him. “The call was made from a mobile”, our source said.

According to investigators, on 19 November, approximately 22.45 Moscow Standard Time (19.45 UTC 14.45 EST 11.45 PST), on the premises of St Thomas church in the Kantemirov district of Moscow, an unknown masked man entered and fired at least four shots, hitting Fr Daniil Sysoev, as well as Vladimir Strelbitsky, the parish choir-director. Fr Daniil died of his wounds in the ambulance. After receiving the appropriate emergency trauma care, Mr Strelbitsky is in stable condition.

The Investigation department of the Investigative Committee of the Moscow RF Procurator’s Office instituted criminal proceedings on three articles of the Criminal Code, murder, attempted murder of two or more persons, and illicit trafficking in firearms. To provide practical assistance in the investigation, the central office of the Investigation Committee sent an experienced team of forensics experts. “An investigation team is now in place. We’ve checked out various motives for the crime, including religious grounds”, Anatoly Bagmet, the head of the investigation department of the RF SKP in Moscow informed Interfax.

Fr Daniel was 35-years-old and his wife and three children survive him. In recent years, he devoted much time to missionary work, in particular, he founded a school of street preachers in Moscow and began to organise similar courses in Saratov, Ulyanovsk, and Murmansk.

The unknown assailant who committed the murder of Fr Daniil Sysoev at St Thomas church in Moscow hid his face under gauze bandages, a police source told our Interfax correspondent on Friday. According to our source, investigators at the scene removed four spent cartridges and two 9 mm bullets. Another police source also stated that the gunman used gauze bandages, adding, “The killer fired four times, with three bullets hitting the priest and choir-director, two of which exited their bodies and we later found them on the crime-scene”. In critical condition with head and neck wounds, Fr Daniil was taken to hospital, where he died at midnight Moscow Standard Time (21.00 UTC 16.00 EST 13.00 PST). Choir-director Vladimir Strelbitsky remains hospitalised in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the chest. Our source added that it is not yet clear what type of weapon the perp used in the crime. “We discovered spent cartridge cases at the crime scene that suggest, most likely, that the perp used a Makarov pistol” {Editor’s note: The 9 mm Makarov PM semi-automatic pistol, with an 8-round clip, is an earlier-pattern (adopted 1951) Russian standard military/police sidearm. It’s still in widespread police/military use and it’s 9x18mm PM cartridge is also used in other weapons, thus, the ambiguity in the police statement.}, he said.

Currently, investigators and operatives are checking the incoming and outgoing phone calls of Fr Daniil, as well as looking at his e-mail. As Interfax previously reported, according to updated information, before the commission of the crime, the murderer called Fr Daniil from his mobile. In addition, Fr Daniil received numerous threats at his address in connection with his intensive missionary activity.

The RF Interior Ministry is considering various versions of the murder in Moscow of Fr Daniil Sysoev, and detectives already have “some ideas” that are currently being checked, Valery Gribakin, an official representative of the RF Ministry of Internal Affairs told reporters on Friday. “This is a very serious matter. Currently, the investigators are still working very hard on it, so we don’t want to dwell on any specific speculation in the best interests of the investigation”, he said. According to Mr Gribakin, the police are taking all measures to thoroughly investigate and solve this killing of an Orthodox priest. “In regards to the activities of the RF Interior Ministry and the Moscow city police related to the search for the person who committed this serious crime, we literally from the first minute (after the murder) formed a special team. It comprises of experienced staff from the Moscow criminal investigation department of the Criminal Investigation Department (MVD RF). These top-class professionals specialise in the investigation of the most serious and complicated crimes”. He noted that other interested departments of the Moscow metropolitan police and the RF Ministry of Internal Affairs provides assistance to them. He said that detectives have been active throughout the night working not only on the crime-scene itself, but, in other parts of Moscow as well. “At this point, there are certain developments that we are checking carefully. The work is continuing, and, at this moment, we are exploring all the circumstances surrounding the crime. The on-scene investigation group is still carrying out its examination”, Mr Gribakin added.

The Central Office of the SKP joined the investigation of the murder of Fr Daniil Sysoev, Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the SKP told Interfax on Friday. “To assist in the investigation of the crime, the central office of the SKP sent an experienced forensic team”, he said, adding, according to the investigation, “The murder was motivated by religious hatred”. For a long time Fr Daniil received death threats because of his religious activities. Currently, detectives are studying the contents of the hard disk on Fr Daniil’s computer. The Intelligence and Investigations Unit conducted a survey of the site, and they found spent cartridges, two bullets, and other items relevant to the case. They also questioned the witnesses to the crime. The highest level of the Investigative Committee at the Procurator’s Office has taken over the investigation into Fr Daniil’s murder.

Most of the above information is unofficial; Interfax has little information from official sources on this subject.

20 November 2009








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