Voices from Russia

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Was A Priest Murdered For Preaching To Muslims?

Fr Daniil Sysoev (1974-2009)

On Thursday, two Moscow clerics were shot, one was killed, the other seriously wounded. A few days before the tragedy, our correspondent talked with the priest who was killed, Fr Daniil Sysoev.

I last met with Fr Daniil just last week… I was going to write an article about his missionary school. He opened it two years ago at his parish, St Thomas church. Classes meet twice a week, the curriculum includes a comparative analysis of Islam and Orthodox Christianity, the strengths and weaknesses of each religion, and in-depth study of both the Koran and the Bible. Fr Daniil, himself half-Tatar in ancestry, was the only priest in Moscow who advocated preaching Orthodoxy amongst the migrants and guest workers. His clerical colleagues called him the “Orthodox Wahhabi” for the fire gleaming in his eyes and his passionate speeches.

“Moscow is filled with migrants”, Fr Daniil said at our first meeting, stroking his beard. “All sorts of guest workers arrive here. We planned to hold religious morality classes for them. These lectures were OK’d by their employers”. Fr Daniil believed in the need for such lessons for, indeed, the viewpoint of Islam and Orthodoxy is at variance. “The Koran divides the world into ‘a House of War’ and ‘a House of Peace’, said Fr Daniel. The ‘House of Peace’ is the Islamic community. However, in the ‘House of War’, a Muslim can do virtually anything, Allah shall forgive them”.

Fr Daniil intended his lectures to convey to the migrants that Russia is not part of the “House of War”. “According to the Koran, Allah can lead people’s paths knowingly down a deliberately “misleading” route”, continued Fr Daniil, as his glance flicked over the small and cosy lounge at his Kantemirov parish. “That is, theoretically, a Muslim can justify himself by saying, ‘Allah misled me’. However, in the Orthodox world, this is not a valid argument. We wished to convey that message to the migrants and guest workers.

However, before the lecture series could take place, a crisis erupted, and the employers withheld their permission for the classes. However, his missionary work was in full swing. The school has graduated more than a hundred missionaries. Every weekend they went out to preach amongst the construction workers, janitors, etc. Until recently, the missionaries congregated near Halal shops and “ethnic” cafés and their mission yielded results.

“Over the past two years at our church, we have baptised more than 80 Muslims”, Fr Daniil said, with a smile on his face. “They included Tatars, Uzbeks, Chechens, and Dagestanis”.

“Can I talk to them myself?” I asked with a good deal of interest.

“Of course, you can do that!” Then, Fr Daniil’s expression hardened suddenly. “If a Muslim family finds out that their son or daughter has become Orthodox… they try to kill them. There have been such cases”.

“Tell me, why are you the only who preaches to Muslims, and why have you established a missionary school?” I asked.

“Everyone else is scared”, Fr Daniil said plainly. “They fear reprisals from the Muslim community. I know this, because I receive threats on a regular basis both by phone and by e-mail. Fourteen times, they said they’d cut off my head. A year ago, the FSB investigated some of these threats. They said that they uncovered a conspiracy; they told me that there were preparations for an attack against me. I didn’t have a clue about it. However, God is merciful!”

On Thursday, 19 November 19, at 23.00 MSK (20.00 UTC 15.00 EST 12.00 PST), an unknown man with his face covered in a surgical mask burst into the church. The witnesses to the crime say that he shouted (in a heavy accent), “Which one of you is Daniil Sysoev?” Fr Daniil replied to the intruder. A shot followed. A bullet struck Fr Daniil in the head; he fell to the floor. A minute later, the unknown man fired at Vladimir Strelbitsky, the parish choir director. Parishioners rushed them to a nearby hospital. Mr Strelbitsky is in critical condition; Fr Daniil, unfortunately, died on the operating table.

Twice, we met with Fr Daniil at his parish, and we saw his little daughters on both occasions. They played near the altar and ran amongst the parishioners, occasionally distracting their father from his business and they tugged at his black robe. Thanks be to God, at the time of the murder, the girls weren’t in the church.

We offer our sincere condolences to the family of Fr Daniil.

THE BARE FACTS:

On Thursday, at 23.10 MSK (20.10 UTC 15.10 EST 12.10 PST), at St Thomas Orthodox church, located in the south of Moscow (4 ul Moskvorechye), an unknown armed intruder wearing a surgical mask over his face burst in. He opened fire on the clerics, firing four shots. The rector of the parish, 35-year-old Daniil Sysoev suffered chest and head wounds, he later died on the operating table in hospital. The parish choir director, Vladimir Strelbitsky, 41-years-old, suffered chest wounds and is now in hospital in serious condition.

Police are searching for the killer, who witnesses describe as a young man of medium height and slim build, wearing a black jacket and blue jeans. The weapon used in the attack was either a Makarov PM or a Tokarev TT pistol.

On the night of Friday, 20 November, there was a Pannikhida at St Thomas church, attended by the family and friends of Fr Daniil. In attendance were his wife, his three daughters, his two brothers, the students of his missionary school, as well as local residents.

His wife and three children survive the late Fr Daniil.

20 November 2009

Yevgeniya Suprychova

Komsomolskaya Pravda (Komsomol Truth)

As quoted in Interfax-Religion

http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=print&div=10652

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