Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Word and the Bullet: A Priest was Shot in the Church

Mourners at St Thomas church in Moscow paying their last respects to Fr Daniil Sysoev.

Last Thursday, Moscow priest Fr Daniil Sysoev was killed in St Thomas church in the south of the capital. The thirty-five-year-old priest was shot in front of the altar.

Overcast skies poured a lachrymal drizzle on the ground as a couple of young people with a bunch of bloody-coloured carnations left the Kantemirovskaya metro station. I asked them, “Excuse me for asking, but, are you going to pay your respects to the murdered priest?” They responded with an affirmative nod of the head. The onion dome atop the little wooden church of St Thomas rested on the low sky; a police cordon in the courtyard channelled a crowd of people clutching armfuls of flowers to the entrance to the church. A loudspeaker carried the soft voice of a priest serving a Pannikhida for the murdered Fr Daniil. The church was so packed with people that there was no room to move. “We’ve come to say goodbye to our Batushka”, softly murmured a young woman in a black shawl.

Investigators have already established that on 19 November 2009, at 22.40 MSK, a young man wearing a surgical mask over his face entered the church. At this late hour, only the rector, Fr Daniil Sysoev, and Choir Director Vladimir Strelbitsky were in the church. “Where’s Sysoev?” the killer asked with a marked Caucasian accent. Fr Daniil stepped forward, the intruder fired and hit him in the neck, and he fell to the floor near the iconostas. The killer fired again, seriously injuring the choir director, then, he quickly left the church.

Many believe that Fr Daniil’s vigorous missionary activity was a motive for the murder. Everybody knows that he preached amongst Muslims and that he went on missionary visits to Muslim areas. Fr Daniel actively posted on the Internet; he had a blog where he wrote frankly about his life, doing his best to express his thoughts, feelings, and experiences. “I have news for you, today. You’ll laugh, but, they threatened to kill me, yet again. This time, it was over the phone. Well, I’m tired of it. This was the fourteenth time. I’ve become used to it, but, the sooner it’s all over, the better. So, I ask you all to please pray…” This is from the slain priest’s blog, which he posted on his online journal on 19 October.

Damir Gizatullin, the Deputy Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of European Russia, said, “This murder and the fact that Muslims convert to Christianity are in no way connected. In Russia, there are twenty-five million Muslims {Editor’s note: The correct figure is ten million, some 7 percent of the population of the RF per Professor Roman Silantyev.}, and the eighty people who were baptised by Fr Daniil are a drop in the ocean”.

Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias instantly responded to the murder of a priest (in a strange coincidence, it happened on his birthday), saying, “Any lawless taking of a human life is a grave sin. However, the murder of a priest in the church is also a challenge to God’s Commandments; it is a desecration of the Lord’s shrine. This sin will not remain without divine vengeance. I also hope that the perpetrator shall face man’s justice. However, as long as the perpetrators are unknown, I ask everyone to refrain from any hasty accusations and harsh judgments against any other persons or groups”.

Mother Olga Gobzeva, Chairman of the Coordinating Council of women’s charitable organisations of the MP, said, “Those who hate priests are like those who hate the motherland. Very often, our priests stand at the forefront of our lives. The murder of Fr Daniil confirms once again the strength and loftiness of our church. Indeed, fear not those who kill the body; rather, be afraid of losing your soul. He was killed because he carried his word beyond the walls of the temple, for which he paid for with his life. We always seem to stymie ourselves and box ourselves into a corner, but, nothing can smother God’s sovereignty and the human spirit”.

The Investigative Committee of the RF Procurator’s Office is examining the facts surrounding the crime. Vladimir Markin, the Head of the Department for Interaction with the Media of the Investigative Committee, said, “We’ve put our best people to work on this case. Investigators are studying footage from CCTV cameras on the buildings near the church. Perhaps, we’ll find something that will help the investigation. Detectives are checking every possible lead in this murder”.

They shoot the Word… his enemies hated his strength and truth. Apparently, the testimony of Fr Daniil Sysoev and his missionary activities were stronger than the darkness. Once again, apparently, the darkness tried to spit in the face of society.

A Short C.V.

Fr Daniel Sysoev was born in 1974 in Moscow; his father was Russian, his mother Tatar. In 1991, after graduating from secondary school, he entered the Moscow Theological Seminary. In 1995, he became a deacon; in 2000, after graduating from the Moscow Theological Academy with a kandidatura {Editor’s note: Equivalent to the Western PhD, but more rigorous.} in theology, he was ordained a priest. Fr Daniil is the author of over thirty books and booklets against creationism and sectarianism. A widow and three young daughters survive Fr Daniel.

23 November 2009

Aleksandr Yaroshenko

Rossiyskaya Gazeta (The Russian Newspaper)

As quoted in Interfax-Religion


He Wasn’t Afraid: Rector of the Parish was Shot Dead after 14 Threats

Fr Daniil Sysoev (1974-2009)

Yesterday, St Thomas church in south Moscow was open so that people could pay their last respects to the rector of the parish, Fr Daniil Sysoev. On Thursday evening, an unidentified offender shot him dead right inside the church. According to the most common story circulating, religious hatred motivated his murder. Fr Daniil, well known for his uncompromising attitude towards Islam and sectarianism, repeatedly received threats.

The attack on 35-year-old Fr Daniil occurred at about 22.40 MSK (19.40 UTC 14.40 EST 11.40 PST) at St Thomas church on Moskvorechie Street, where he was rector. Evening services had ended, and only a few people remained in the church. According to eyewitnesses, a young man entered the church wearing a surgical mask, a fashion now adopted by many Muscovites. Taking out his gun, the unknown assailant went to one of those present and loudly asked (with a Caucasian accent), “Where’s Sysoev?” The priest was at the altar where he was receiving the confession of a parishioner, and when he heard the noise, he came out from behind the screen.

Directly, the intruder opened fire. He shot Fr Daniil in the neck, and shot Choir Director Vladimir Strelbitsky (who was standing next to him) in the head. The killer walked calmly over to the fallen men on the floor, and, once again, asked loudly, “Where’s Sysoev?” He then shot Fr Daniil in the head. Then, he turned on his heel, walked rapidly to the door, and disappeared.

Parishioners at the church carried the wounded men out to the street and hailed a passing ambulance, which took them to City Hospital No 12. Fr Daniel, without regaining consciousness, died two hours later. Mr Strelbitsky received an emergency operation, and, according to doctors, his life is out of danger.

According to preliminary data, police found four spent 9 mm cartridges and two deformed slugs in the church. Experts believe that the murderer used a semi-automatic Makarov pistol, as shown by the spent ammunition. Because the perp wore a mask, none of the witnesses could really describe his appearance. In this case, as it turned out, the church was not equipped with cameras.

Almost immediately, the SKP said that the most probable scenario is that it’s a murder motivated by religious hatred. Fr Daniil was active in missionary activities amongst Muslims, and, according to his associates, he was one of the most effective and active clergymen of the MP in this regard.

Eighteen months ago, he kicked off Orthodox missionary courses at his parish, and, later, initiated them in several other Russian cities. Repeatedly, Fr Daniil participated in religious debates with Muslims and published a booklet that strongly opposed many Islamic teachings. He opposed sectarianism just as strongly; he spoke against the pagan so-called Slavic Neo-Pagan movement.

As he said shortly before his death, Fr Daniil received death threats from Muslims by phone and e-mail at least 14 times. The first time it happened was about five years ago, after a public debate with Ali (Vyacheslav) Polosin, a former Orthodox priest who converted to Islam. The most recent death threat to Fr Daniil came in a phone call on 9 October from an unknown “defender of Islam” who promised to kill the priest if he continued to speak about Islam as he had been doing.

“I’m not afraid anymore. Five years ago, I was. Now, I’m just used to living under constant threat. After all, it’s not only the authorities and me, but, also, Muslims themselves, that attest to these threats. Everything’s in the hands of God. If that’s so, I’ll immediately go to heaven without tribulations. That’s great!” Fr Daniel wrote in his Internet blog on 9 October. In a recent interview, Fr Daniel explained that, a year ago, the FSB told him that they thwarted an attempt against his life, one that he himself didn’t know about.

Spokesmen of all religious faiths condemned the murder of Daniil Sysoev and it has stimulated a loud public outcry. “I strongly condemn the tragic death of Fr Daniil Sysoev at the hands of murderers. However, as long as the perpetrators are unknown, I ask everyone to refrain from any hasty accusations and harsh judgments against any other persons or groups”, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all the Russias said. “Fr Daniil was a zealous pastor, who laboured in the field of education and who gave himself to the service of God and mankind. Many Orthodox Christians flocked to him with love, seeking spiritual guidance, inspiration in the faith, and teaching on the right path to take in life”, said Vladimir Legoida, the Director of the Information Department of the MP.

“Islam or pious Muslims had nothing to do with this heinous crime. We believe that the murder of even only one person is the same as if you murdered all of mankind. We oppose all forms of terrorism and extremism; Islam condemns terrorism in the most absolute terms. On the behalf of the Muslim clergy, I wish to express my condolences to the Sysoev family and its friends, and to the members of the Russian Orthodox Church, in connection with this tragedy”, said Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, the Chairman of the Council of Muftis in Russia.

“We are outraged by the fact that this heinous crime occurred in the holy temple, and this abominable blasphemy casts a shadow over all honest people. 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 Talgat Tazhduddin, President of the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia (TsDUMR) wrote in a letter to Patriarch Kirill.

The ceremony of the Last Farewell for Daniil Sysoev happened yesterday at St Thomas church. Hundreds of people came to give him their last respects. His funeral begins today (Monday 23 November) at 10.00 MSK at the Ss Peter and Paul church in Yasenevo, where his father, Fr Aleksei Sysoev, serves as rector. Patriarch Kirill shall attend at least part of the ceremony. The burial of Fr Daniil, who left a wife and three small children, will be at Kuntsevo Cemetery.

23 November 2009

Anatoly Karavaev

Vremya Novostei (News Time)

As quoted in Interfax-Religion


Editor’s Note:

People queued up outside St Thomas church to pay their last respects to Fr Daniil.

There has been much irresponsible talk by some so-called Orthodox pinning the blame for this crime on Muslims without any evidence to back their accusations. Let’s look at the bare facts. A young man wearing a dark jacket and jeans with a surgical mask over his face walked into St Thomas church. The mask caused no particular notice because many people are wearing them because of the present flu epidemic. He shouted, “Where’s Sysoev?” Fr Daniil came forward (probably from the area of the kliros, for reports say that he stepped out from behind a screen), and the perp fired quickly without aiming carefully. Then, the perp walked calmly to the fallen priest, asked, “Where’s Sysoev?” again, and fired another shot (a coup de grâce?). He then left the church rapidly, but, without hurry. No one knows anything further.

There is no indication of what faith the killer held, if any. We do know that witness reports indicate that he had a “Caucasian” accent… Chechens and Georgians have distinctive accents (often used by Russian humorists for comedic effect, by the way). The only things that we know definitively are that the killer wore a mask, that he used a Makarov PM pistol (due to ballistics tests run on the bullets found at the scene), that he appeared to be in his 20s, and that he wore dark clothing. He wasn’t agitated, he didn’t run off in a panic, and he didn’t fire wildly. It appeared to have happened in a flash. The whole incident, start to finish, took less than 30 seconds, I’d say. The people were stunned, and, by the time they recovered, he was gone. It’s now a week after the crime, and one notes that the police have announced nothing publicly.

This is not the way of it in a “normal” murder, according to an acquaintance of mine in the NY State Police. He says that murderers are usually family or friends of the victim, or they are criminals who kill in the commission of another crime. “Cold killings” are very, very rare, according to him, and I believe it. He also thinks that either the detectives are close to finding the killer or they have hit a roadblock. Look at the facts given above. There’s not much to go on, is there?

St Thomas church is near a metro stop on the Zamoskvoretskaya Line, Kantemirovskaya. It is also located in the midst of a residential area with apartment blocks all around, as is evident from photographs. The murder took place at a time when third-shift workers are out getting ready to go to work. Anyone dressed in a nondescript fashion, as was the killer, would go unnoticed, either on the street or on the metro platform. Kantemirovskaya station is only five stops from the Paveletskaya metro stop, which has connections to Paveletskaya railway station. This station has departures for both electrichka service to the suburbs and long-distance trains to the Volga region, the Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan. It also has an express train that runs to Domodedovo Airport. In short, the killer could have gone a very long distance from Moscow in very short order. Add to this the fact that there are dumps for construction debris near the church (a handy place to chuck the gun, I would say); the cops have their work cut out for them.

So… do we have ANY solid information that a Muslim killed Fr Daniil? NONE. In fact, the above information leads one to believe that this was a pro hit. Cui bono? Who benefits, indeed! All those screaming for Muslim blood had best shut their mouths until solid facts emerge. As for those who won’t shut up (if you don’t like rude words, please, avert your eyes from the following sentence… there’s no other way of saying it, I’m afraid, excuse me)…


(You may start reading, again. I apologise for the rudeness.)

It’s time for all decent folk of every background and faith (or, of no faith at all) to bury the dead, comfort the grieving, and aid the widow and her children. All others may most sincerely go to hell.


Shot as a Result of the Missionary Project of the Church: The Exacerbation of Sectarian Strife with the Increasing Clericalisation of Russia

Fr Daniil Sysoev (1974-2009) at a recent pro-life rally in Moscow.

Editor’s Foreword:

I don’t particularly agree with Mr Melnikov’s thesis… however, I am not presenting hagiography. Read it… it stimulates thought. In any case, this is not available in English, so, I had a DUTY to present it. In any case, the antics of so-called Orthodox screaming for Muslim blood on the internet and calling all who oppose them “dhimmis” is reprehensible, nasty, and not Christian in the least. It makes all decent people hurl in disgust. I am not afraid to speak my mind on this (I’m a figure of obloquy of that lot, any road… see if I care, punks).



Today was the funeral of Fr Daniil Sysoev, who was killed by an unknown assassin on Thursday evening. During the past few days since the murder, people made numerous judgements and comments about the tragedy. After the first emotional remarks, one heard statements from religious leaders and politicians, which clearly tells us that very different forces would like to use this tragedy to their advantage.

The Council of Muftis of Russia asked us not to link the murder with the Muslim community. RF Gosduma Deputy Vera Lekareva urged the Government to strengthen measures to counter so-called new religious movements, what she called “sects”. Vladimir Zhirinovsky said that the murder was a reaction to the recent decision to abolish the death penalty by the RF Constitutional Court.

Of course, Patriarch Kirill remarked on this crime. The Patriarch said that this tragedy couldn’t be more painful, and not just because it happened on his birthday. Fr Daniil Sysoev was one of the most active and committed representatives of that wing of the MP that sees active missionary work as the most critical task facing the Church. This group of hierarchs and priests receive special support from the current First Hierarch of the MP.

Over the past few years, many priests of the MP were killed in Russia at the hands of burglars and other intruders. There have been many arson attacks on Orthodox churches; it appears that members of Russian neo-Nazi and neo-heathen groups were responsible. The death of Daniil Sysoeva could ignite a much more dangerous conflict between the two largest religions that would be perilous to both our society and the state. It’s no accident that Patriarch Kirill urged people to refrain from making hasty accusations against individuals or groups in connection with the murder of Fr Daniil.

Perhaps, we shouldn’t focus on stereotypical accusations against mythical “Satanists”, which the missionary media of the MP usually resorts to in such cases, followed by the repetition of the same by some of the TV channels immediately after the tragedy. Everyone who is familiar with church life knows the scope of the missionary intent of the murdered priest. He publicly declared that he sought to convert Muslims to Russian Orthodoxy. He baptised Tatars, and debated practising Muslims, both personally and through the forum in his missionary blog.

I must say that the actions of Daniil Sysoev evoked the fury of a certain segment of Muslims. A female Muslim journalist initiated a lawsuit against the priest. Several Islamist internet news portals led a media campaign against him. Some Russian Muslim public figures and journalists stated that the tenor of his activities is hostile, and that they oppose such so-called “Islamophobia”. The writings of Muslim intellectuals in Europe inspire them in this debate. “Jihad” against alleged violations of the rights of Muslims in the Old Continent has become the background against which minarets multiply and Christian churches close in European capitals.

Islamic radicals would like to transplant the acute disputatiousness that one observes in some Muslims resident in Europe to Russia, deepening conflict with every little incident. Such efforts by Islamists made the missionary activity of Daniil Sysoev much easier.

Of course, not only Sysoev aggravated and irritated the Islamists. Some circles in the Church share his ideas for the evangelisation of the followers of the Prophet Muhammad. Thus, one of the prominent figures of the Church declared not so long ago that Kyrgyzstan should become an outpost for the mission of the MP in Central Asia.

“We must firmly keep in mind and know that the way to serve Christ and His Church is always associated with confession and even martyrdom. The tragic death of Fr Daniil should not turn our hearts to fear and cowardice or weaken our zeal in doing the work of God”, said the statement on the death of Daniil Sysoev by Patriarch Kirill.

I am sure that the appeal of the Patriarch shall have an effect. Orthodox public organisations known for their uncompromising attitude and fighting spirit in missionary work announced today they would organise a procession… rather, a flash-mob protest against the killing of a priest.

In future, I wouldn’t like to report similar cases of “martyrdom” for the glory of whatever faith. As everybody knows all too well, the memory of religious violence gives rise to a desire for revenge. I don’t want to see the tragic death of a priest, whoever was responsible for it, to end in irregular militias standing guard in the churches and mosques, and Russian cities divided into Christian and Muslim enclaves resembling modern Beirut.

23 November 2009

Andrei Melnikov

Nezavisimaya Gazeta (The Independent Newspaper)

As quoted in Interfax-Religion


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