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Murder Of Priest Highlights Missionary Role In Russian Church

ICC Note

Father Daniil Sysoyev brought several Muslims to Christ and wrote a book Islam. He received death threats from Muslims before he was killed two weeks ago.

By Kevin O’Flynn

12/01/2009 Russia (Radio Free Europe)-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.

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.

“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.”

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.

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