The Russian Orthodox priest gunned down in his church last week was buried yesterday in Moscow. There has been an intense amount of media coverage of this crime and most of the speculation, by the media and police authorities, centers on a suspected Islamist killer in light of Fr. Daniel Sysoyev’s outspoken and aggressive campaign to promote Orthodox Christianity among Muslims and other non-Christian communities.
From the Moscow Times:
Church insiders said the attack, which happened late Thursday in southern Moscow, could have been the work of radical Islamists, who had regularly threatened him for preaching to Muslims. Law enforcement officials said they believed religion was the primary motive in the killing.
The 35-year-old Sysoyev, who led the St. Thomas Church on Kantemirovskaya Ulitsa, was shot point-blank four times by an unidentified man wearing a medical face mask, police said. He was severely wounded and died in an ambulance.
Vladimir Strelbitsky, a 41-year-old regent who was nearby during the attack, was also shot and remains hospitalized in serious condition.
Citing sources with knowledge of the matter, Interfax reported that the killer called Sysoyev twice shortly before the shooting. Viktor Kupriyanchuk, the church’s elder, told Kommersant that the killer burst into the church shouting, “Where’s Sysoyev?” When Sysoyev stepped forward from behind the altar, the assailant shot him several times and attempted to flee.
… there was no case for more than half a century since Stalin reprisals when representatives of the Orthodox clergy have been shot in the Russian capital. For the last 19 years Father Daniil became the 25th Orthodox priest killed in Russia.
The burial service has taken place today in the Saint Peter and Paul church in Moscow. The Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has also arrived to say farewell to the Priest Daniil. After the burial service the cleric was buried on the Kuntsevskoye cemetery in Moscow.
From a story today in The Independent:
In contravention of an unspoken agreement among the major Russian religions not to seek converts among each other’s flocks, Father Sysoyev was an active missionary, seeking to proselytise Muslims in the Russian capital. He was known to trawl construction sites looking for migrants from the traditionally Muslim countries of Central Asia, chatting to the workers and suggesting that they convert to Christianity. The priest himself spoke of receiving multiple death threats for his views on Islam.
“You’re going to laugh, but the Muslims have again threatened to kill me – the threat was by telephone this time,” wrote the priest on his personal blog in early October. “It’s already the 14th time. Before it scared me, but I’m already used to it now.”
In addition to his missionary work, Father Sysoyev’s also held uncompromising and widely publicised views about the Islamic faith. “Islam is an attempt to create a new world order based on the authority of God,” said the priest, cloaked in black Orthodox robes, in one of his online videos. “In this sense, it’s less like the Orthodox Church or any other kind of church, and more like projects such as National Socialism or the Communist Party.”
According to some estimates, there are up to 20 million Muslims in Russia, and the country has avoided large-scale religious conflict, except in Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus. Even there, corruption and poverty are seen by analysts as bigger threats than radical Islam.
On a visit to Russia last month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travelled to Tatarstan, a majority Muslim region, and praised it as a “model for tolerance and coexistence between Muslims and Christians”.
But the murder of Father Sysoyev threatens to bring underlying tensions to the fore. He is now seen by Orthodox Christians as a modern-day martyr, said Andrei Zolotov, an expert on the Russian Orthodox Church. “This is a very clear case of martyrdom. He was a saint living among us.” While not everyone in the Church agreed with his views or methods, his murder will cause “a period of heightened tension,” said Mr Zolotov.
From a February 2009 story on the Radio Free Europe Web site:
Father Daniel Sysoyev, a prominent Russian missionary, recently urged the opening of an Orthodox “base” in Kyrgyzstan from which to launch a proselytizing “offensive” across mostly Muslim Central Asia. Speaking at a forum in Moscow on February 17, Sysoyev said the church should open theological faculties in Bishkek universities and “use Kyrgyzstan as a base for all of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Tibet, and China.”
Central Asia, he said, could prove fertile ground. After all, since 1992, a half-million Central Asians have become Protestant converts. And Catholic missionaries, the priest added, successfully set up a Kyrgyz diocese in just a few years.
Bakyt Murzubraimov, chairman of the theology department at Osh State University in Kyrgyzstan, dismisses Sysoyev’s ideas as “nonsense” that would never work in Central Asia. But the priest’s remarks, and others by senior Russian clergy, reinforce a sense that Kirill, who took over as patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church on February 1, intends to intensify his church’s politically fraught mission at home and in Russia’s “near abroad” — with the apparent full blessing of the Kremlin.