November 20, 2009

Orthodox Priest Murdered in Moscow for His Anti-Muslim Stance

November 20, 2009

Orthodox Priest Daniil Sysoyev was assassinated in Moscow on the night of November 19. The crime was most likely committed for religious reasons. The priest might have fallen victim to Islamic radicals or sectarians, investigators say.

The unidentified assassin was wearing a doctor’s mask when he attacked the priest, Interfax reports. The criminal entered Holy Apostle Thomas Church in the south of Moscow on Thursday night, at about 10:40 p.m. It was a well-built tall man, eye-witnesses said. The eyewitnesses said that the man was of the Caucasian origin, although it is not clear yet how they could come to such a conclusion.

The man rushed into the church and shouted: “Who is Sysoyev here?” The 35-year-old priest came forward, the attacker pulled out a gun with a silencer, and shot him in the neck and in the head. The assassin left the crime scene walking – he was not running.

Father Daniil died at hospital about an hour later. The priest had a wife and three children.

Daniil Sysoyev was born on January 12, 1974 in Moscow. He graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy. The priest was mostly dealing with missionary activities. He particularly founded a school for street preachers in Moscow.

Sysoyev also was an active opponent of Islam. For example, he conducted two public disputes with former Orthodox priest Vyacheslav Polosin, who converted to Islam. Sysoyev published a book “Marriage with a Muslim” in which he wrote that God and the Church condemned marriages conducted with Christians and non-Christians.

Radical religious groups started threatening Daniil Sysoyev four years ago. They were sending emails threatening him to “cut his head off and let his guts out”. It was also reported that Islamic groups had sentenced the Orthodox priest to death. Last year, a Muslim man called the church in which Sysoyev was serving, and said that the priest would be killed if he continued to publicly express his negative attitude to Islam.

Sysoyev was forced to address this to Russia’s Federal Security Bureau twice, asking for help.

In addition to disputes with Muslims, Daniil Sysoyev was struggling against sectarians. He was communicating with those who had suffered from sects. The priest was an active member of the center for the rehabilitation of the victims of totalitarian sects and pseudo-religious movements.

One of the most controversial assassinations of Russian clergymen was committed on September 9, 1990 when Alexander Men was killed. Father Alexander wrote dozens of books (including his magnum opus Son of Man, which served as the introduction to Christ to thousands of citizens in the Soviet Union); baptized hundreds if not thousands; founded an Orthodox Open University; opened one of the first Sunday Schools in Russia as well as a Charity Group at the Russian Children's Hospital. His influence is still widely felt and his legacy continues to grow among Christians both in Russia and abroad. He was murdered early on Sunday morning, 9 September 1990 by an ax-wielding assailant just outside his home of Semkhoz, Russia.

Russian Orthodox Priest Critical of Islam Shot Dead

November 20, 2009

MOSCOW (AFP) - An Russian Orthodox priest who was an outspoken critic of both Islam and ultra-nationalist groups was shot dead in his Moscow church by a masked assassin, investigators said Friday.

Daniil Sysoyev, a well known figure who appeared on television talk shows and published a blog, had received threats over his extensive missionary work among Muslims in what was a highly unusual activity for a Russian priest.

"An unknown man in a mask walked in and fired no less than four shots at the priest of the church," the investigative committee of prosecutors said in a statement.

The killer also wounded the choirmaster, named as Vladimir Strelbitsky. The priest died of his wounds in the ambulance after the shooting late on Thursday, the investigative committee said.

The man walked into Saint Thomas's church in southern Moscow and asked for Sysoyev by name, the head of the investigators' Moscow branch Anatoly Bagmet told the RIA Novosti news agency.

The murder was most likely committed for religious reasons, Bagmet added.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in a statement warned against placing the blame on any group while the investigation continues.

Kirill described Sysoyev as "a zealous pastor who worked hard in the field of enlightenment and devoted himself to the end to serving God and people."

Sysoyev received several threats from Muslims, said a statement on the web site of the missionary training centre he founded.

"Father Daniil said several times that he received threats from Muslims, but the word of Christ was more important to him," the statement said.

Sysoyev, who was criticized by Muslim organizations for his statements on Islam, had contacted the federal security services several times over threats, Interfax reported, citing a security source.

Russia is estimated to have a population of more than 20 million Muslims and observance of the religion has grown stronger since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Last year, a Muslim journalist, Khalida Khamidullina, asked the Moscow prosecutors to investigate Sysoyev for extremism, saying he insulted Islam and allegedly called it a "green plague." The case ended in nothing, experts said.

In 2007, the co-chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Nafigulla Ashirov, called Sysoyev "a Russian Salman Rushdie" after he wrote a book called "Marriage to a Muslim Man" that criticized the treatment of women.

The head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, condemned the killing, saying that "the murder of an Orthodox priest is a terrible sin."

Experts said that Sysoyev had broken a tacit rule among Russia's main religious confessions not to carry out missionary activity among the adherents of another religion.

Roman Lunkin, an expert from the Slavic Legal Center for Law and Justice, said that Sysoyev began missionary activity among Muslims from 2001.

"He felt that he had to preach actively among Muslims. In that respect, he was an exception," Lunkin said. "He wasn't politically correct in that way, he didn't respect the canonical territories."

"In our country, it's accepted that among the main religions, people don't preach in each other's circle of influence," said Alexander Verkhovsky of the Sova Centre. "It's a political practice."

Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid posted a video on Friday showing Sysoyev's missionaries preaching to Central Asian street cleaners. It quoted Sysoyev as saying that he had baptised more than 80 Muslims over the last two years.

Sysoyev also worked with former members of religious sects and wrote a book on Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovahs' Witnesses.

He also spoke out against nationalists and Stalinists, whom he criticized on his blog for ignoring the murder of innocent people.

A prominent Orthodox theologian, Father Andrei Kurayev, told the Echo of Moscow radio station that "Father Daniil's fiery, polemic character increased the circle of his opponents, which included pagans and radical Muslims and even some chest-beating Russian patriots."