Editor’s note: One year ago, on the night of November 19, priest Daniel Sysoyev was shot to death in his church in Moscow. We offer you a translation of the article written one year ago by Andrey Zolotov, chief editor of Russia Profile, few days after Fr. Daniel's murder.
Translated by Alexey Malafeev
Edited by Hierodeacon Samuel (Nedelsky)
In the face of holiness and eternity it is difficult to say anything definite in the language of mass-media journalism, or in that of politics. That is because there is too much that is amazing and inconceivable to say.
One can discover and report more details about the murder of the 35-year-old priest and missionary, Daniel Sysoev. One can find out what his parishioners, friends, and family thought of him. One can point one's finger at the alleged murderers, who seem to be backed by a dangerous and impudent force, and yell, “Enough is enough!” One can encourage calm and reserve for the sake of public peace. All of this is entirely right and justifiable.
And then what?
And then there is just quiet, silence in surprise. After that those who can pray should do so, which is the only possible reaction of a person who has encountered God. Indeed, God turns out to be full of surprises.
It turns out that martyrdom concerns not only the legendary pagan persecution of Christians in the first centuries of Christianity, or the lesser-known oppression of Orthodox Greeks by Turkish Muslims in late medieval times, or - the seemingly close to us and yet distant from our present days of well-being – Soviet Communist persecution of the first half of the previous century.
It turned out that a martyr lived in our city, we or our colleagues interviewed him, and we could agree or disagree with his posts on LiveJournal, which you can find still there, though he will never add anything to them.
It turns out that the true life of the Orthodox Church in Russia nowadays is rather far from the popular image of well-being and official recognition. Who, of people far from the Church, can picture it the way it appears these days on TV screens, in reports on the murder of Father Daniel: in a small wooden church on the outskirts of town, which a masked murderer comes to at a late hour! To the uninitiated, let us say that such churches, built where they are most needed – in “residential” neighborhoods – are registered as “temporary” ones, because one can pay fewer bribes for building permits.
It turned out that the official claims about peaceful relations between religions in our country are only one side of the coin. But a missionary's duties, the threats he faces, and the “kill them all” outcries on the Internet in reaction to this murder, are quite another thing. We cannot say that the talk about friendship and tolerance between Christians and Muslims in our country is not true. But it turned out that it is not the whole truth, to say the least.
Patriarch Kirill, on the day of whose birthday the murder was committed, asked “everybody not to make any hasty charges or strong remarks referring to any people or groups.” Official Muslim leaders were quick to denounce the murder. We thank them. They are doing their duty. But whether they will be listened to by extremists on either side is highly questionable. That is why prayers for peace, even short ones, are a natural addition to thinking about the greatness which was shown to us last night on the outskirts of Moscow. We need this peace because not everyone is able to walk down Father Daniel's path.
It also turned out that, for all the relaxed nature of present well-being, that there are still jobs, or rather vocations, that entail taking a risk, and sometimes willingly sacrificing one's life. Soldiers, sailors, priests, journalists, police officers, miners and rescuers, honestly doing their jobs, risk their lives and often die. A question arises – why, what for?
Well, it is clear that it is not about money, the main driving force behind other people's actions and global “progress.” Is it about power? No, not about that, either. Many people serve their country and their people and give their life for their sake. The Church, too, is often thought to be the main teacher of patriotism when it comes to defending our country, while the greater part of the population and their authorities are fighting for money and power.
But then it turns out that the murdered priest was not a Russian patriot. In his last interviews and blog posts he pointed out that Christians had forgotten that the Kingdom of Heaven should be much more important to them than the earthly one.
“They want us to think that the well-being of the country where we and our ancestors were born is the highest good, and the Church is scolded for not 'fighting for people's rights,' or, on the contrary, they claim that the ‘Church has always served Russia,” said Father Daniel Sysoev in one of his interviews. “But rather than that, I suggest returning to the words of the Scripture, forgotten by many: ‘...here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come’ (Heb 13:14). Our one and only Motherland is heaven. Our Father lives there, as well as our fellow citizens, the saints; there will the Church find eternal rest after a long war with the Devil.
“We are not nationalists, for in Christ and His Church there are no longer any nations. We, formerly Russians and Tatars, Jews and Americans, have become united in the new nation of the Testament. We pray and hope that as many people as possible will be brought to our Heavenly Home.”
Let us be silent in surprise!