Father Daniel Sysoev is the rector of the Apostle Thomas Church and the initiator of a growing community in honor of the Prophet Daniel. We met on the occasion of the opening of the missionary center in honor of Saint Thomas the Apostle. Olga Kurova talked to Fr. Daniel.
- Fr. Daniel the occasion for our meeting is the opening of a missionary center. It goes without saying that there was a great deal of preliminary work. Please tell us how it all began.
- If we are to recall from the very beginning, it would be 1993, when I was a missionary right on the streets. And from August of 1996 I have entirely officially, with the blessing of His All-Holiness, the Patriarch, led missionary Biblical conversations at the Krutitsy Patriarchal Metochion. These conversations were first intended for converting Protestants. Later more and more occultists and victims of different “sorcerers” appeared. And at last I turned to missionary work among Moslems. So, our center is open to victims of paranormalists and to young people who want to learn the basics of Christianity, as well as for those of other faiths.
- What are your goals?
- Not so long ago we consecrated a temporary church in honor of Saint Thomas the Apostle. A large missionary church in honor of the Prophet Daniel with a chapel to Saint Thomas the Apostle is being built now. This chapel is already functioning, for the moment as its own church. One of our goals is the conversion of non-Christians, mostly non-Russians. The Kantemirovskiy district of Moscow, where the church is located, is a district of different expatriate communities. Moreover, it is a place where different sects are very active. Near the church there is a large Mormon center, and in the area there are Baptists, Adventists, and occultists. But there were no Orthodox until quite recently.
We opened a catechetical school about the basics of Christianity. Every five weeks we conduct a course of five catechetical discourses for those who want to be baptized or just to know more about Christianity. A community of Orthodox Tartars is already functioning in the church and the information agency of Saint Akhmet is starting its activity.
Very soon we are planning to have an open house: we will paste up notices around the district saying that all those who wish may come to the church and ask the priest any question. Later we would like to have such days every three months.
We also work with youth. Beside our temple there is the Moscow Engineering and Physical University. Curiously enough, we were the first ones to hold a moleben (supplicatory service) before students’ exams. Molebens before the beginning of the academic year have already become traditional in all Orthodox churches, although exams are a more strained period for students. Somehow students do not go beyond lighting candles. Anyway, we hold molebens before the exams, after the Liturgy, and invite all the students.
- How can you alone cope with all you have to accomplish? Do you have any assistants, some sort of initiative group?
- Yes, we have an initiative group; it was already formed at the Krutitsy Patriarchal Metochion. In addition there is the Tartar Orthodox community, which has existed since 2003. And certainly many different Christians of different nations take part in mission. After the feast of the Theophany of Our Lord we hope to open missionary courses. Perhaps, later we will create a missionary institute based on it, and it will prepare preachers of the Gospel. There will be all kinds of preaching: on the streets, in universities. We want to deprive sectarians of their weapon.
- And how do you work with expatriate communities? Let us take the Azerbaijani, who live near Kantemirovskaya, for example. How can you enter their community? What can you talk to them about?
- I can not say anything about the Azerbaijani community, because I have not yet formed any contacts with them. But I can say a lot about the Tartar expatriate community. I have appeared time and again in a Tartar cultural center, and have gone to Kazan. Tartars are the third largest national group in Moscow. And our work is quite successful: many Tartars, especially young ones, are becoming Christians. Since 2003 I have performed molebens in the Tartar language for the conversion of those astray.
Our task is to break down the barriers that can be found in the cultures of different nationalities that prevent them from accepting Orthodoxy. The news that Orthodoxy is the universal faith, to which all nations are called, is still considered scandalous.
- How should a true young missionary behave talking to someone of the same age?
- A missionary should be the one to start the conversation about God, or else he is no missionary at all. But at the same time, he must soberly evaluate his own knowledge and skills. He should know the answers to the basic questions his counterparts usually ask about Christianity. He should remember that attack is the best form of defense. He should never hesitate to say that you are right and they are wrong. It is not necessary to bow and scrape before each listener. But at the same time, he must not injure somebody's pride in order to prove his case. Christ died for everyone. One should remember that one should respect a person, not his delusions. There should be rejection of falsity, but love for man.
It is difficult for a teenager to go against the collective, to become a black sheep, but it is essential to have that boldness. Previously, in the time of my youth, I considered it prestigious to differ from others. I believe we should restore that tradition. A black sheep is a noble animal. A real Christian should remember this. And if he does not have the strength, he should ask God for help. A young missionary should certainly be prepared for his words to arouse scandal and indignation. But he should not be afraid of that. Our mission consists in saying unpleasant things. Have you noticed that when reading the Bible you feel uncomfortable? The Book begins to judge you! But that does not mean that the truth should be kept away. The Lord Himself said: Woe to you, when all men speak well of you.
Another mistake that can lure a missionary is the attempt to direct mission to some definite group of people. There appears a mission for children, a mission for youth… Many smart, deep young people do not accept it. Why so? That is because when we talk to young people using their own language, as if condescending to them, we fix them at this level. But we should elevate them, raise them to wisdom, and not leave them at a level they have probably already grown out of. It is even better to talk to children as if they were grown-ups. Do you remember Makarevich singing in a very Christian way; “It’s not worth being weighed down by the fickle world”? That should be a motto not only for missionaries, but for all Orthodox Christians.
And certainly we must not forget about prayer and going to church, because sometimes an incorrect missionary outreach can enthrall someone so much that he does not pray or go to church.
- And why must we go to church every Sunday?
- Because Christ gave us such a commandment: six days are for you, and the seventh is for the Lord God. He can demand us to return part of our time as our sacrifice. And the second thing: we should remember our Heavenly Master, our Heavenly Motherland.
If you will, all we Christians are terrorists. We are the members of a rebellious army, which is revolting against the prince of this world (the devil). Churches are linking stations. There we get information from our governing body: ciphers (New Testament), reinforcement (Holy Communion), and we get support through mutual communication. We master all kinds of tricks in order to commit terrorist attacks against the prince of this world, that is, we learn how to do good. Obviously if an agent of the Holy Kingdom shirks attending the headquarters and does not keep in touch with the command center, he can easily get lost, lose his power, and fall in battle. According to the rules of the Church, someone who without sufficient cause goes three Sundays without attending the Divine Liturgy is excluded from Communion.
Often those who do not attend church tend to get tired very quickly. If someone thinks that he will sleep in on Sunday to make up for the rest of the week instead of attending the Liturgy, he will very soon understand that Sunday sleep does not bring pleasure. You can eat a ram, but remain hungry, or you can sleep for twenty-five hours, but still feel sleepy. If God does not give you power, you will never find it in any other place.
If you are in love with someone, you constantly wish to see your loved one, to communicate. You do not have to force such a one to go on a date, do you? Christianity is built on the love between God and man.
It is still very important not to search for justifications if you miss a church service. We can find one thousand justifications, but this will only make things worse. It is necessary to struggle ruthlessly with sin, with laziness. Christians are beings of another kind. There are Homo sapiens, and there is Homo Christianus. Christians should communicate with their like.
- Why do Christians have a different nature?
- A Christian is a person plus the Divine force given to it in Baptism. A non-Christian is simply a person, besides being enslaved by the devil. Either the Holy Spirit is in your heart or the devil is in your heart – can you see the difference?
- Everyone has his way to church. But as a missionary you must have some amazing stories about people’s conversion.
Why go far? We have a member of our parish, Tatyana Imranovna, my closest assistant. She converted from Islam to occultism, and from there, having encountered unpleasant things that frightened her, to Orthodoxy. She came to Christ – at first simply as a way to rescue. Then she began to “churchify.” And the closer she came to the Church, the worse her parents condemned her. It is strange – the worse they behaved towards her, the more problems they had. For example, they cursed her, they threw out her icons – and the same night their dacha burnt down. Here is an example for you of how God protects His own.
There are also examples of miraculous healings. Once the parents of a child, Pentecostals, came to me. They had taken their child to see all kinds of "psychics." As a result the child had a fever up to 39 C for three months. Nothing could help. We Baptised him very solemnly at the Baptismal Liturgy. He stood, of course, very weakly, but showed interest in everything. We gave him Holy Communion and they went home. He went to sleep, woke up – and his temperature was 36.6. He has not been ill for several years since then.
Quite often it happens that everything is explained to someone. He agrees with you in mind, but does not accept it with his heart. But pray for him, and he changes. It always happens that after a moleben for the return of the erring that several people are Baptized.
So if you wish to see many miracles – you should become a missionary or a martyr. They say that if you wish to anoint someone with myrrh you should pour it into your hand and smell it yourself, and only then anoint another person. It is the same thing here: if you wish to tell another about the power of God, you should first feel the power of God yourself.
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