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Young Popular Russian Priest, Murdered by Islamic Fanatic: Reminiscences and Footage

At age 34, he was murdered in his church by a Muslim fanatic. His death shook Orthodox Christians all over the world. Here is a compilation of reminiscences about him from his closest friends and family, which give insight into the life--and death--of this extraordinary man

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Yesterday marked the 8-year-anniversary of the death of young Russian priest, Fr Daniel Sysoev (1974-2009).

The priest was truly a towering figure in the Russian church, a talented, popular theologian, author, and evangelist. He was very active as a missionary in his native Moscow, especially among the Muslims, neo-pagan, and sectarian population of the city. He engaged with Muslims in multiple public debates  (at their request) and was able to convert scores of them from Islam to Orthodoxy. 

At age 34, he was murdered in his church by a Muslim fanatic. His death shook Orthodox Christians all over the world. Below, you will find a fantastic compilation of reminiscences about him from his closest friends and family, which give insight into the life--and death--of this extraordinary man. It was written by Archimandrite Melchisedek (Artiukhin) for Ortho Christian.

For those interested, here is one of his presentations. He was probably responding to a question on whether people should be afraid to get the 'new' edition of passports that contain chips. Notice how fiery he is as a speaker:


Today is already eight years form the beginning of the eternal life of our dear brother and sincere pastor Fr. Daniel Sysoev!

A priest once wrote these words in his last book: “The best end, which only a Christian can imagine, is a martyric death.” These words were written by the murdered priest Daniel Sysoev.

His Holiness the patriarch wrote in his message: “The Lord honored his faithful servant with a confessor’s and martyr’s death, and he now abides in the Synaxis of the saints among the righteous, in the Synaxis of spirits made perfect.”

St. John Chrysostom once said, “It is not only death that makes martyrs, but the whole dispensation of life.” But the whole dispensation of life.

Fr. Daniel’s mother, Matushka Anna, said, “He grew up a very weak boy, and was near death three times, not distinguished by such a fighting nature as he later had, when he became a priest. He was a very bookish person, always reading books, which led to him needing glasses. Then he went to school. Remember, he was born in ’74; it was ’81 when he was seven—the peak of Soviet life. He missed the beginning of class in September in second grade.

His homeroom teacher came to our house and suddenly saw a circle of icons. She was in shock. She told the headmaster, she talked about it at the teachers’ meeting, and they began to brainwash him, overloading him with books from the library.

His physics teacher even brought some kind of device to our house (maybe you remember from when you studied), which produced lightning, saying, ‘Look, son, it’s not God in Heaven, and it’s not the prophet Elijah making the lightning—there’s no miracle here—it’s just this device.’ And nothing helped.

Once his teacher stood him in front of the entire class and said, ‘Laugh at him. What, you believe in God? What, you know some prayers?’ My son said, ‘Yes, I believe in God, and I know some prayers.’

His confession began in second grade. He was the black sheep in those times, you know—Soviet, terrible godless, a-religious times. When he was six, our family spiritual father, an archimandrite, once asked him,

‘Danyush,[1] what do you want to be—a married priest or a monk?’ And he answered, ‘No, neither.’ ‘Then what?’ ‘The patriarch.’ He was always a maximalist.”

I remember, his classmate that he lived with in the same cell for four years at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, said, “He didn’t listen to the teacher in class. He would read books. He was surrounded by books.

When we asked him, ‘Why don’t you listen to the teacher?’ he answered, ‘I’ve already read all that.’ But when the teacher would suddenly say something not quite right, he immediately noticed: ‘I’m sorry, but St. Symeon the New Theologian said about that subject…’ The teacher wouldn’t even know how to answer. Such was his knowledge. He told one friend, ‘I can read two-three books a day.’

He was a very shy person. When he was a deacon, having just finished seminary, he would gather dozens and hundreds of people for Bible talks at the Krutitsy podvoriye. I was there for these talks. If you didn’t say bye to him on time, then you couldn’t get out of the hall, because there were so many people. It was impossible to push through to him, and he lived for it; he breathed it.”

He had a choice. Many might think that, in fact, an unexpected death is not a martyric death. Why? But when there is no choice. But remember the words of St. John Chrysostom: “A martyric death comes not only at the moment of death, but is born from the whole will of man.”

He received death threats fourteen times.

He told his matushka, “I will not live to see thirty-three.” They spoke for a long time between themselves before that, about who would bury whom, and he said, “Let’s pray about it.” And Matushka said, “No, I feel that I will die before you.” And eventually, when he began to pray about it, he said, “No, most likely you will bury me. I think I won’t live to see thirty-three.”

“Who will you leave us to?” “Oh,” he said, “I will leave you in reliable hands.” “Whose?” Matushka asked. “The Mother of God’s.”

It was a premonition, and a real sense of death. Matushka Julia said, “I’ve had the impression the last few weeks that death is breathing down my neck.”

The church where Fr. Daniel served was small. When his murderer entered the church, there’s some stairs to the second floor there just inside the door, that the regent, Vladimir Strelbitsky came down. The killer saw his cassock and shot the regent, wounding him in the shoulder, and two women who were there cried out.

Fr. Daniel, in the altar, preparing to hear someone’s confession, must have heard this shot, or the women’s cries. And when the murderer yelled out, “Where is Sysoev?! Where is Sysoev?!” it was impossible not to hear it.

Fr. Daniel walked out and answered the killer, “That’s me!”

He was wounded in the neck, in the carotid artery, and when he fell to the floor, he was fatally shot in the back of the head, and the bullet went through, right through, into the floor of the church. He had a choice. He could have sat it out in the altar, or hidden, escaping through the attic. He didn’t do that.

When we read from the Old Testament on the day of the repose of a martyr, we read these words: He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time (Wis. 4:13). It’s possible to live a long time and do nothing for God, for man, or for the Church. And it’s possible to live a short life, but when it’s with God it will be a long life before God, despite the fact that the number of years is not so large.

Not long before his death he told his daughter, “When they kill me, don’t cry for me, but pray for me.” We know that when we pray for sinful people, the Lord hears our prayers and gives them His merciful aid and strength. When we pray for the righteous, this prayer returns to us—our love returns to us.

We have gained a martyr in Heaven, a confessor of Christ, and an intercessor before God for us sinners.

Eternal and blessed memory to the ever-memorable murdered Priest Daniel!!!

Archimandrite Melchisedek (Artiukhin)

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