Sunday, September 26, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Patriarchate Backs Novel by Widow of Martyred Orthodox Missionary about Islamist Extremists

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 26 – The widow of Father Daniel Sysoyev, a young Russian Orthodox pastor missionary who in the view of the Moscow Patriarchate, was “martyred” in November 2009 by Islamist extremists, has written a novel about a young woman who out of her love for her husband finds herself in a camp where Islamists prepare suicide bombers.
The subject is explosive enough in today’s Russia, but the impact of this novel is certain to be far greater than would otherwise be the case because the book is to be published with the imprimatur of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church and thus will be seen by many as a statement of its views (
At the very least, the appearance of this book by Yulia Sysoyeva will again focus attention not only on her late husband’s murder and the fate of the many suspected of killing him but also and far more importantly on his push for missionary work by the Russian Orthodox Church not only about the non-traditional faiths but also and especially among Muslims.
Sysoyev, born in 1974, was at the time of his death the pastor of Moscow’s Church of the Apostle Thomas. But more important, he had attracted attention both for his active missionary work among Muslims and Protestants and his willingness to debate the leaders of these faiths and the opponents among the Orthodox of such missionary activity.
(Most Orthodox hierarchs have no objection to missionary work among those they call the non-traditional faiths in that country, but these leaders generally follow the line laid down a decade ago by the churchman who is now patriarch that the Orthodox should not proselytize among the other “traditional” faiths – Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism.)
Sysoyev argued that the Orthodox faith requires its adherents to spread the Good News of
Christianity to others. And during the last decade of his life, he gained the reputation of being an active missionary among the rapidly growing Muslim community of the Russian capital, a reputation that may have cost him his life.
On November 19, 2009, he was shot in his own church. Officials moved quickly and arrested a Kyrgyz national on suspicion. That individual, however, died while in detention, an outcome that led some to believe there was a cover up and others, including radical Islamists in the North Caucasus, to declare that they rather than the man arrested had killed Sysoyev.
At the time of his death, Patriarch Kirill called Father Daniel Sysoyev “a martyr” for the cause of missionary work, and many Orthodox priests and hierarchs have routinely invoked his name and his ideas since then, arguing that the Church must not be afraid, as Sysoyev was not afraid, of seeking to convert Muslims now living in Moscow and other Russian cities.
By giving its support to the novel Sysoyev’s widow has written, one that judging by the brief Interfax account will portray Muslims in a negative way by suggesting they want to recruit Russians as suicide bombers, the Moscow Patriarchate is encouraging anti-Muslim attitudes among the Orthodox, thus exacerbating inter-religious and inter-ethnic tensions in Russia.

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