This interview was originally published on November 20, 2014—the fifth anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr. Daniel Sysoev.
—You’re now gathering stories about miracles connected with the prayerful help of Fr. Daniel. Can you tell us about that?
—We weren’t specifically planning to collect anything. But one day I saw a clip on YouTube where our friend was talking about how he fell asleep at the wheel and how at that moment when there would have been an accident, when he would have gone off into a ditch, he saw Fr. Daniel waving to him, pointing the way. The man abruptly woke up and drove in the direction Fr. Daniel was pointing. He was saved.
We’re dealing with this carefully; there’s no systematic gathering of information, much more miracles. I know there’re people actively gathering documents for his canonization now. For me it’s not quite correct, that is, it’s one thing to collect testimonies for the future, it’s another to prepare documents for canonization.
Of course, Fr. Daniel had a martyric death, that’s obvious. Of course we believe that and we believe that the Lord has glorified him in Heaven, that Fr. Daniel has boldness before God. But to specifically gather documents and to write akathists and paint icons before it’s time—I don’t really like that.
Maybe that’s why the Church let’s fifty years pass from death until canonization—until all the close relatives die (laughs). But there is some general criterion—fifty years.
I remember how Fr. Daniel was joking once. We were sort of arguing and I said to him: “Well, we’ve found a sinless saint here! I’m going to go call some iconographers and invite them to paint your icon.” Then there was a pause and Fr. Daniel got a serious look on his face. “You know,” he said, “you will see my icons.” Sometimes he as if saw through time, and then it happened…
We want to have a memorial evening with a totally new format. Five years have passed—many recollections have been written and a book has been published from them, Unknown Daniel, and we don’t want to repeat what has already been said many times.
For this anniversary year we invited people who met him after his death to speak about him. Yes, don’t be surprised by such words—many people have told us and written to us: “It’s a shame that I met Fr. Daniel only after his death.” Yes, people have met him just like as if he were alive. It’s amazing, but many perceive him as being alive.
—Many people call themselves “children” of Fr. Daniel today, considering that they continue his work. Should we believe them?
—It reminds me of the situation with Fr. Kirill (Pavlov). Some time ago you could find many people who introduced themselves this way: “I’m a spiritual child of Fr. Kirill (Pavlov),” and they maybe only confessed to him one time. But they called themselves his children and added this for credibility and respectability.
There were always lots of people around Fr. Daniel at home and in church. He led missionary courses that very many people took. They all call themselves disciples of Fr. Daniel, but while some went to all the classes, some didn’t really go, some skipped classes, some went to only two classes, but some even received a diploma at the end.
All these people can call themselves missionaries and followers of Fr. Daniel, but Batiushka is already in Heaven and can’t answer, so they can call themselves whatever they want.
Therefore, such self-presentations have to be treated very carefully, even skeptically, not trusting the first person you come across who says, “Ah yes, I’m a follower of Fr. Daniel.” But for some reason, people believe them. That is, if someone goes around under the flag of “I’m a follower of Fr. Daniel and I have his personal blessing,” people believe them for some reason. Why? I don’t know.
I especially don’t like the label of the so-called “Sysoevites.” I will say one thing—“Sysoevites” do not exist. If someone concocts this, it goes against Scripture and the Apostle Paul who plainly said, Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:12-13).
—In one interview you called such followers children of Lieutenant Schmidt.1 Their statements are often quite harsh and even aggressive…
—It’s impossible to attach an aggressive crowd to Fr. Daniel because there was absolutely no aggressiveness in him. He had love for people, like the saying, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” He was very fervent and vehement in regard to any falsehood, in regard to delusions, heresies, but still, he loved people and never treated them aggressively.
I’ve already forgotten how many people he led out of sects and how many satanists returned to Orthodoxy. satanists! Now everyone remembers his relationship with Muslims, but he always said: “I would like to preach among Muslims least of all.”
—And yet it was among the Muslims that he preached the most…
—You know that he built a church in honor of the holy Apostle Thomas, right? You remember the Apostle’s history? He really didn’t want to go and preach in India, but his reluctance turned into God grabbing him by the scruff of his neck and he was sold into slavery, winding up in India anyways. That’s what happened with Fr. Daniel.
He had some secret here that he never told me, what happened, why he started preaching among Islam, but he built a church in honor of the Apostle Thomas and said they had similar fates—God compelled them by force. What kind of force was it…?
—But what did Fr. Daniel dream about?
—He often dreamed, and always about one thing—that the Gospel would be preached throughout the entire world, so the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ would happen sooner.
It was always terribly scary for me, because everyone fears the antichrist, the book of Revelations, generally all these terrible end times. But he did not fear it at all. He would say: The sooner the Gospel is preached, the sooner the Kingdom of God will come.
That was his main dream, not building an earthly church, as some think. He even stressed that he was afraid of becoming a construction foreman priest if he began actively building a church. He would say that above all a priest should be a pastor for his flock. Nevertheless, he built actively and boldly, despite any obstacles.
He really loved the church; he really loved the aesthetic side of this work. He wanted to build a church with an atypical design. We discussed the construction and layout quite a lot together. For example, he thought up the bell tower based on the basilica of St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai. When we were there, he got very excited about this idea.
But sometimes he would say: “I won’t serve in this church.” And indeed, the planned church in the name of the Prophet Daniel remains only planned. And in the “temporary wooden church” of the Apostle Thomas he served exactly three years.
He had a map of the world hanging and he covered it with check marks—where they needed to open Orthodox missions, where there was no Orthodoxy.
At the missionaries’ graduation, he would cast lots for who would go where. It would be interesting to find out if anyone went to the country that fell to their lot.
—Fr. Daniel himself often spoke about his martyric death, correct?
—He would say that the most beautiful death for a Christian is martyrdom. But, he said, you have to deserve it. “I, of course, don’t deserve it.” And he would often repeat: “I will die early, and most likely, I won’t die naturally.”
Once he said: “I’ll die at 33,” or “I dream of drying at 33,”—and when he was 34, Angelina was born. I laughed at him. “Well,” I said, “did you die at 33?” He sometimes made such a funny face. He said: “Then I was wrong.”
—How do you help your children preserve knowledge of who their father was?
—I don’t have to make any effort in this sense, because their father is obviously working on it himself. After five years, we can draw some conclusions—I’m not organizing a cult of their father, I don’t tell talk about what a hero he was. They know it all themselves. They really love their father, very much, and Angelina most of all.
Of course, they didn’t have enough of their father, and Angelina, perhaps, suffers from this even more than the older sisters. Oddly enough, she remembers him. She was two and I was worried that she wouldn’t remember him at all. How can you remember your father from two years old?
But I see that their father is supporting them himself, and that’s how love for him and his memory are preserved.
—Do you specifically talk about or tell them, “Papa was like this, Papa did that?”
—He is so present, as if he’s alive, that we don’t have to have any conversations. He’s here, and that’s it. He arranges our life, and I can see how he’s arranging life now for our oldest daughter. She entered Sechenov2 this year, obviously not without the prayerful help of her father.
—After Fr. Daniel’s death, you probably had a lot of surprises waiting for you in relations with people—good and bad…
—In such situations, people can be said to reveal their faces. I don’t want to talk about the bad stuff, but there was everything—slander, and gossip, and malice. Some people turned their backs on us, and that was even people I considered to be close. Even now, after five years, there’s a lot of gossip and slander.
I’d like to take this opportunity to say: Of course, you can’t gag someone else, but we have to remember that spreading gossip is not a Christian thing to do. And when we judge others, we have to remember that we judge from our own very low perspective, but we don’t know and cannot know the reality. I don’t presume to judge anyone or, much less, get offended; I’m an open person, you can always ask me yourself.
But I moreso want to say many warm words about the beautiful people who appeared right after Fr. Daniel’s death, that is, whom the Lord sent. They helped and supported us when we especially needed it.
For example, the Potapovs—Matushka Maria and Fr. Victor. I saw a true Christian ideal in them. There were many completely unknown people who helped us in word and deed. The Lord knows who they are, and, of course, will not leave them unrewarded.
I don’t mean because they personally helped us, but because in helping others, we always receive a reward from the Lord. I have seen it for myself. I always feel wondrous support from above. It’s often simply expressed in the presence of tremendous joy in the soul.
I would like to conclude by saying that I am a happy person because the Lord has given me such an unusual fate and I meet such people who can weep with the weeping and rejoice with the rejoicing.
One day I was standing at the entrance to the church weeping (and the reason for my tears was quite insignificant), and one nun approached me, hugged me, without saying a word, and wept with me. She didn’t ask me anything! I was astonished by the depth of the Christian love in this person. Perhaps that’s a deviation from our theme, but it’s about what the Lord gives me, unworthy, to see and what people to meet.
I just cannot not speak about this unknown nun, it so astonished me then.
I’m glad I can at least sometimes do something useful. And that’s not bragging on my part, it’s thanking God that He has led me this way and not another.
I would like to end with some words about Fr. Daniel, because our topic is primarily about him. It’s amazing, but only just now came the consciousness that it hasn’t been five years without him, but five years with him. I think we’ll always be with him.