Fr. Daniel Sysoev was the oldest child of a Russian father, Priest Alexei Nikolaevich, and a Tatar Mother, Anna Midhkatovna. Two remarkable incidents from his childhood attest to his unmistakable calling by God. When Daniel was born in 1974, his parents were not yet baptized. He was baptized together with them in 1979, when Daniel was five years old. During the service, as they were being led around the baptismal font, he saw an angel in the appearance of a man in fiery garments, standing beside the font. He asked his parents if they saw him, but they did not. He spoke of this many times later in his life.
Fr. Daniel’s call to the priesthood also took place during his childhood. Unlike many others of his generation, he was not a rebellious adolescent. He was on fire with love for God from an early age, and maintained this ardent faith unremittingly until his death.
Fr. Daniel was ordained to the priesthood in 2001 by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, who called him the first priest ordained in the Russian Orthodox Church in the third millennium. He was then assigned to the Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Moscow, where his father also served. In 2003 he established a new parish in the Kantemirov area of Moscow, an area that included residents of various religious persuasions, but, until recently, almost no Orthodox believers. With the blessing of Patriarch Alexy II, he began to organize the construction of a church, to be dedicated to his patron saint, the Holy Prophet Daniel. In 2006 a temporary wooden church was built, and was dedicated to the Apostle Thomas. It was in this church that Fr. Daniel met his martyric end.
Fr. Daniel was a gifted preacher and gave inspired sermons, not only at the Divine Liturgy, but at every Church service. His soul was aflame with the desire to feed Christ’s sheep and to bring lost and searching souls into Christ’s Body, the Orthodox Church. His sense of urgency in this holy work caused him to constantly seek new ways to help his fellow man find the Truth and grow on the path toward union with God. His approach was direct, bold and fearless, and was informed by his burning love for God and neighbor. This title of one of the many missionary books he authored, Why Aren’t You Baptized Yet? is indicative of the way he conducted his evangelical work.
Fr. Daniel began his missionary work in 1996, when he was still a deacon, with the institution of weekly, Thursday-night Bible talks. He gave chapter-by-chapter explanations of the Old and New Testaments, with commentaries taken from the holy fathers. The Bible talks were directed at the enlightenment of non-Orthodox seekers, as well as at helping Orthodox who had been influenced by sectarians and occultists.
At the St. Thomas Church, Fr. Daniel developed a course, consisting of twelve three-hour classes, for Orthodox “street missionaries”, who were to go out and discuss the Faith with people in public places. Among those who benefited from his activities in this regard were atheists, Muslims, various types of Protestants, and even satanists and skinheads.
Also in the 1990s, Fr. Daniel began to work at the St. John of Kronstadt Rehabilitation Center in Moscow, in order to help people recover from the mind-control methods of pseudo-religious cults.
Fr. Daniel loved the Divine services of the Church and the beauty and logic of their structure. He did not countenance liturgical liberalism. There are those within the Church who believe that for the sake of missionary work the Church needs to accommodate itself to the world. Fr. Daniel, on the contrary, took a maximalist stance, with regard to both the Church services and to the work of evangelization. This he believed to be the true missionary approach.
Father Daniel’s missionary work, while directed to all members of society, found its fullest expression in his approach to the conversion of Muslims. In 2007 he went on a missionary trip to Muslim-dominated Republic of Tatarstan. In the summer of 2008 he led a missionary group to Kyrgyzstan, and in 2009 another trip was made to Zainsk, one of the regional centers of Tatarstan.
His missionary work to Muslims in Moscow involved visiting Muslim festivals, and writing and disseminating missionary pamphlets, some of which were translated into the languages of the predominantly Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. In 2005 and 2006, Fr. Daniel had a series of public debates with a former Orthodox priest who had converted to Islam. Many Muslims have become Orthodox Christians thanks to Fr. Daniel’s efforts. He personally baptized eighty former Muslims into the Orthodox Faith.
But Fr. Daniel’s effective missionary work and publicly disseminated critiques of Islam and other teachings contrary to Orthodox Christianity began to create enemies. By the time of his death in November 2009, he had received fourteen death threats.
On November 19, at 10:40 p.m., a man wearing a surgical mask entered the St. Thomas Church and demanded to see “Sysoev”. The murderer was a Muslim who, according to a statement from a North Caucasus Islamist extremist group, had given a vow to “execute the damned Sysoev”. The man shot the choir director, who later recovered, and then Fr. Daniel, who reposed on the operating table the next day.
Fr. Daniel was laid to rest behind the altar of the Church of the Icon of the Savior Not-Made-By-Hands in the Kunstevo cemetery in Moscow. His legacy continues, and many non-Orthodox continue to find the True Faith through is writings and recorded lectures.
From “The Blood of the Martyrs Is the Seed of the Church”, The Orthodox Word, No. 268, 2009.