On November 19, 2009, priest Daniel Sisoyev was killed. He was a missionary, a preacher, and a talented orator, whose word both spoken and written roused people from their spiritual torpor and led them to Christ. Fr. Daniel’s followers speak different languages, live in various countries, and have varying experience in preaching, but they are all united by one thing—they know that it is their duty to spread to as many people as possible the truth of these words: “there is no salvation outside the Church”.
Aviv Saliu-Diallo (Switzerland): How a total stranger changed my life
Although I considered myself to be among the saved, I had neither zeal for salvation nor real love of neighbor. I had somehow forgotten the Savior’s words (or maybe I just never really thought about them): So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth (Rev. 3:16).
About a half-year later I left Russia. I was living and studying in Switzerland where my family is from. I was living alone—my wife had stayed on in Russia for another year. I missed my beloved Russia and my friends. I was now surrounded by the Swiss, who I no longer understood; I had grown unaccustomed to them, and was more used to the lively Russian people and the unpredictability of Russian daily life. My spiritual father, who I wasn’t even obeying anymore, was back in Petersburg and here I didn’t even have anyone to disobey. I studied hard. I pined for God of course, and went regularly to Liturgy—something I didn’t always do in Russia, prayed and read the Lives of the Saints. I especially loved the Lives of the martyrs and fools-for-Christ. But despite my lukewarmness I still nurtured the hope of coming to God. During rare moments I dreamed of sainthood, about the power of grace that enabled the martyrs to endure torments and death, and the fools-for-Christ to endure mockery and difficulties.
Then, I received a brief note from a friend: “Yesterday in Moscow the well-known priest Daniel Sisoyev was shot right in his church. Perhaps you have heard of him?” He further related this event, and how Fr. Daniel Sisoyev baptized Muslims. He not only Baptized them but also catechized them.
I immediately opened the news sites and saw with horror the church, the police, and the mourning Orthodox people at night in the cold Moscow bedroom community.
Then I turned to the Orthodox internet and gradually learned who this famous priest was, and I tried to understand who would want him dead. I began to acquaint myself with a new term coined by Fr. Daniel: “uranopolitan”—not at all a cosmopolitan, or “citizen of the world”, but an uranopolitan, or citizen of heaven. I listened to his sermons and read the commentary to them. An Islamic threat could be heard. It is true, however, that much later when I read Fr. Daniel’s Live Journal I mostly saw angry commentary from nationalists.
To me it was all very clear: he was a martyr for his faith in Christ. I wanted to find out as much as possible about him; it was all unbelievable that there could be a martyr, a saint in our days! It only would have taken one quiet night in a train from St. Petersburg to Moscow for some negligible 500 rubles and I could have heard the voice of a future martyr, received a blessing from a faithful servant of Christ, and kissed the hand of a saint. But even more importantly I could have learned from him and helped him in his good work. In our days, in our pious Church, a missionary was selflessly laboring. And not at rock concerts or in the Orthodox press, but amongst Muslims, sectarians, and occultists. He was a missionary who was worthy of a martyric death.
A few hours passed and my brother Rashid came to visit. I had to tell him somehow, “Dear brother, your brother Muslims killed our priest…” No. He would not understand. Or should I start off by telling him about hell and eternal torments? “Rashid, we now have hard proof. A martyr for the Christian faith has died, consciously given his life, because he was convinced, he knew that you, Muslims, will go to hell.” Will he understand? He will probably take offense… “You cannot be saved without Christ. So repent, brother, because Mohamed is a false prophet.” Apparently, I am still too full of rage. I have to begin with prayer; I have to find an appropriate moment and appropriate words… I am still looking for them.
Now I have work to do. Missionary work. It was probably a whole week I listened to all of Fr. Daniels’ talks on mission and Islam that were in the internet. His voice is infectious and strong. I listen to them over again regularly, especially when my spirit falls. His expression is always joyful, radiant, and, please excuse the expression, but it is no accident that saints are depicted and described as “similar”—they express that Light which radiates from the Trinity one in essence.
During that week I made the decision: it’s time to act, time to serve God, and not simply pretend to be a Christian. I want to serve God as a missionary and I want to carry out that service according to the image that the priest Fr. Daniel who was slain for Christ left us. I tried to take my first steps, but nothing turned out right. I made contact with Fr. Daniel’s students and co-workers, who sent me a detailed answer to my letter, gave me wise instruction, and most importantly, moral support. I want to take this opportunity to thank them. They are true continuers of Fr. Daniel’s work, and he is a continuer of the plan of the Holy Trinity, for “the Church’s mission is a continuation of Christ’s mission. Christ is the First Apostle,” as it says in the documents of our Church.
That is how I began… I continued to go out on street mission for over a year, but not with such “pearls” as the first time, because I received advice from those who do street mission in Moscow. My experience allowed me to understand that one method might bring good results in some situations, but not in others. The Moscow missionaries continually testified about how people responded during street mission and what interesting conversations arise. In Geneva, no one was interested. Here in Switzerland, even the Mormons and other sectarians have given up street mission long ago. They probably decided that it’s a hopeless cause with these people.
But I did not want to give up and was always looking for other forms of missionary work. I had and still have a sister in the faith, Lydia. At home, they call her in by her African name, Neyat. She came to Switzerland as a refugee when she was twelve. On Sunday after Liturgy she would go with me to a café and listen to me retell Fr. Daniel’s sermons. They immediately went to her heart. “Here we are in Switzerland and we are silent, although we know perfectly well that Orthodoxy is the true religion. Why are we silent?” she would say. We started working on translations of Orthodox literature, and Lydia, who is absolutely fluent in French, gave me a lot of help in editing my translations. One time she came with me on street mission, and later had a good laugh at how the people reacted to me. But even though my preaching did not convert other people, it was of no little benefit to me. It is not easy to get up the resolve to go and do such a thing, you really don’t want to take the risk; but when you overcome yourself for the sake of fulfilling Christ’s commandment, something changes within you and you become closer to God. It is only that street mission turned out not to be precisely what we need to start with here; our bishop also confirmed this to me later.
Besides Lydia, another co-worker came to help me—eighty-seven-year-old grandpa Charles (his Orthodox name is Joseph). Charles taught himself to read and write Russian independently. Forty years ago he walked into a Russian Orthodox Church and said, “This is the paradise that my grandmother used to talk about”, and after some time he became Orthodox, converting from Catholicism. Charles offered to help me with a translation of Fr. Daniel’s Serbian Conversations into French. This work helped him to bear his grief over his wife’s recent repose.
We would sometimes argue over words in this book. “How can one talk like that? It’s not polite,” he would say is disbelief. “One can and should,” I would protest. He would say, “How could we give such sermons here, in Geneva? People will either not listen, or they will take offense!” I thought to myself, “Let them even kill us,” but I said that any thoughts can be adapted to a particular audience.
He helped me, and he liked it; so afterwards we worked together on a translation into French of the book, 300 Sayings of Ascetics of the Orthodox Church. I thank Joseph with all my heart—he is a truly believing man, a faithful servant of the Lord. We managed to find money to publish the French translation of 300 Sayings. While Serbian Conversations are more oriented toward the Orthodox reader, this book could be interesting to the heterodox; it could help them to get a taste of patristic wisdom. Now I have begun a translation of the sayings of the Optina Elders. We have also begun little by little to look for financial help for aid to the Orthodox mission in Africa. So far we have helped cover some essential needs of the parish in the Ivory Coast. Now we are studying the possibility of organizing Orthodox catechetical talks in Geneva. The lack of such talks is really felt.
I have understood that for a successful mission it is important that you yourself represent what you are preaching. I am trying to work on myself in this respect.
Perhaps what I have written has not turned out to be quite what I thought it would. I wanted to write about how Fr. Daniel’s martyric death changed my fate, and about how, thanks to his preaching, which cost him his life on earth and which reached me and others also only after his death, I became a sincere Christian. About how I stopped being indifferent to my salvation and the salvation of those around me. I wanted to relate how, thanks to this fervent preaching, I began to read the whole Bible and not just small portions of the Gospels—according to Fr. Daniel’s advice I began a daily rule of reading God’s word. I felt the need to have a church wedding and not just settle for a piece of paper from the secular registration office, because Fr. Daniel revealed to me the meaning of this and other Sacraments. It was Fr. Daniel who instilled in me the thought of needing to regularly partake of Communion. And his example inspired me toward the path of missionary work.
Fr. Daniel called all to the path. I responded in word and deed, but not in spirit. Therefore, despite the directive to bring my faith to a higher level, I a sinner have not yet succeeded in beginning missionary work in my country. Therefore, I ask everyone’s prayers for me, sinful slave of God Aviv, so that through the prayers of the Mother God, the martyrs of Christ, the apostles and all the saints, I would labor unhypocritically in a life according to Christ’s commandments.
Stanoe Stankovic (Serbia): I have never before met such a man
From the first moment of my conversation with him and up to its conclusion I was amazed. I had never before met such a man—so joyful, and with such powerful words. Although there were only three of us in the room, he spoke as if before an entire stadium. He completely changed my views on mission. I understood that Orthodox missionary work is not a hobby, but the fulfillment of Christ’s commandment; that it is the business of each and every one of us, and not of just a few enthusiasts.
I remember that when I returned home, his words resounded in my head: “The assertion that Christ is not the only way to God is the path to antichrist. The assertion that there is salvation outside the Church is the path to antichrist.” I thought, “I have had the good fortune to meet a man who speaks and believes just as did the holy fathers; a man like St. John Chrysostom, Abba Justin (Popovich), and St. Ignatius Brianchaninov.”
In our conversation, Fr. Daniel Sisoyev proposed we organize a section on our site dedicated to mission. The priest-editors of the site approved of this idea. There was only one thing that remained unclear: what to call this section. The answer came a few days later. When on November 20 I read the news that Fr. Daniel had been shot, at first I was sad, but then I understood that he is a martyr! I wrote to the editor of the site and said that I know now what to call the missionary blog, and to whom it should be dedicated.
I can say that only after Fr. Daniel’s death did I get to know him through his books, sermons, and lectures. What amazed me about him was his total lack of man-pleasing, but at the same time, his great love for people. He had no fear that people would reject him for saying something that might be unpleasant to them. I was amazed at his desire for God, his clear thinking, his great strength of spirit, but also his good natured humor that made it easier to accept what he said. I was amazed also at his thought that in missionary work we are co-laborers with God Who Alone converts people.
I began to participate very directly in the creation of the “Fr. Daniel Sisoyev Orthodox missionary center”. At first our activities were limited to the translation of missionary materials for the blog, but with time other interests came out.
We organized the translation and publication of the books by St. Nicholai (Velimirovich), The Faith of Educated people (an explanation of the Nicene Creed) into Urdu and Indonesian, the catechism of St. Nicholai into Mongolian, the Horologian with selected psalms into Zulu for the Orthodox mission in South Africa, and the book This Was From Me by St. Seraphim of Vyritsa into the Kikiu language of Kenya. This book was also translated into Turkish. For the Christians of India there was a translation made into English of St. Nicholai’s Indian Letters. We printed icons of the Savior and the Mother of God with inscriptions in Spanish for the mission in Chili. We collected and sent several thousand baptismal crosses and icons to Orthodox missions in Pakistan, Tanzania, and Chili. A project is also being prepared to work with missionaries in Guatemala. All the center’s activities depend upon donations.
We are now introducing an initiative called, “100 from 500”, which aims at finding 500 Orthodox Christians in Serbia who will agree to give 100 dinaras for missionary work. In this way we would collect the sum needed every month to help Orthodox missions in various parts of the world. There is in an economic crisis in our country right now, and people are truly experiencing a lack of money. But 100 dinaras is the cost of a cup of coffee. It is a sum that even people of the most modest means can donate without any feeling personal hardship.
The center is also doing some work within our own country. Part of this involves the publication into Serbian of five of Fr. Daniel’s booklets; and what was very dear to me—His Holiness Patriarch Irenei gave his blessing for their publication. I am very glad that our first hierarch has shown by this that he accepts and values Fr. Daniel. We also translated, published, and regularly distribute the leaflet, “The Eternal God Calls Us to Himself”, prepared by Fr. Daniel.
All of the above is a direct result of Fr. Daniel’s visit to Serbia to talk about mission. I am firmly convinced that Fr. Daniel continues even now to have a decisive influence on the activity of our missionary center. After all, earlier I could not even for a minute have imagined that in some two and a half years our center would be conducting projects to support missions in ten countries of Asia, Africa, and South America, and that it would be actively publishing books in Serbia itself. This is especially if you consider that I knew almost nothing about missionary work when I became the director of the center. You can feel the hand of God and the prayers of Fr. Daniel when you see how suddenly after the completion of one project it is immediately revealed where more help is needed, and then the means to do it appear. Also, when some obstacles arise in this work, everything resolves itself, and I likewise see Fr. Daniel’s support in this.
It could be said in all sincerity that thanks to the prayers of Fr. Daniel, a missionary spirit is being aroused in the Serbian Church. People come to help; they write kind words of support, and give donations that are not small considering our economic conditions. It is astounding to see how people even give away what they themselves need in order to support the missions. Fr. Daniel did all this.
Fr. Daniel’s missionary books are very much read by us in Serbia. In greatest demand was the brochure, “Why Should We Go to Church Every Sunday?” Also of great interest is the book about Islam and the brochure, “Should You Marry an Unbeliever?” People have told me that “Instructions for Immortals” awakened them from their spiritual sleep and inspired them.
All this influenced my own personal spiritual life. The holy hieromartyr Daniel taught me that I must not be ashamed of the truth. Even before my meeting with him I knew that the Church is the only place of salvation, that outside of the Church there is death all around, but I never spoke about it out loud. I was afraid of the reaction that might come from my family and friends, priests and bishops who are not in agreement with this Christian truth. He taught me that it is only important what Christ thinks of you, and not other people.
Fr. Daniel showed me an example of complete trust in God and pleasing God, not people. He showed me what those virtues are that I lack. I read and saw with amazement with what fiery zeal, love, and fearlessness he preached among the people from whom he received a martyr’s crown. I was also amazed at his widow’s story about when she asked him what his family would do if they should kill him. He answered that he would commit them to the protection of the Mother of God. I don’t know if I will ever have such trust in God.
My relationship with God after the first years of life in the Church had begun to grow cold. I became an “experienced Christian”, dropped my prayer rule, and “used discernment” to decide whether or not I would keep the Wednesday and Friday fasts. Just two hours of conversation with Fr. Daniel shook me. In him I saw that Christian life is an unending labor, that we cannot stop along our path to God, and that God loves the zealous.
I was convinced of the truth of his words, that in helping Orthodox missions you first of all help your own self. Over the past few years, I have experienced not a few shocks in life: my father’s death, my mother’s several serious operations, health problems of my wife and children, and problems with my own health. I can say that it was my missionary work that gave me the strength to endure all this.
Just as Fr. Daniel has said: “When you want to anoint someone with oil, your own hand gets anointed first”—that is, mission to a huge extent helps the spiritual life of the person who does it; it gives strength to struggle with passions and to not stop on the path to God. Mission brings you closer to God and allows you to say, We have seen remarkable things today (Lk. 5:26). I have been able to see for myself the truth of Fr. Daniel’s words: “If you want to see miracles, become a missionary.”
In conclusion I would like to say that the Lord has abundantly blessed and consoled me by giving me the opportunity to know a saint. This is one of the highest gifts given to my spiritual life.
Oana Iftime (Romania): Father Daniel entered our life to stay
There was an article about his murder in the Romanian periodical, Word of Faith. What first caught my eye was his photograph because of its likeness to my own husband, who is also part Tartar. Then I learned of his martyrdom. This photo is still on my desk at the university, cut out of the magazine and placed in a frame so that it would always be before my eyes, next to other icons. On these icons are saints from various places and epochs, and when I look at them I feel warmth in my heart, peace, and strength—especially important during long hours of work on articles against materialism, “new age”, and other manifestations that our souls are suffering from these days.
I look at Fr. Daniel, he smiles in the photo, and I can go on…
We also have a painted icon of Fr. Daniel over the door where we keep the icons of our favorite saints, who we ask for help and intercession every time we step over the threshold of our house. This icon was given to us by a close friend—a priest with a true missionary spirit, who loves Fr. Daniel very much and knows that we also love the hieromartyr.
Many prayers have been made before this icon, and it was sprinkled with holy water just as all the other icons in any home. Every Friday I light a candle before it and sing the troparion to a hieromartyr. Every year on the anniversary of his death, we place flowers before it.
Soon after reading the article in Word of Faith, I found a book that includes two talks by Fr. Daniel given in Serbia along with Yuri (now Deacon Georgiy) Maximov. It was published in Romania in 2010.
My husband always keeps this book by the head of the bed because he loves to re-read it. This is the only spiritual book that has been granted this status by him. This is not only because of my husband’s love for Fr. Daniel, but also because of the quality and content of the book itself. We especially consider that this is a real gift from Fr. Daniel, in which he set forth the very essence of things. This book [in fact it is a brochure] of no more than a few pages contains answers to the most serious problems now facing the Church: the lack of a missionary spirit, materialism, ecumenism, acceptance of certain neo-Protestant influences such as the “struggle” against the “number of the beast”, the mistaken understanding of the autonomy of the Local [Orthodox] Churches that leads to increased nationalistic tendencies and a loss of acknowledgment of the catholicity, that is, the universality of Orthodoxy.
So, we brought many copies of this book and began to pass them out to our friends. Just two days ago I gave a copy of the Serbian Talks of Sisoyev and Maksimov to my friend, and she began to be interested in the faith. I decided to give her that book and a book about St. Nectarios of Aegina. I believe that they will reveal to her the boundless beauty of Orthodoxy.
Fr. Daniel has helped us in many things connected with spiritual life. I will relate here only one fact. When we had to unite to the Church a man who several years ago practiced shamanism, we found on Fr. Daniel’s website a “rite of renunciation of occultism”. After translating it we gave this remarkable text to the priest, who was able to use this rite when receiving that man.
Our friends, and our beginnings
We have a small group of like-minded friends who always greet each other on November 19 with the commemoration day of Fr. Daniel…
They love him very much—especially Matei, the priest who gave us the icon. He always cites the hieromartyr during disputes with various people who uphold the positions that Fr. Daniel talks about in Serbian Conversations (ecumenists, nationalists, fighters against the “number”, etc.). He also cites Fr. Daniels’ example when he talks about Orthodox mission as a member of the Orthodox Missionary Center in Berea (Greece). Just recently he gave a public lecture about Fr. Daniel at the Bucharest book fair. Conversation ensued about missionary work, and of course Fr. Matei used this opportunity to confirm the teaching that only the Orthodox Church is the place of salvation, as Fr. Daniel often reminded us. He is a missionary who is now in heaven.
I also want to note that we have an idea of opening a school. Of course, there are no doubts about the choice of its patron: it will be named after Fr. Daniel Sisoyev. Of course, we are still far from making the idea a reality, but if it pleases God it will come to be.
I have already mentioned the article and the book published in 2010, soon after Fr. Daniel’s death. It could be said that the hieromartyr was quickly recognized by people here.
Nevertheless, not very many Romanian sites write about him. Or maybe there really are many? What could we consider a sufficient degree of attention from our nation, which at one time remembered that those who chase after worldly prosperity and try to become “the richest ones in the graveyard” are not very smart, but which now spends most of its time in earthly cares of this world? I do not know, although I am a part of this nation.
Having thought about it, I can say that when it comes right down to it there are many sites writing about Fr. Daniel. We modern-day Romanians as a rule have more love for the great wonder-working saints who help us in work and matters of health. Just the same, we publish Fr. Daniel’s teaching on our sites; his sermons against getting caught up in earthly things, about the importance of salvation, about our duty to spread the Gospel in those parts of the world where we, the Orthodox people of Eastern Europe, have gone in search of treasures. There are also sites that every year remember his exalted sacrifice on the day he was murdered.
I am convinced that we Romanians honor the teachings and martyric death of Fr. Daniel, despite the many and significant prejudices existing among us, and the very fact of this veneration is impressive and amazing. I think that this speaks a great deal about the power and example of Fr. Daniel. In 2010, he entered our life to stay.
Several days ago, we organized a collection of signatures on a petition for the official canonization of Fr. Daniel as a hieromartyr. After we have gathered signatures we will send it to the Russian Orthodox Church. This initiative is not a form of pressure, we are not making demands, we simply want to show that Fr. Daniel is venerated by Orthodox people and that the significance of his martyric feat and spiritual inheritance is important not only for Russia but for Orthodox Christians of other countries as well. And even though just a few days have passed since the moment we began collecting signatures, and few people know about him, we already have forty people on the Romanian version and 235 on the international version, including two bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church and one of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This petition is simply an opportunity for us to show our gratitude and love for Fr. Daniel.