In December 2009, just a month after the brutal slaying of the great missionary Fr. Daniel Sysoev, Moscow radio host Sergei Gerasimov dedicated an episode of his show to the martyr. Among his guests were Fr. Daniel’s brother Vasily, and his co-laborer Archpriest Konstanin Bufeev. Fr. Konstantin is the founder of the Shestodnev (Six Days) Foundation, for which Fr. Daniel served as secretary until he departed to his Creator early in the morning on November 20, 2009.
Sergei Gerasimov: Greetings, dear listeners. Today we have a mournful, somewhat gloomy program, but perhaps, in some sense, joyful. It is dedicated to the memory of the murdered Fr. Daniel Sysoev. We have with us today the head of the Shestodnev Missionary-Educational Center Archpriest Konstantin Bufeev and Fr. Daniel’s brother Vasily. Who should we start with? Probably with Batiushka? Fr. Konstantin, you worked with Fr. Daniel for a long time. He was the executive secretary for this Shestodnev Center. So please, Father, you have the floor.
Fr. Konstantin Bufeev: Indeed, I had very close communications with Fr. Daniel for many years. And interestingly, our communication was never reduced to just small talk, to some frivolous or irrelevant meetings. I can recall dozens of examples when we met for work—at conferences, missionary work, preparing for talks, round tables, interviews. He was the kind of person who didn’t like to waste time. He always remembered the call to bear witness to the word of truth. He tried to do it as best he could. Thirty-five years old—it’s not a time for some sedate wisdom, when someone is ready to just rest on his laurels; when someone can reap the harvest of his many years of labor in some leisurely relaxation.
Fr. Daniel was a very powerful, very lively, very active preacher. This was his main trait. When presenters at some conference had worn the audience out, when everyone was already nodding off and snoring, Fr. Daniel would suddenly take the floor, and everyone would immediately wake up, come back to life; their eyes would light up, and they would start posing questions. He was very quick and active. And this activeness affected everyone around him, in a good way.
Sometimes Fr. Daniel was scolded for not being very careful in his expressions. Indeed, his books and speeches showed that he was as if choking on the information he wanted to get out. His thoughts outpaced his words. He was a bad stylist, but no one can say that his talks, his preaching, his articles were meaningless. Unfortunately, sometimes you’re faced with some homily, a priest, or someone talking about something, but no one understands what the speaker wanted to say. Everyone falls asleep. But Fr. Daniel always had meaning. And this meaning was always clearly expressed with such an evangelical character.
He didn’t care for empty words. If he spoke, it was a clear, dogmatic expression and the concrete application of it in the life of the Church. The peculiarity of his activity, of his lively preaching, was that he thought very dogmatically. I would say that it is, in fact, a rare gift now to speak about the truth. He didn’t like to just tell some random stories, maybe with some dubious content. He always spoke the good news, no matter what he was talking about. But since his preaching was sharp, sometimes he was perceived as almost offensive. Many contrived to take offense, but they were taking offense to the truth.
I had to edit some of his articles in our collections. Really, he was a poor stylist. But his thoughts were often taken up and developed by other people. I was one of these people who had to take his preaching and make some important and significant continuations to bring it to a point where people could perceive it more perfectly, more elegantly, more calmly, and more benevolently.
He was ready to give an account for his hope with meekness and reverence before any audience, as the holy Apostle Peter taught. Unfortunately, there are few people today among modern Christians who are ready to give an account of their hope like this. And even fewer people are ready to bear the word of God and see the meaning and calling in it. Fr. Daniel undoubtedly had a talent, a gift of God, to bear the word of God. If anyone in the Church is a missionary, Fr. Daniel is rightly named among the first. You can compare many other people who are called or who want to be called missionaries. But there’s no comparison, with their scholastic arguments, conversations on some general topic, or sermons that didn’t and never will lead anyone to Christ—doing everything according to some familiar protocol; or, on the contrary, surprising the audience with some aphorisms. Fr. Daniel was very far from all of this, of course.
His preaching was always effective, was always clear, always based on the Sacred Scriptures and the Tradition of the holy fathers. He didn’t like to speak from himself. That’s how I knew him for years. Maybe he was different in his home life—I can’t say. Let his family talk about that, but no matter how many times I met with him, he was always gushing and pouring forth grace out of abundance. From the belly flows rivers of living water. This is about him. He could bear witness to the Gospel to people near and far, known and unknown, in any audience; and his word prompted thought, sometimes it prompted debates, and it renewed people to the acceptance of the good news.
Listener: Good afternoon. I don’t have a question, but a reaction to the lukewarmness of Christians. Its’ very difficult in our country not to be lukewarm. We supposedly have an Orthodox country, but we don’t see this carried out in government. But look at the situation in the Muslim republics—there rulers don’t allow themselves to waffle like that. They clearly observe their religion. Therefore, their people aggressively defend their faith.
Fr. Konstantin: I don’t think this question should be addressed to everyone, to the entire population and the entire Church, but to each person personally. It’s a question of conscious confession, of performing your duty on the spot. The Apostle said: Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called (1 Cor. 7:20). So be a Christian. You can be a worthy, conscientious, fervent confessor in the family, at work, or in any place. Not everyone can be a missionary, bearing the word of God within himself. Not all are apostles, as not all are prophets; not all are teachers—this is from the Scriptures. Fr. Daniel had this gift to bear the word of God in such an apostolic way. He had this gift and he used it. Develop this gift within yourself, and let each one answer for what he didn’t finish, what fruits he didn’t manage to bring forth, after the example of those who brought forth worthy fruits. His maturity, his readiness to depart to the Lord was shown by the fact that the Lord granted him a martyr’s death. Another may dream of entering Heaven his whole life, bypassing the toll houses, bypassing these posthumous temptations. But Fr. Daniel earned it. That’s how we ought to be, each with the authority to which we are called. And we should use this authority like a Christian.
Listener: My name is Valery. I was blessed to meet the New Martyr Fr. Daniel several times. I will tell you that at this moment, the most important thing for Orthodox Christians is to expose this crazy heresy of evolution. I would go to him for advice on how to preach about it better, and in what spirit, so these books [supporting the evolutionary theory] would be removed. I was happy to speak with him personally. He was such an engaging person. Most of all, I was annoyed that he was attacked by those who call themselves Orthodox Christians, even Orthodox priests. He never sinned against Orthodoxy in a single iota. This is what perturbs me the most. I hope that Fr. Daniel now stands before the Lord, and that the Lord will enlighten them, to stop this insanity. I’m sorry that was a bit chaotic. He prays for us; he is a New Martyr for me.
Fr. Konstantin: I’ll answer this question, since this was the main topic we spoke about. Indeed, a keen sense of confession of the truth of Christ compelled Fr. Daniel to seek it everywhere, wherever it was violated. He didn’t speak against people, against religious trends, or against scientific trends, whether within the framework of our society or outside of it. When he saw an unjust reaction, he would try to correct it, to explain the truth to those who were mistaken. It’s clear that evolutionists of all stripes, whether Darwinian, or theistic evolutionists, are people who distort the Orthodox dogmatic teaching. And Fr. Daniel always dealt with this; he was concerned about the fact that people calling themselves Orthodox would so calmly renounce the foundational dogmatic teachings. These were all people confirmed in the faith. And, of course, some harsh words, some discontent, and other things, were sometimes thrown his way because of this. But being on his side meant defending not the personal opinion of Fr. Daniel, or anyone else, but defending the Church teaching, which knows no other attitudes towards this question.
In this aspect, first of all, he always maintained that this question has a dogmatic meaning, that is, it is doctrinally significant; it’s not immaterial. And he taught this in his books (and he wrote a number of books on this topic): Who is Like God? and The Chronicle of the Beginning, and the collection Six Days [Shestodnev] Against Evolution. He was good at naming these questions very clearly.
And I can say for myself, when this tragedy occurred, when he was killed by a villainous hand, as the head of the Shestodnev Missionary Center, I personally received a huge number of calls, emails, and other means of condolences. Who are condolences usually expressed to? Parents, spouses, children, family members. But here, such a great ecclesiastical work suffered with his departure—the defense of Orthodox Church teachings from various dubious and highly erroneous opinions. I got calls from America, Ukraine, Crimea, the Kola Peninsula, Kuban, Moscow, and the Moscow region, and various other places. People of various backgrounds called me: scientists, Christians, missionaries, saying: “Batiushka, please accept my condolences for your loss. It’s a loss for you, it’s a loss for the Church.” This is its own kind of ministry, not connected with the Islam or any other topics like that. It’s an internal Church mission—a confirmation of truth within the Orthodox Church for those who are lukewarm, or those who, paying little attention to the dogmatic significance of the topic, manage to belittle it.
He didn’t just love the Sacred Scriptures, the Gospel, the word of God, which he well knew. He also loved the Divine services. And his knowledge of the topic and the way he celebrated the services in full spoke to the hearts of the people. This is a rare quality now. There are few clergy now who, firstly, are interested in the Church typikon, who know it, and secondly, who can endure it and live by it and feed upon it. It is the services that should fill any Orthodox Christian, with this communion with the saints, this communion with God. Fr. Daniel was a very worthy, a rare example here. We often spoke about the typikon. His opinion was very important for me when I had very precise, subtle questions. We spoke about the finer points, about some particularities that adorn the feasts; the individual elements of the services. He was a very gracious conversationalist.
Of course, the Church should not descend to an earthly level, but should raise up man—sinful, unenlightened, unskilled, not knowing the spirit—to the level of the fullness of spirituality. And, of course, we have to baptize people and give them the opportunity to take root in the Church. Fr. Daniel set a very good and praiseworthy example of this.
Sergei Gerasimov: We have just a few minutes left. What else can we say? I think he was saved, without a doubt. That was my first thought when I heard about his death. And it’s quite possible that he will be glorified among the saints. This is my opinion. Of course, people can have different opinions about him; I understand that. But, as they say, you perceive reality in fragments. We can’t see the whole picture. That is God’s prerogative alone. And whatever reactions Fr. Daniel provoked, whether within Orthodoxy, or even moreso, outside of it—we know they were quite varied. Being a lively person, he couldn’t have provoked any other reaction. We see that the Lord received him this way. I think it’s a witness, maybe even a sign for the beginning of the twenty-first century, at least.
Fr. Konstantin: That is indisputable. He died as a priest. He died in his church; right there in the altar. It was his truth about Christ, which irritated people, which caused indignation and led to such crazy deeds, that caused his death. And how does the Church handle these things? To glorify a monastic or a holy hierarch, it was always necessary to examine their life, their miracles both during life and after death, and so on. But a martyric death speaks for itself. There were many sinners in life (there are many examples in the lives of the saints) who cleansed their sins by the confession they offered to Christ. The fact that Fr. Daniel died, took these bullets with dignity, as a priest, of course cannot but cause awe and the deepest respect in those who contemplate it.
I would like to share my impressions of his funeral. There was a whole host of priests—more than 200. I was only able to read one thing there—the ikos in the sixth ode of the canon. I carried his coffin. And I saw that there were all kinds of people; priests of all ages, of various habits and tastes, so to speak, who were united in this. That is, he managed to unite all of Moscow; the entire Church. We were able to offer him a worthy tribute as a brother and concelebrant.