2009, on November 19, in the church of the Holy Apostle Thomas, north of Moscow, Priest Daniel Sysoev was killed. Below are Seraphim Maamdi’s memories of Father Daniel.
My acquaintance with Fr. Daniel was God’s mercy toward me.
When I watched his disputes with the Muslims and heard his sermons, there arose in me a great desire to get to know him. At that time I was unaware that he had a missionary school. Then I became acquainted with a student-missionary of his, who also spoke with Father about me. Fr. Daniel gladly agreed to make my acquaintance.
When I met him I was impressed by his burning faith and the brave spirit which he was able to share with those around him. I was also amazed by his knowledge of the fundamentals of the faith and his wondrous exgetical gift, by his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and the interpretations of the Holy Fathers — all of this made an impression on me and inspired me to go by the same path.
Of course, I was also impressed by his love for the Lord, his zeal for His service. He very much loved to preach about Christ; and I can say for myself that the greatest commandment that I received from my preceptor is this: “The purpose of a missionary is to make the whole world love Christ.”
I remember that Father said to me, “Seraphim! There is a large Kurdish population in Saratov. Vladyka blessed us to go there. So — will you go?” I hedge a little and aid that I still wasn’t ready, that I was a bit intimidated. Of course, I was still not very knowledgeable about of luminous faith. At that time I truly wasn’t ready yet, but after his martyric end, my brother and I, with the blessing of Bishop Longin, made the first missionary journey to Saratov.
He called me to bravery and said many things that I will remember for my entire life, especially this: “If a man sets out on the path of missionary, there is no way back. The Lord will demand of such people the talent that they received and buried.” And this: “Prayer is the most important thing in the missionary life: unceasing prayer is first, last and central. It is an essential part of the life of the missionary. The study of the Holy Scriptures is one of three chief activities of the missionary. And, as you understand, all of this is in the liturgy. Therefore, the more you go to services, the more success awaits you in your mission.” And also: “We preach the Gospel for the sake of God, before Him, and for the salvation of people.”
I told him that our people are simply fed up with religious lies, that they are going to the torments of hell without murmuring. He strove by all means to help us in missionary work among the Kurds. First of all he gave us books of the New Testament in the Kurdish language. (By the way, I learned to read in Kurdish from that very book which Fr.Daniel gave me.) He told us to assemble the Kurds in order to read passages to them. He also applied his abilities to the task of translation. Such concern amazed and inspired me. I remember once we were discussing the possibility of a missionary journey to the Iraqi Kurds (who are in a center of Yazidism), so that there also the preaching of Christ might conquer the local Kurdish population. I said that I knew our laguage only poorly, and that moreover there is a different dialect there (Sorani), and that I was sure to receive a martyr’s crown there, since the radicalism of the Iraqis is known to the whole world.
Fr. Daniel told me to fear nothing, that the Muslims had threatened him personally fourteen times, saying that they would behead him — but should we hold back out of fear? The important thing, he said, is to firmly and bravely bear the Word of God, and to be witnesses of Christ, lest we forget that this is a great honor. (I believe that, by Fr. Daniel’s prayers, the time will come when the Word of God will be preached there.)
He often said spoke of martrydom, as if he knew that the Lord would glorify him in precisely this way. And behold, the Lord made him worthy of a martyr’s crown. The ancient Christians rejoiced in this situation, but we were saddened.
I remember that when I learned of his death I was very grieved and thought, “If only he could have had a few more years.” But later I acknowledged that the will of God is in all things. I humbled myself and glorified God, for now we have an intercessor in heaven, the hieromartyr Daniel, who prays for us and helps us in our missionary endeavors. I would even say that he is continuing his missionary work.
Not long before his death there was a striking event. One one of the Muslim forums, I found a photo of Fr. Daniel. The Muslisms, with the help of photoshop, had given him the clothing of a medieval crusader, and a sword, all against the background of a certain church. This made me laugh quite a bit, and I decided to show Fr. Daniel. We were very amused and Fr Daniel asked me to put it in a frame, so that I could remember him by it.
After his martyric end, when I was burdened with deep sorrow, remembering him, I looked at the photo from my personal archive. When I saw the photo, I was simply stunned. I became apparent that the church in front of which he was standing in the photograph was the same Church of the Apostles Peter and Paul in Yasenevo, where his funeral was held!
After his death, many people became interested in his labors, and gradually they came to Christ. I personally know many people who came to the Church through his books.
I remember when his honorable body was in the Church, a great number of people came to bid farewell to him, and many of them had a feeling as if a great holy thing had been brought. Peope with their children piously venerated the honorable relics of the saint. It was amazing, but that was how God disposed the people. Before long, Orthodox people from Serbia, Greece, the USA and other countries began to venerate Fr. Daniel as a hieromartyr. As the Lord says: “I will glorify them that glorify me.” (I Kings 2:30)
Everyone wondered at his love and fatherly concern. I remember our first missionary journey to Moscow. Father served a moleben, gave counsels and admonitions. We opened a map of Moscow and divided it up by regions. We got a very good education, so that we would be able to preach the Gospel and be ready to give answer about our hope with meekness and piety. (I Pet. 3:15)
Our last meeting was deeply moving. On the day before his martyric end, the lecture was led by Yuri Maksimov, who later became Deacon George. After the lecture we discussed many things, particularly the questions of Ouranopolitism and Nationalism. Father said that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and that a Christian must not be attached to anything earthly. We are on the earth as if in a guest house, but our home is there, where Christ is at the right hand of the Father. His last lecture was about God the Father. He gave this lecture on the day before his death.
Just a few months before his death I asked Fr. Daniel’s blessing to establish two networking groups. One was about himself (in order to publish his lectures and articles), while the other was for doing missionary work among muslims. Amazingly, after his death the groups were filled with people, and many acknowledged that they started coming to the Church by reading hearing his lectures and reading his books.
I received three blessings from Fr. Daniel: for missionary work, for frequent Communion (every Sunday), and just a few days before his death I asked his blessing to write a book.
Yazidism has a very distorted view of Christianity, and Father counseled me to deal with this problem. I believe that he is praying for me and helping me to write apologetic works. I feel his help. It happens that a question arises, and you listen to his lectures and immediately find the answers to your questions.
I am truly thankful to the Lord that he vouchsafed me to study with the Hieromartyr Daniel. I finished his one-year missionary course. If I were now to forsake missionary activity, this would be very base and unjust toward him, since he gave his life for Christ, giving us an example of how serious he was, that he loved not his own life, even unto death (Rev. 12:11). As one of the great missionaries said, missionary work is a truly holy work, equal to that of the apostles. Blessed is the one whom the Lord choses and places in such service (St. Innocent of Moscow).
When he preached to non-Christians and the heterodox, he manifest an exalted love for them. What could be more important than the salvation of a human soul? Because of this love he was made worthy of a martyr’s crown. It is wondrous, but it happened just as the Lord said: “There will come a time when everyone who kills you will think that he is serving God.” (John 16:2)
As His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and All Russia said in his condolences on the death of Fr Daniel, “The Lord has called His faithful servant to himself, having given him the ability to become a confessor of the faith and a martyr of the Gospel.”
And Paul admonishes us: “Remember your preceptors, who preached the word of God to you and, looking to their end, imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)
He opened to the Holy Scriptures to me in the light of the Holy Fathers, made me wise in the faith of Christ, and also taught me to bear the Word of God. Now he is praying for us at the throne of God, so that we might painstakingly bear the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Now is the acceptable time. We must gather all the children of God into unity of faith, for many have forgotten the chief commandment of the Gospel, to preach the Gospel to all creatures. (Mk. 16:15) In the person of the Apostles, the Lord commanded all Christians: “Go forth and teach all nations.” (Matt. 28:19) We must convince all people to come to the Truth, and we must bring them to Him. This is the will of God.
As St. John Chrysostom said: “It is a great virtue to boldly and openly preach Christ and to prefer this to everything else. It is so great and wondrous that the Only-Begotten Son of God confesses such a man before His Father, although this reward is not proportionate. You preach on the earth, and He preaches in the heavens; You before men, and He before His father and all the angels.”