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Faith leaders call for calm as murdered priest is buried
This is from the Independent, Interfax and Moscow News.
A murdered Russian Orthodox priest was laid to rest in Moscow yesterday, amid fears of rising religious tensions between Christians and Muslims in the country. Father Daniil Sysoyev was shot dead inside his own church last week, in a killing that many suspect was by Islamic radicals.
Father Sysoyev was a controversial figure, even within the Orthodox Church. He was an active missionary, attempting to convert Muslims to Orthodoxy, and authored a number of books, including one warning Russian women against marrying Muslim men. He also posted a series of online sermons on YouTube dissecting the Islamic faith and making several incendiary claims about the religion.
A lengthy funeral service was held for Father Sysoyev yesterday at a church in southern Moscow, presided over by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
"To kill a man of God inside his own church is absolutely disgusting," said Natalia, an elderly mourner who said she had not known the priest personally but respected his views. "If it was the Muslims, there will be hell to pay. Russia is a Christian country and they shouldn't forget that."
In contravention of an unspoken agreement among the major Russian religions not to seek converts among each other's flocks, Father Sysoyev was an active missionary, seeking to proselytise Muslims in the Russian capital. He was known to trawl construction sites looking for migrants from the traditionally Muslim countries of Central Asia, chatting to the workers and suggesting that they convert to Christianity. The priest himself spoke of receiving multiple death threats for his views on Islam.
"You're going to laugh, but the Muslims have again threatened to kill me – the threat was by telephone this time," wrote the priest on his personal blog in early October. "It's already the 14th time. Before it scared me, but I'm already used to it now."
And that was backed up by a report in Komsomolskaya Pravda claiming that Sysoyev had told reporters he had faced 14 death threats - largely linked to his missionary work in Muslim areas and his efforts to help people trying to leave religious sects.
"They've threatened to cut my head off 14 times," the paper quoted the priest as saying. "The FSB got in touch a year ago to say they had uncovered a murder plot against me."
Sysoyev also told the paper that in the past year, his church had "christened 80 Muslims, among them Tatars, Uzbeks, Chechens and Dagestanis" and that many Orthodox priests feared "revenge" for missionary work among Muslims.
In addition to his missionary work, Father Sysoyev's also held uncompromising and widely publicised views about the Islamic faith. "Islam is an attempt to create a new world order based on the authority of God," said the priest, cloaked in black Orthodox robes, in one of his online videos. "In this sense, it's less like the Orthodox Church or any other kind of church, and more like projects such as National Socialism or the Communist Party."
But the murder of Father Sysoyev threatens to bring underlying tensions to the fore. He is now seen by Orthodox Christians as a modern-day martyr, said Andrei Zolotov, an expert on the Russian Orthodox Church. "This is a very clear case of martyrdom. He was a saint living among us."
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia called on believers to think about the missionary outreach of every person.
"Father Daniil did a lot to promote God's truth. He took part in various disputes and defended that truth the best he could. His strongest message is the one we are witnessing now,""If a person is killed for disseminating God's truth, this truth strikes on people who reject it with a great force," he said. The death of this cleric should make all believers think about "the importance to serve God's cause and deliver every word to the heart and mind of listeners, He was loyal [to Lord] until his death, and we will always cherish the memory of the murdered servant of God, Priest Daniil,"
"He was an odious figure, who openly insulted Islam, the Koran, and our prophet," said a high-profile Muslim intellectual who did not want to be named, because of the sensitivity of the situation. Whether or not the murder was perpetrated by Islamic radicals, he said, there is now every chance of a backlash.
"I wouldn't be at all surprised if we see revenge attacks," he said. "The fact that the Patriarch himself led the funeral service is a sign from the authorities that these views are acceptable, and it's very ominous."