Faith leaders call for calm as murdered priest is buried

Religious tensions rise after death of man who converted Muslims to Christianity

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.

Late last Thursday night, after the evening service, an intruder burst into Father Sysoyev's small church, located in a drab Moscow suburb. The killer was wearing a surgical mask, brandishing a pistol, and demanded to know where Sysoyev was. When the priest emerged, he was shot twice, in the head and neck, and later died in hospital.

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. Priests and friends packed into the small church, while hundreds of mourners gathered outside under a grey Moscow sky to watch the service on a big screen.

"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."

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."

According to some estimates, there are up to 20 million Muslims in Russia, and the country has avoided large-scale religious conflict, except in Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus. Even there, corruption and poverty are seen by analysts as bigger threats than radical Islam.

On a visit to Russia last month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travelled to Tatarstan, a majority Muslim region, and praised it as a "model for tolerance and coexistence between Muslims and Christians".

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." While not everyone in the Church agreed with his views or methods, his murder will cause "a period of heightened tension," said Mr Zolotov.

Leading Muslim figures publicly condemned the killing and cautioned people against jumping to conclusions about who was to blame, but they are privately worried about the possibility of revenge attacks.

"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."

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn