An Appeal for Joint Orthodox-Protestant Efforts
Russian Baptists respond to the violent death of an Orthodox priest
M o s c o w -- In a letter addressed to Kirill, Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, on the day after the assassination of a priest, Yuri Sipko, President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB), appealed for joint efforts and prayer to “break the negative tendencies cropping up recently in our society”. Daniel Sysoyev, a 35-year-old husband and father of three daughters, had been shot close-range by an assassin shortly before midnight in the yard of his Moscow church on 19 November. His choir director was seriously wounded.
“What is becoming of our society,” added Vitaly Vlasenko the RUECB’s Director of External Relations, in a conversation on the incident, “if even our priests are no longer safe on their own church property! Our church leaders must meet and discuss how best to confront the present danger.”
In a further statement on the killing, Ruvim Voloshin, the RUECB’s Missions Director, called for joint Orthodox-Protestant efforts in combating recent government initiatives to throttle mission. “In the corridors of Russian power, new legislation on missionary activity is being prepared. How absurd! We pressure those who are not like us and persecute those who bless us.” Voloshin cited Tertullian, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”, and compared Sysoyev’s death to the slaying of the beloved and tolerant priest Alexander Men in September 1990. Voloshin’s letter closes with the assurance: “We shall meet again at the feet of the Saviour.”
Vlasenko described the Baptist response in these two letters as an expression of profound grief. Sysoyev was known as an Orthodox fundamentalist who frequently spoke out against “sectarians” such as 7th-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Vlasenko assured: “Father Sysoyev had every right to his opinion. He had every right to criticise us or the Mormons. That can never justify his slaying! Our statements on his behalf should be understood as strong support for the right to freedom of belief.”
Despite expressions of sincere grief from the Patriarch, Sysoyev had not been an easy subject for the Orthodox hierarchy either, for he operated beyond the boundaries of “political correctness”. He was active as a missionary among Muslim, Central Asian “guest workers” in Moscow and claimed to have baptised 80 of them. He described the Muslim world on occasion as the “green plague” and wrote a book condemning marriage between Christians and Muslims. He reported to having received 14 anonymous death threats - Islamic nationalists were most likely responsible for his killing.
Muslim and Russian Orthodox hierarchies have traditionally divided up the populations of the Central Asian republics among themselves and tacitly agreed not to missionize each other’s “sheep”. Sysoyev’s lack of “correctness” finds sympathy in Baptist circles, for the evangelistic efforts of both Orthodox and Protestants stand in opposition to the traditional understanding of canonical “turfs” as propagated by the Orthodox heirarchy. Orthodox and Protestant evangelisation among the religious also run counter to the Russian Justice Department’s planned anti-mission legislation.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 28 November 2009
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. Release #09-37, 486 words, 3.157 keystrokes and spaces.