The Final Interview with Father Daniel Sysoyev: Hasten to Heaven!

The following short interview (if one question comprises an interview I will not argue with as that is how it is stated in the original) is from the November issue of “Neskuchnyi Sad,” a popular mission- and social-oriented Orthodox magazine. Source.

Citizens of heaven were what the Christians of the pagan Roman Empire called themselves when the Church was persecuted by patriots of Rome. Today in Russia patriotism still is often opposed to Christianity, although the Church and the State are not fighting one another. Father Daniel Sysoyev of the Church of St. Thomas in Moscow reflects on the situations in which patriotism contradicts Christianity and those in which it supplements it.

Where is a Christian’s homeland, the cares of which his heart must be overflowing with? Where is the place that Orthodox can call home? In recent years, I have heard a lot of discourse on this subject. As a homeland we have been offered Russia, the Soviet Union, and America, the “the land of liberty.” In the name of the people or the state, we are offered to consent to a crime or dedicate our life to the service of the fatherland, the nation. It is suggested that we consider the well being of that land where we were fated to be born or where our ancestors were born to be the greatest value, and we are reproached with the question of why the Church “does not fight for the rights of the people,” or, on the other hand, they write that “the Church always served Russia” (from the banner of a suburban Moscow church). Instead of all of this I suggest to return to words of Scripture which have been forgotten by many, “…here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Our only and eternal Homeland is heaven. Our Father lives there, our fellow citizens, the saints, are there, the Church will find there eternal peace after a long war with the devil.

We are not nationalists for in Christ and in His Church there are no nations. As Russians and Tartars and Jews and Americans we have become one new people of the Covenant. We pray and worry so as to lead as many people as possible into the Celestial Home. We are not patriots of the earth, for we remember the words of St. Gregory the Theologian. “And these earthly countries and families are the playthings of this our temporary life and scene.  For our country is whatever each may have first occupied, either as tyrant, or in misfortune; and in this we are all alike strangers and pilgrims, however much we may play with names” (Oration 33). We are striving for the New Jerusalem and only with its interests in mind do we bring our actions into correlation.

Uranopolitans are members of the Body of Christ, which exceeds kinship of language and unity according to citizenship by state, and that is why the interests of the Universal Church are more important for us than any remaining interests. Only the one who has become a true citizen of heaven is capable of true freedom, about which the Savior said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). We are no longer obliged to think in unison with this passing world. We should not consider that society, the nation, or the state is more important than an individual. This is not so; when all the nations disappear, when all the kingdoms of the world collapse, we will live in the flesh in our Homeland. The state is created by God for us and not us for the state. The nations, the result of the condemnation of Babylon, will vanish, but all those people that they are composed of will remain, those whom our Heavenly Father commanded us to love as ourselves.

We honor the authority established by the Creator and follow those laws which do not contradict the will of God, but never will we give it that worship which is only befitting of God.

Only the uranopolitans can carry out the commandment of the Apostle Paul: “Rejoice evermore” (I Thess. 5:16). How can the Christian nationalist, Christian patriot, Christian liberal, etc. (in short, all those “Christian and…”) always rejoice? Ideology says to him, “How can you rejoice in God when your people are suffering? The fatherland is in danger, the nation is losing its age-old habitation, the state is violating your rights and you are happy? The only escape for him is to become an uranopolitan. Only here is that joy about which the Savior spoke, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also… I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 14:3, 16:22). And then all the troubles of the earth for him will become unimportant. Then, if your people suffer, you will see in it the just hand of God and help those of one tongue as you to find the Punishing and Merciful Judge. But at the same time you will remember that there is only one people to whom you belong in truth: the people of God, a peculiar people, taken out of darkness into the marvelous light of God (see 1 Peter 2:9).

Persecution for a pilgrim-people is natural. For, you know, St. Justin the Philosopher said, “we know that Christians will always be persecuted until Christ returns and frees us.” But the fatherland of the uranopolitan is always safe, for who can harm New Jerusalem? And that state in which the uranopolitan is wandering, he will defend to the measure that it does not war with God, according to the commandment of obedience to authority (see Rom. 13:1-6). But his heart will not be disturbed, for all that is seen is temporary and the unseen is eternal. In order to please God the uranopolitan will defend the weak and will take pity on the insulted. And this not in the name of someone’s rights but in the name of God.

So let us all flee from here. Why should we cling to the perishable? Why should we attach our heart to that which we will abandon forever? Hasten to heaven all partakers of the mystery of Christ. Become citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem. God the Father is waiting for us. Will we really exchange his embrace for the elusive darkness of this age and the delusion of human ideology?
Uranopolitism (from Greek: ουρανός-heaven, polis-πόλης), as used by Fr. Daniel, is a concept which affirms the supremacy of Divine laws over earthly and the primacy of love for the Heavenly Father and His Heavenly Kingdom. The most important kinship, according to uranopolitism, is not by blood or country of origin but kinship in Christ. Patriotism (from Greek: Πατριώτης-fellow countryman, πατρίς-fatherland) is love of ones fatherland following from the realization of solidarity of interests of the citizens of a given state or members of a given nation (Dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron).


8 thoughts on “The Final Interview with Father Daniel Sysoyev: Hasten to Heaven!

  1. “We are not nationalists for in Christ and in His Church there are no nations.” – it’s good to read such statements. last year i was in the St Petersburg region for a few weeks helping a Christian charity.

    it was pointed out to me that there was a lack of understanding & sympathy in the Christian West.

    while in Russia i felt that there was a creeping nationalism in the Russian church. that is slightly scary to Westerners. there have been summary executions on Russian streets. there is much adulation of Putin.

    what would help Western Christians to understand would be simple things, like English language options on Russian Orthodox church websites.

    i wanted to read more on the SOURCE website. i cannot because i am not able to read the Cryllic alphabet. small gestures like language options on websites would draw in many of the curious, concerned & ecumenical Western Christians & intellectuals….

  2. Can you explain what you mean by “there have been summary executions on Russian streets.”

    “there is much adulation of Putin.”
    I don’t know what Putin has to do with the present subject, but concerning him, and, if you like, Medvedev, I’ll just say that decades of Soviet rule cannot be reversed overnight (or even in a short 20 years).

    You are correct but there also has to be funding for English translations of news concerning the Russian Church. However, the Russian Church’s Department of External Relations recently redid their webpage and now have some daily news in English:
    Further, there are plenty of resources available concerning the Russian Church, one just has to be diligent in searching for it.
    And further yet, if there is some particular news you think is necessary to know or a question you could email me at norespite(at)adams(dot)net and I will try to help.

  3. i am referring to the 13 journalists who have been murdered in the past year or two…..

    i was referring to the way the Orthodox church appears to view Putin without much criticism.

    some Westerners might be attracted to a “diligent search” of the web for Russian church sites with English buttons for non-Cryillic readers. but if Eastern Orthodoxy wants a more sympathetic approach, it will have to make much more of an open handed approach to woo us Westerners to their theology & outlook.

  4. So you’re connecting this “creeping nationalism in the Russian Church” to the murder of journalists?

    As an aside: I may be wrong but I don’t think there have been 13 journalist killed in the past few years; I know of only two. Can you give me some examples? However, I do know that in the past five years there have been six Orthodox priests killed (including one whose wife and three kids were also killed).

    In what way would you have the Russian Church criticize Putin? And does it really mean that the Church agrees with everything a political leader may do just because it doesn’t choose to speak about it as much as what many church figures in the West do? I think most priests are more concerned with their parishioners and what effects them. In my opinion, what the politicians do doesn’t really effect many people.

    I guess I did not formulate that clearly: there are volumes and volumes of information concerning the Russian Orthodox Church (not all on the internet, of course), but if you’re looking for the latest news you will probably have to search a little more diligently.

    Also, Eastern Orthodoxy is not just represented by the Russian Church; therefore, broaden your search a little bit.

    I’m really not sure what you mean by saying that Eastern Orthodoxy would want a more sympathetic approach. A sympathetic approach to theology? What would that even mean?

  5. my apologies. i am not saying that the Russian church is behind those journalist murders. i wasn’t clear. i meant that there is a strong, often xenophobic appearing Russian nationalism on RT TV & other Russian media. the church seems basically uncritical of it also, when it probably criticising such or, at least seen to be standing apart from the idolatory of nationalism. i think that clergy & laity could be critical & take care of their flocks also. one shouldn’t cancel out the other.

    here is a scarily long list of murdered journalists in wider Russia, going back to the beginnings of perestroika

    i am aware of the murder of Russian priests from Alexander Men onwards.
    i am also aware of the different jurisdictions within Orthodoxy: the Old Believers, the True Orthdodox & Evangelical Orthodox viewpoints.

    i was referring to need for Russian webmasters trying to be more accomodating towards Westerners, sympathetic to our need to learn & read opinion & news in a language that we understand.

  6. There are many xenophobic Russians and (if you haven’t noticed) there are many xenophobic people from western countries. What I’ve come to believe is that Russians, as presented by those news outlets in English, are trying to assert that they are just as good as anyone in the West. This is true for some Russians but not all. This can turn out to be (or be presented/misconstrued as, depending on who is doing the reporting) nationalism, just people that care about their historical country, etc.

    The problem of the dissemination of information is, as I said, funding: not many Russian news agencies are able to translate their news into foreign languages.

    I assure you that anyone of any “importance” in the Russian Church is not a rabid nationalist, if that is what you’re looking for. Many do speak of the reasons why Russian people should be proud of their country and history, but would you call this nationalism? Russia, like every country, does, in fact, have things of which to be proud.

  7. as regards Russian Orthodox websites, surely there are young students who care enough to do translating, as an Orthodox awareness raising exercise? secular news websites are of less interest in my friendly critique.

    i am not looking for “rabid nationalists”. i am looking for communicative Orthodox Christians.

    as a one-time slavophile, i realise that there is a lot for Russians to be proud of: great literature, heavenly liturgy, dazzling icons, spirited religious dissidents & underground artists, poets & musicians developed in the fiery furnace of persecution & the gulag years. i wouldn’t deny Russians any of that. God has challenged us westerners by such brave witness.

    Russia doesn’t need to be “me-too” at all. it has a rich heritage, it just needs more translating & a willingness to share its spiritual treasures from those dark times.

    slava tebeye Gospody!

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