Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the blessed repose of Archimandrite Justin (Popović) of Ćelije, as well as the 115th anniversary of his birth – he both entered and departed this earthly life on the Feast of the Annunciation.
Fr Justin was a theologian in the true sense of the word, as we have recently seen it defined by both St John of Shanghai and San Francisco and A. I. Sidorov. While a highly qualified academic – he pursued his studies in Belgrade, Petrograd, Oxford, and Athens, and subsequently served as professor of dogmatic theology at the Theological Faculty in Belgrade – the true source of his theology was his burning love for the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Hieromonk (now Metropolitan) Amfilohije spoke the following words in his eulogy to Fr Justin shortly after his repose:
Nobody in the history of this people so deeply felt, sang, and described the wondrous Divine Word of God, the God-Man Christ, Who was incarnate of the Most-Holy Mother and Holy Spirit for the salvation of mankind. In all of his works, in all of his prayers, in all of his sighs, in a word—with his entire life, Father Justin strove to sing, to express, to describe with words the indescribable image of Christ, to express his own volcanic love for the God-Man Christ. Every one of his thoughts began and ended with the God-Man Christ. And not only words and thoughts, but for Father Justin every flower had the fragrance of the God-Man Christ, and the eternal Word of God. Each heavenly star was a wondrous witness and some wondrous expression of that immemorial, eternal Word of God, Who became the Word by accepting a human body. Every ripple of a brook and whisper of a leaf were a testimony and some secret symbol of the wondrous presence of the Word of God in the world [...]No one can read a single of his works without immediately sensing this "volcanic love for the God-Man Christ." Even his hefty three-volume dogmatic (entitled The Orthodox Philosophy of Truth) (available in French translation in five volumes, but, alas!, not yet in English) reads more like a work of prayerful devotion than of systematic theology.
Somebody might say that Father Justin repeats himself when talking about Christ in his works. Yet, his repetition is the talk of a baby to its beloved mother; his repetition is the repetition of love: as much as we love someone, we repeat more often the words of our love, and it will never bore us to repeat at every moment and continuously the same words. Thus, for Father Justin it did not become boring to repeat the name of the Lord God and his and our salvation, to pour forth before Him his own sorrow and his joy, to offer his love as a fragrant sacrifice, and through it, his entire being.
The heritage we have received from Fr Justin is large and diverse: we have the witness of his personal sanctity, his many volumes of original writing (only a small fraction of which has appeared in English translation), his translations of liturgical works from Greek into Serbian (on which he collaborated with the current Patriarch), and his spiritual children who have now taken up positions of leadership in the Serbian Church: Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral (who is currently administering the Serbian Church in place of the ailing Patriarch); Bishop Atanasije of Zahumlje and Herzegovina (retired); Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren; and Bishop Irenij of Backa, among many others.
Anyone who follows the life of the Serbian Church will know that something of a controversy regarding liturgical practice has been brewing for the past few years (for more about which, see here and here). It is interesting to note that Fr Justin’s closest spiritual children have taken varying positions: Bishop Atanasije is one of the more outspoken proponents of certain points of reform, while Bishop Artemije is one of the greatest opponents – and Metropolitan Amphiloje stands somewhere in the middle. This should not be surprising. A true spiritual father, as Fr Justin certainly was, does not seek to turn his spiritual children into replicas of himself, but rather to give them the freedom to invest and multiply their own God-given talents. In the icon of Pentecost we see not one flame descending onto the Apostles as a group, but single, unique flames of the Holy Spirit over each individually. St Irenaeus of Lyons, touching on the differing practices concerning calculating the date of Pascha, wrote that the diversity of practice confirmed the unity of their faith (cited in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History 5. 24. 13). As his namesake, Bishop Irenij, recently put it: "Different viewpoints do not impair unity. They strengthen unity insofar as they lead to the universal victory of the viewpoint, which sides closest with the Church, a viewpoint, which becomes the most salvific one." We are all stones forming a great mosaic icon of Christ: each of us may be of a different shape and color, but together we become one in Christ – however often we may throw stones at one another!
Second photograph, L to R: Fr (now Metropolitan) Amfilohije, Fr (now Bishop) Atanasije, "Lepura," Fr Justin, Fr (now Bishop) Artemije, 1977.