Today, as I mentioned in my last post, is the first celebration of the feast day of St Justin of Ćelije. (Today was chosen because it is Fr Justin's nameday.) In honor of this historic occasion, I offer a translation done by myself and Aida Zamilova Judah of an article by Hieromonk Nektary (Radovanović) and originally published in the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, 1984, No.2.
Through the Pages of the Theological Works of
Archimandite Justin (Popović)
In the local Orthodox Churches the name of the doctor of theology Archimandirte Justin (Popović +1979) is well known.
Archimandrite Justin was born on April 7, 1894, on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, in the ancient Serbian city of Vranje into the pious family of a priest, which had given the Serbian Church seven generations of clergy. In Baptism he was given the name Blagoje, in honor of the Feast of the Annunciation.
In the years 1905 to 1914, Blagoje Popović studied in the Seminary of St. Sava of Serbia in Belgrade. In his young years he was especially interested in questions of contemporary literature and philosophy. He gave the greatest attention to the works of F. M. Dostoevsky, about whom he later wrote two studies: The Philosophy and Religion of F. M. Dostoevsky and Dostoevsky on Europe and Slavism.
Patristic works made a decisive influence on the formation of Archimandrite Justin’s spiritual character. The Holy Fathers were for him, and remained to the end of his life, irreplaceable teachers and instructors. He was wholly guided by their teachings. Archimandrite Justin especially loved St. John Chrysostom, to whom he prayed without ceasing with childlike sincerity: “I feel a particular merciful closeness of St. John Chrysostom to me, a sinner,” he wrote, “My soul ascends to him in prayer: enlighten me by thy prayers... grant me to struggle in your struggle...”
In 1916, Blagoje Popović accepted the monastic tonsure with the name Justin, in honor of Hieromartyr Justin the Philosopher (+166; memory on June 1). Indeed, like him, Archimandrite Justin was an authentic thinker who assimilated the truth of Christianity. At the foundation of his theology he put humblemindedness, following in this the example of St. John Chrysostom, to whom, as is known, belong the remarkable words: “The foundation of our Christian philosophy is humblemindedness, for without it truth is blind.” It is precisely for this reason that in his Divine contemplation Fr. Justin does not talk about Christ as an ordinary person (or an “historical personage”), but rather as the God-Man, the Savior of the world. Fr. Justin considered authentic divine theologizing of Christ in the Holy Spirit to be only that Divine contemplation in which the mind and the heart (thought and feeling) were united in prayer, passing into contemplation and Divine vision. He often said: “Heavy is any of my thoughts, which, having arisen, is not converted into prayer.”
Shortly after his tonsure, with the blessing of the Serbian Metropolitan Dimitri (later His Holiness, the Patriarch of Serbia), Fr. Justin went to Petersburg, where he entered the theological academy. During the time of his study in the academy, Fr. Justin got to know Orthodox Russia well and to love it deeply. Here he obtained a wide theological knowledge. Here he grew spiritually, being acquainted with Russian holy things and the works of saints. From this time and throughout his life, Fr. Justin deeply loved St. Serge of Radonezh and other Russian saints; he became close to St. Seraphim of Sarov in a spiritual, prayerful way. Even then Fr. Justin understood that the soul of the people, its spirit, is hidden in the great deeds of saints, for true Orthodoxy is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.
In June 1916, Fr. Justin went to England, where he enrolled at Oxford University. He studied there until 1919 and then returned to his homeland. In the same year he went to Athens, where until 1921 he worked on his doctoral dissertation The Problem of the Personality and of Knowledge According to St. Macarius of Egypt, which he successfully defended in 1926 in Athens. (A part of the dissertation was later published in the journal Theology, Righteousness, and Life. Athens, 1962, pp. 153-175). All these years the prayerful podvig of Fr. Justin increased, which is evident in his spiritual contemplations: “How many years must a man introduce the fragrant leaven of Heaven into the dough of his essence, how many years must he spend remaking himself by the evangelical virtues! From the cave of my body I see Thee, O Lord, and keep looking, and yet I cannot see you completely. I know, I feel, and know that Thou are the only Architect, O Lord, Who can build the eternal home of my soul. The builders are prayer, tears, fasting, love, humility, meekness, patience, hope, co-suffering. . .”
From 1921, Fr. Justin taught New Testament, dogmatic theology, and patrology at the seminary at Sremska Karlovci. In 1922, he was ordained hieromonk, and from that time became a spiritual father to many in the flock.
In 1930, the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church appointed Fr. Justin the assistant of Bishop Joseph of Bitola. The common task for Vladyka Joseph and his assistant became the organization of Orthodox parishes in Czechoslovakia, especially in the Preshov region in the so-called Carpatorossia, where at the time the Uniates began to return to the bosom of Orthodoxy.
Fr. Justin gave much energy to this indeed difficult but God-pleasing work. Slovak Christians themselves sought out help. For that reason, His Grace Joseph asked the Holy Synod to consecrate Fr. Justin as bishop of the newly-restored Mukachevo diocese in Transcarpathia. But Fr. Justin refused the episcopal rank. His letter to Vladyka Joseph witnesses to that: “I ask Your Grace to pardon me and forgive me for doing this. I write this by the irresistible conviction of my conscience... I’ve refused before and I refuse again to accept the rank of bishop. My refusal is not the result of a passing mood. I looked at myself long and hard, according to the Gospel, and judged myself according to the Gospel, and arrived at the unchangeable conclusion: I cannot accept the rank of bishop under any circumstances. For I know myself very well: it is very difficult to keep my own soul within the boundaries of Christ’s goodness, not to mention hundreds of thousands of other people’s souls. And to answer for them before God.”
In 1932, Fr. Justin returned from Czechoslovakia and began to work on the first volume of his Dogmatics, which was published the same year. Then he became a professor at the Theological Seminary in Sremska Karlovci. Two years later the Holy Synod appointed him docent in the Theological Faculty at the University of Belgrade.
In 1935, Fr. Justin published the second volume of his Dogmatics, in which he expounds the Orthodox teaching on the God-Man and His deed (Christology and Soteriology).
In the same years, together with other prominent members of the Serbian spiritual culture, Fr. Justin participated in the founding of the Serbian Philosophical Society.
In 1948, Fr. Justin was appointed spiritual father of the Chelje women’s monastery. He stayed here to the end of his life, dedicating his time to prayer, Divine contemplation, and scholarly theological and translation work.
Quite a lot has been written in various Orthodox magazines about Fr. Justin’s contribution to contemporary Orthodox theology. A special issue of the Greek church magazine Paradosis (Tradition) for 1979 was dedicated to him.
The author of one of the articles published in connection with Fr. Justin’s repose wrote, covering his life and work: “... it would not be an exaggeration if we characterized him as one of the most outstanding contemporary Fathers of Orthodox theology.”
As an author, Fr. Justin left behind a voluminous legacy: three volumes of Dogmatics, twelve volumes of The Lives of Saints, various theological works, and numerous epistles and letters.
Fr. Justin’s inner, spiritual experience is captured in his works full of theological depths and elevated poetry.
The most important works that help penetrate the spirit of the theologizing of Archimandrite Justin (Popović) are his Dogmatics and The Lives of Saints.
In the introduction to the first volume of his Dogmatics, Fr. Justin writes: “Moved from non-existence to All-existence, man, dressed in the marvelous form of matter and spirit, takes a pilgrimage through the marvelous mysteries of God. The further he is from non-being and the closer to All-being, the more he hungers for immortality and sinlessness, all the more he thirsts for the inaccessible and eternal. But there is a tyrannical pull to non-existence, and sin and death greedily conceal the soul. All the wisdom of life is to overcome non-being in ourselves and around us and to immerse ourselves entirely in All-being. The Holy Spirit teaches this wisdom, for He is wisdom and knowledge – grace-given wisdom and grace-given knowledge about the nature of being; and the center of this knowledge is the knowledge of the Divine and the human, the invisible and the visible. Divine contemplation in the Holy Spirit is at the same time a morally creative power which, through the process of man imitating God on the path of ascetic, grace-filled perfection, multiplies in man Divine knowledge of God and the world. Being enlivened by the Holy Spirit is the only art that can, from a variegated and very complex human essence, sculpt a person in the likeness of God, in the image of Christ.
“Knowledge of God in the Holy Spirit is, in this way, that truth about God, the world, and man that the Orthodox Church calls the dogmas of faith. Therefore dogmatics is a science of the eternal truths of God that are revealed to people so that they may put them into practice in their lives and through that attain the eternal goal of our existence, of our martyric pilgrimage from non-being to All-being...”
The living embodiments of these Divinely-revealed truths, Fr. Justin believed, are the saints⎯the bearers of these truths and at the same time their preachers and confessors.
The Orthodox dogmatist must turn with all his works to the saints, to learn from them, to be in prayerful communion with them, in fasting and spiritual wakefulness. Thus, the work of an Orthodox dogmatist is the podvig of sobering his mind.
In the introduction to his book An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, St. John of Damascus once and for all consolidated the guiding principle for establishing a dogmatic system: “I will not say anything of myself, but will explain briefly what God’s wise men told.” Citing these words of the great saint, Fr. Justin witnesses: “I, in my nothingness and misery, can hardly dare to say that I have kept to his principle. If anything in my work is good, evangelical, and Orthodox, then all that belongs to the Holy Fathers, and everything that is opposed to that is mine, only my own…”
Fr. Justin says that through the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Divine Truths became more accessible to man. And this means that Christ is inevitably replicated in every Christian, for every Christian is an organic part of Christ’s Church, which is His Divine-human Body.
Fr. Justin saw the path to immortality in the organic unity of man with the person of the God-Man Christ, with His Body, with the Church. “I know and I feel,” he wrote, “that only in Him and with Him I am an eternal self, a divine eternal self. Without this I do not need myself.”
The goal of the Church’s ministry is that all believers would unite organically and personally with the Person of Christ, so that their self-perception would become Christ-perception and their self-consciousness would become Christ-consciousness; so that their whole life would be the life of Christ and so that they no longer live, but Christ in them (Gal 2: 20).
To find oneself is to find in oneself the God-Man Christ, but He dwells only in His Church, who is His living incarnation. It is a Divine-human eternity, incarnate within space and time. It is in the world, but not of the world (Jn 18:36). Therefore in the Church the Person of the God-Man Christ is the only guide leading man though mortality and temporality into immortality and eternity.
God became man, while remaining God, so that as God he would give the human nature Divine power that would lead man to the closest Divine-human unity with God. And this Divine power of His constantly works in His Divine-human body – the Church, uniting people with God through grace and holy life. For the Church cannot be anything other than a pure and miracle-working Divine-human organism, in which the participation of God’s grace and man’s freedom forms immortality and deifies everything human, everything except sin. In the Divine-human organism of the Church every believer is like a living cell that becomes an integral part of that organism and lives by its Divine-human power.
Calling the Church the Body of Christ, the holy Apostle Paul establishes a link between its essence and the mystery of God’s Incarnation and shows that the living and unchangeable foundation of the Church is in that “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). This truth is the main truth of the Church, its foundation. The Church is primarily a Divine-human organism and only then a human community.
The nature of the Church is Divine and human, from which follows its Divine-human activity in the world: everything Divine becomes incarnate in man and humanity. Therefore the mission of the Church, in its very nature, is to bring about the Divine-human, spiritual values in the human world.
Confessing the God-Man, the Church, as Fr. Justin emphasized, also confesses man in his authentic and God-created unity. For without the God-Man there is no true man.
The ontology of the human person is its Divine image. Through the Divine image, man is given all the Divine strength to achieve eternal perfection: “My infinity draws me to Thee, O Infinite God!”
The value of man, Fr. Justin witnesses, is determined by what is in his inner world. In its unfathomable depths that inner world is in contact with the Absolute Reality, the bearer of Which man is. Supporting such a connection, that is, absorbing in themselves the eternal spiritual kingdom, Christians by virtue of their continuous spiritual growth become endless, although not without beginning. And indeed, who can explore the metaphysical depths of man? “For who among men knoweth the things of a man, except the spirit of the man that is in him” (1 Cor 2:11). He who earnestly observes the material and spiritual realities of the universe cannot but feel the presence of an infinite mystery in all phenomena. The human spirit persistently strives to comprehend the mysterious. The constant movement of the human spirit in that direction is the second, supernatural component of him as a person. Keeping in mind the natural component also, Fr. Justin resolves the fundamental question of anthropology in this manner: “We can conclude that man is man exactly because he is the bearer of an individual supernatural gift that manifests itself in self-perfection, creativity, and intellectual activity.” The whole human spirit longs for eternity: through consciousness and through the senses, through will and through all life, and that means that it longs for immortality. Thus, Fr. Justin considered the human aspiration to infinity, to immortality, belongs to the very essence of the human spirit.
Created in the image of God, man is full of spiritual yearning, for the Divine image is the principle thing in man’s essence. And this aspiration of the Divinely-imaged soul towards its Archetype is natural.
By giving man the [seemingly impossible] commandment: “Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:48), Lord Jesus Christ pointed to the [real] possibility of realization, through grace, of the Divinely-imaged human being. He would not have commanded something impossible.
The image of God in man’s nature, Fr. Justin remarks, has an ontological and a teleological meaning: ontological, because in it is the essence of the human being; teleological, because it indicates the goal of life: unity with God.
However, by bending his free will to sin, man, instead of becoming a communicant of the Divine life by virtue of the Divine image of his soul, put a distance between himself and the Divine. He shrunk into his shell and began to live without the supernatural Guide inherent to his soul. That was his first act of opposing his own essence created in the Divine image. Since that moment, man has made himself godless by forcing God out of himself into the transhuman, otherworldly transcendence and found himself before a gaping abyss that separated man and God. The human essence suffered a catastrophe that disrupted the God-created nature of man and shifted its center. Consequently, man lost the ability to understand himself and the world around him.
Man's love of sin gave the devil power over him, which brought about the danger of “the devil-man” appearing. It was at this point that God-Man came to the world to save man from sin, evil, devil, and eternal death.
Through His death on the Cross our Lord Jesus Christ made it possible for man to return to his own Divine image, to transition from sin to Light and Truth, from death to Life.
When the God-Man Jesus Christ elevated Himself on the Cross, He at the same time elevated man to the first level of Heaven, on which He reconciled the two worlds—the Heavenly and the earthly; He connected Heaven and earth. At the top of that ladder is He Himself—the King of Glory, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Behold, O man, the many opportunities for you to grow upwards! From the bottom of the abyss to the top of the heaven, and higher than any heaven!
The ability to think is Divine in nature and has a heavenly origin. It was given to man to link him to Heaven, to God, to eternity.
But pride, this powerful instrument of the enemy of salvation, caused human thought to separate itself from God and caused man to imagine himself infallible.
The true spiritual formation of man lies exclusively in his victory over death, in the ultimate transfiguration of his soul and body, in his liberation from sin and evil—those sources of death. Certainty about immortality comes through knowing God; that knowledge, as it is, does not tolerate sin that engenders death.
Starting in 1972, Archimandrite Justin began the publication of his twelve-volume work on the saints of the Orthodox Church called The Lives of Saints, which he had compiled long ago. Publication of this significant work was finished at the end of 1978, which has an important significance. Soon after the publication of The Lives of Saints, hagiology was introduced as a permanent course into the program of studies in religious seminaries.
While Fr. Justin's Dogmatics is the fruit of his predominantly ecclesiastical and scientific research, The Lives of Saints reveals the spiritual experience of a man who is filled with Christ to his very depths. The Lives of Saints shows us the mysterious path to Christ that all the ascetics had walked on. The author of The Lives of Saints, being an ascetic himself, understands the tears of ascetics, being a martyr for faith—the pain of martyrs, being a monk—the monastic experience of comprehending the Divine, and being a modern Orthodox theologian—the theology of the Fathers and teachers of the Church.
Fr. Justin started his translation into Serbian and his systematic work on the lives of the Orthodox Church saints after World War II.
Fr. Justin comments on his reasons for writing that “simple,” in comparison to his dogmatic works, book, “The lives of saints are, as a matter of fact, dogmatics incarnate, because in them all the eternal and holy dogmatic truths come to life in all their life-creating and meaningful power.”
The lives of saints most visibly confirm that the dogmas are not only ontological truths in themselves and for themselves, but that every dogma is the source of Eternal Life and holy spirituality, according to the words of the Savior: “. . . the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (Jn 6:63). For every word of God gives man a saving, sanctifying force that fills him with joy, revives, and transforms him. The lives of saints contain all Orthodox ethics in all its magnificence and irresistible force. The lives of saints are “the only pedagogics of Orthodoxy” and “an Orthodox encyclopedia of a sort.” Fr. Justin views “The Lives of Saints” as a sequel to the Acts of the Apostles, which tell about the spread of Christianity and confirm it. The lives of saints are the Gospel, life, truth, love, faith, eternity, and the power of the Lord, for “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
In any century, the Lord grants the same grace and performs the same Divine acts for all who believe in Him. Saints, as Fr. Justin remarks, “are the people in whom the holy Divine-human life of Christ is being continued from generation to generation and unto the end of the ages.” They all constitute the Body of Christ⎯the Church, and are inseparably united with Christ and among themselves. The river of immortal Divine life begins with the God-Man Christ, and Christians come through Him to Eternal life. The lives of saints are of great significance, because “we cannot reach” the holy and Eternal life “individually, but we can do it with all the saints, with their help and under their guidance, through the Holy Mysteries and the good works in the Church.”
It was this significance of the saints and, consequently, the importance of their lives for our salvation in the Church that caused Fr. Justin to write in Serbian the first complete Orthodox Synaxarian, that is a compilation of the hagiographies of saints.
Important sources for Fr. Justin were the Synaxarian by St. Nicodemus the Athonite, The Lives of Saints (Menologion) by Saint Dimitry of Rostov, original Greek manuscripts from various critical editions, the Church of Constantinople Synaxarian, and many other patristic and theological works.
The writer ends The Lives of Saints with a historic overview of attempts to write down the lives of saints in early Christianity, starting with the Acts of the Apostles, in which St. Apostle Luke first described “the labors and sufferings of the first disciples of our Savior and of His successors.”
Following this overview, Father Justin analyzes the narrations about the holy ascetics published as Pateriks, Herontiks, and Limonars as well as collections of the lives of saints of the Byzantine and post-Byzantine period, and so on, up to the modern critical scientific publications of the ancient hagiographic manuscripts. Those publications are characterized by the spirit of rationalistic criticism which has defined, according to Fr. Justin’s words, “the position of their authors against the lives of saints.”
According to the Orthodox tradition, Fr. Justin distributes the abundant hagiographic material of the liturgical year throughout the indiction. Every separate volume (for September, October, etc.,) contains the lives of saints who are commemorated in one particular month. The lives of saints commemorated on the same day are assigned a special chapter. In addition, whenever space permits, he publishes a picture of one of the Orthodox churches or monasteries named after the saint being remembered. The entire twelve volume publication includes images of more than two hundred Orthodox churches that vividly demonstrate the characteristic features of the church architecture of the Orthodox peoples from Alaska to Korea and Japan and from Africa to India. The life of every saint is usually accompanied by the pictures of his ancient and new icons. At the end of each volume there is an alphabetic index of the names of the saints whose lives are described in the volume.
Fr. Justin was hoping to publish the thirteenth, final volume dedicated to the Paschal cycle, that is, to the Lenten Triodion and the Pentecostarion.
Simultaneously with the publication of The Lives of Saints, the hagiographies of the most revered Serbian saints were published in separate editions. The publication of The Lives of Saints aroused a great interest among the Serbian church community, especially among the professors of the Serbian Church history in religious schools. Those books are being currently used as textbooks for students of those schools. Abundant information on Church history, hagiography, patristics, dogmatics, as well as canoncial, pastoral, liturgical, and homiletical materials are put together on the 8,300 pages of The Lives of the Saints. Archimandrite Justin managed to make the Synxarian not only a narrative text and a scientific work, but also a work revealing a deep theological knowledge. The publication soon became a rare book.
This hagiological work by Fr. Justin is priceless for the Serbian Church. The lives of the Serbian saints contain the history of the Serbian Church and the Serbian state. The holy Nemanjić dynasty, beginning with its holy ancestor Simeon, the founder of the Chilandar monastery on Mount Athos, and his son St. Sava, the first Serbian archbishop, and ending with its last descendant martyr Uroš, combined the crown with the Cross, having united the ecclesiastic and state history of the Serbs. Of invaluable help in theological training will be also the lives of other, non-Serbian saints, as well as many quotations from the theological works by the Fathers and Teachers and the holy ascetics of the Church, which are published in this first complete Serbian Synaxarian.
The Lives are of great importance to Orthodoxy as a whole. According to God’s dispensation, Fr. Justin studied in England, where he came in contact with the non-Orthodox world and its way of thinking; in Russia, where He grasped the depth of Russian Orthodox spirituality; and in Athens, where he, as he himself would say, fell in love with the Holy Fathers’ Tradition. In Athens he met the outstanding Greek theologians of his time⎯Professors Balan and Diovuniotis, and studied with the later famous professor of dogmatics, now academician John Karmiris. Here he received the opportunity to study the Byzantine manuscripts that later became part of his Synaxarian. Such knowledge of many Orthodox peoples and traditions enabled Fr. Justin to create a work that can be truly considered common for all Orthodox people because of its scale and significance.
As time goes on, this work by Fr. Justin will play an increasingly important role in introducing the non-Orthodox and non-Christians to Orthodoxy and its spiritual values. This original ecclesiastical and scientific work is a model of an Orthodox Synaxarian. From now on it will be impossible to compile a Synaxarian without knowing Archimandrite Justin’s work.
Among the published works by Archimandrite Justin, except for the ones mentioned previously, we shall point out the following: The Epistemology of St. Isaac the Syrian, a collection of articles titled Man and the God-Man. Studies in Orthodox Theology, The Foundations of Theology, Theology of St. Sava as a Philosophy of Life, The Life of St. Sava and St. Simeon, The Orthodox Church and Ecumenism, and On the Forthcoming Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church.
Father Justin’s theological works, in the words of academician John Karmiris, are the pinnacle of spiritual self-expression of the Serbian Church (preface to the Greek edition of the book Man and God-Man. Athens, 1st ed. 1969. 2nd ed. 1974. p. 7).
Archimandrite Justin also left behind some unpublished works: Through Life With Apostle Paul (a multi-volume interpretation of Apostle Paul’s epistles); Interpretation of the General Epistles of the Holy Apostle John the Theologian; Interpretation of the Gospels according to Sts. Matthew and John; the thirteenth volume of The Lives of Saints⎯ The Lenten and Flowery Triodions; akathists to many saints, and other numerous theological and liturgical texts. Archimandrite Justin, a humble priest and a prominent theologian, belongs not only to the Serbian Church, but to the whole Orthodox world.
As Metropolitan Irenaeos of Crete said of him: “He was a gift of Divine grace that the Lord gave to His Orthodox Church.”