Monday, June 14, 2010

St Justin and Patristic Tradition

Here, in honor of the first celebration of the feast of St Justin of Celije, is a translation of a selection from an article by a spiritual son, Bishop Artemije, retired Bishop of Raska and Prizren, entitled "Saint Justin and Patristic Tradition." It was specially translated for this site by Olga Lissenkova and edited by myself.
Father Justin lived by Tradition and in Tradition, and therefore lived, thought, spoke, and wrote according to patristic Tradition.

Just as one of the main attributes of truth is immutability, inasmuch as it always and everywhere exists in itself, as something immutable, like God Himself, so too in Father Justin was there one trait that is not often met even among certain Holy Fathers. It is that Father Justin, from his youth, beginning with his first written and published lines until his last recorded thought, throughout the whole course of his life as a productive writer and thinker, always remained faithful to himself or, it is better to say, to the truth which he received and in agreement with the Tradition he served, about which he thought and wrote. His style, his language, and his fearlessness when it concerned truth and the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, remained unchanged throughout the entire course of his life. In this respect, before he reposed he truly never needed to repent of anything or to renounce anything in his thought or deeds, which distinguishes him from other minds, even great ones.

He had the rare happiness – or, better to say, God’s mercy and Providence – to have from the very beginning entered the right way of following the Lord Jesus Christ through following the Holy Fathers and Holy Tradition, and he never veered away from it, neither “to the right nor to the left,” whatever dangers or circumstances came his way. This is what is especially admirable and attractive in Father Justin. He is a bright example of a person rigidly persisting in truth, thanks to which the Church lives and creates.

To many, such a position of Father Justin seemed to come from stubbornness, insubordination, separatism, and lack of respect for the generally accepted manners and norms of his time. He suffered much from this and was pursued by his enemies, but he could not renounce his way, because this way was not his, but Christ’s, as Father Justin himself somewhere wrote. Many did and still do judge and condemn his actions, because his correct evangelical position, which was in full agreement with the the Tradition of the Apostles and Holy Fathers, burned them like live coals, witnessing, although not always verbally, that they were not on the right path and would not come back to the correct way because the wrong way was much more pleasant and convenient. Father Justin’s only concern was to “oblige God and be faithful to His truth.” What people thought of his views and deeds did not bother him very much, as he was ready to suffer a thousand deaths (his own words) for God’s truth, if only this were possible. This is why many contemporaries who knew Father Justin were of the opinion, and some express in openly, that Father Justin was and remains the conscience of the Serbian Church – and we would add, not only the Serbian. As Father Justin grew, lived, and created in the environment of the evangelical Divine-human reality, and through this in the environment of the whole Holy Tradition of the Apostles and Holy Fathers of Christ’s Orthodox Church, he belongs to the wholeness of the Universal Catholic Church, as all the Holy Fathers and all of God’s saints do. Not one single saint remains confined to the narrow limits of one people or any one local Church: inasmuch as he is saved in the Church, together with all the saints, so he belongs to them all.

Father Justin was a complex and multifaceted personality, which makes him close and “one’s own” to all groups and categories in which the Holy Fathers can be referred to according to one or another attribute.

Through his interest in world literature and philosophy, Father Justin resembled and was close to the learned Fathers of the Church, especially to Martyr Justin the Philosopher, whose name he accepted in monasticism, and the great Cappadocians: Sts Basil the Great and Gregory the Theology. Thanks to a profound and thorough knowledge and study of Greek literature and philosophy, they felt the incapacity of human thought alone to solve the eternal questions of human existence and, with all their souls, all their hearts, and all their minds they gave themselves to Christ. Like them, in his youth Father Justin was attracted by secular wisdom and “philosophy… after the tradition of men” (Col. 2: 8), but soon he saw that this was leading, all the more bitterly and all the more deeply, to the somber labyrinth of this world, from which one cannot find a way out, and with all his being he gave himself to the only true and unchangeable Wisdom – the God-Man Christ. On this way of this “philosophy according to Christ,” Father Justin had indispensable teachers and luminous examples to follow in the persons of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, especially St John Chrysostom, St. Macarius of Egypt, Sts. Athanasius and Basil, Sts Isaac the Syrian and Symeon the New Theologian, and many others. Having learnt by his own experience that the secret of any saint is the Lord Jesus, Who is everything in his soul, in his conscience, in his heart, in his life and in his actions, Father Justin wisely concludes that “the contemporary Christian can be a true Christian only if he is guided by the saints day in and day out.”

As close as he was to the learned Fathers and theologians of the Holy Church, Father Justin was no less close and akin to the group of, secularly speaking, “unlearned” Fathers, such as St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia and St. Spyridon of Tremithous, and many others. Like these Holy Fathers, he was notable for a childishly pure and sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and he crystallized this faith into superhuman prayerful-ascetic podvigs, in which he was burning, not pitying himself. His ascetic life and ceaseless prayer, accompanied by plentiful tears and internal cries of the soul, against his will could not be kept secret, and attracted and amazed not only Orthodox souls raised in the fear of God, but also some people of other faiths who had the opportunity to get to know Father Justin more closely. For him, throughout all his life, he was guided by the words of St. Gregory the Theologian’s: “One must purify oneself first, before teaching others to be pure; one must become wise oneself first, before teaching others to be wise; one must become the light oneself, and only then enlighten others; one must come close to God first, before bringing others to Him; one must become a saint oneself, before sanctifying others.” Applying this patristic rule, Father Justin, by his selfless podvigs (especially those of fasting, prayer, and tears) mercilessly turned himself into a great ascetic of our time, and in so came to resemble the Holy Fathers: the ascetics and true theologians of Christ.

From this proximity and similarity of Father Justin’s life to that of the Holy Fathers naturally arose the theological faithfulness and compliance with the patristic Tradition mentioned above. Indeed, as his ascetically virtuous life was not a simple copy of any one or another Holy Father’s life, but the original personal and inimitable life “with all the saints,” so too his theology is not simply a mechanical rendering of patristic theology, but its organic maturity and development. It is nothing other than, in theological language, the description and expression of the personal experience of the knowledge of the mystery of the incarnation of the God-Man Christ in the personal lives of all believers. All his works testify to this, from his school and college notebooks to his last published and as-yet unpublished works.

Photograph: the future Bishop Artemije with St Justin outside the church in ─ćelije.

3 comments:

Fr. Milovan Katanic said...

Don't know if you've been following Serbian Church politics but Bp. Artemije is now "retired" Bishop of Ras-Prizren.

Felix Culpa said...

I've heard things, but didn't know if it was official.

Serb said...

It is official, but decision without Holy Spirit.
Thank you for selection of text.