St Justin - A New Orthodox Saint
On April 29, 2010 the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Serbia proclaimed the glorification as a saint of the Church, Father Justin Popovich, considered by many as one of the greatest Orthodox theologians of the 20th century but who combined his intellectual ability with a life of asceticism, spiritual warfare and prayer.
Father Justin was born the son of a priest in Southern Serbia on the Feast of the Annunciation, 1894. He was one of several generations of priests in his family and their family name “Popovich” means “family or son of a priest”. At baptism he was named Blagoje after the Feast of the Annunciation (Blagovest means Annunciation or Good News). He grew up in a pious Orthodox home, frequently visiting with his parents the nearby Prohor Pchinjski Monastery. His greatest love was for the Bible and from the age of 14 he carried a Bible with him and read three chapters each day. He completed his studies at the Theological Faculty of St. Sava in Belgrade in 1914 where he came under the influence and instruction of the holy bishop St. Nicholas Velimirovich who fell-asleep in the Lord in Pennsylvania in 1956. Upon his graduation his deepest desire to fully consecrate his life to the service of the Lord by taking monastic vows but the declining health of his parents and the outbreak of World War I delayed him. During World War I he served as a student nurse with the Serbian army finally becoming a monk on January 1, 1916, taking the name “Justin” after the Holy Martyr Justin the Philosopher. After a year of study in Russia he entered the Theological School in Oxford, England at the encouragement of his mentor St. Nicholas. His dissertation was not accepted due to his truthful critique of Western humanism, secularism, and Roman Catholicism. His English professors demanded that he change his views, which for Fr. Justin was inconceivable and he left Oxford without a diploma. Even at this relatively young age, he was known as a man of prayer and asceticism. A young Anglican monk who became his friend, and who observed his ceaseless prayer and tears said:
I only now understand that the repentance and faith you have is something different from what we understand in the West and how we’ve been taught. Now I see that we in the West don’t know what repentance is.
He was able to complete his Doctorate in Theology in 1926 at the University of Athens and became a professor of theology in the seminary in Prizren and later in Belgrade. During this period he was ordained to the priesthood and it was seen that throughout the ordination service tears streamed down his face. It is notable that one of his close associates in ministry was Father John Maximovitch, who later became Archbishop John, a miracle-working man of prayer who fell asleep in the Lord in San Francisco and was glorified as a saint in 1994. Father Justin’s theological accomplishments are vast. He translated and published a 12-volume edition of the Lives of the Saints since he believed that the lives of the saints show how Orthodoxy is lived. He wrote a three volume complete catechism and explanation of the Orthodox Faith along with several other books.
From 1930 to 1932 he worked closely with Bishop Joseph (Cvijovich) of Bitola who traveled to Carpatho-Russia to re-organize the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church which was in the process of freeing itself from centuries of Uniate domination. He was offered an appointment as a bishop in the young Carpatho-Russian Church but he declined, preferring to return to his teaching.
With the Communist ascent to power in Serbia following World War II, Father Justin was viewed as a threat to their atheistic ideology since he was zealous in converting intellectuals to faith in Jesus Christ. He was ousted from his position as a professor and told never to return to the university. After traveling in exile from monastery to monastery, he settled in the Chelije Monastery in Western Serbia in 1948 and remained in this women’s monastery for the remainder of his life. While he continued his intellectual pursuits, producing an immense number of books and scholarly articles, his theology was not simply an intellectual exercise of the mind but was a lived reality in his life. He worked alongside the nuns in restoring the monastery and establishing a farm while he continued a life of prayer and asceticism: battling against the sinful passions, not indulging his bodily desires, fasting to learn self control. One of his spiritual children remembered:
After dinner Fr. Justin would go to his workroom where he would read Holy Scripture, the Holy Fathers, and pray. He slept very little. He would get up very early and go to the monastery church to serve the Divine Services. Following this he would eat breakfast and return to his work – studying, translating, and writing. When he grew old, he would rest for a short while after lunch and then return to his work. Everyday would bring guests to see Fr. Justin, who would find time to give them precious spiritual advice. When the evening arrived, he would return to the Church to serve, after which the holy mystery of Confession would be offered to all.
Father Justin remained in the Chelije monastery, under constant surveillance by the Communist party police, until his falling-asleep in the Lord on his 85th birthday, March 25, 1979. Numerous miracles have been documented and recorded, both during his lifetime and at his grave after his death such as healings, flashes of brilliant and divine light from his tomb and many conversions of unbelievers. Holy Father Justin, pray to God for us!
Tropar (Tone 4)
As Orthodox sweetness and divine nectar, Venerable Father you flowed into the hearts of the faithful as a wealth;by your life and teachings you revealed yourself to be a living book of the Spirit, most wise Justin; therefore pray to Christ the Word that the Word may dwell in those who honor you.
Teachings of St. Justin
Orthodoxy is ascetic effort and it is life, and it is thus by effort and by life that Orthodoxy’s mission is broadcast and accomplished. The development of asceticism – this ought to be the inward mission of our Church among our people. The parish must become an ascetic focal point. But this can only be achieved by an ascetic priest. Prayer and fasting, the Church-oriented life of the parish, a life of liturgy: Orthodoxy holds these as the primary ways of effecting rebirth in its people. The parish, the parish community, must be regenerated and in Christ-like and brotherly love must minister humbly to Him and to all people, meek and lowly and in a spirit of sacrifice and self-denial. And such service must be imbued and nourished by prayer and the liturgical life. This much is groundwork and indispensable. But to this end there exists one prerequisite: that our bishops, priests, and our monks become ascetics themselves.
The Lives of the Saints are nothing else but the life of the Lord Christ, repeated in every saint to a greater or lesser degree in this or that form. More precisely it is the life of the Lord Christ continued through the saints, the life of the incarnate God the Logos, the God-man Jesus Christ who became man. This was so that as man He could give and transmit to us His Divine life; so that as God by His life He could sanctify and make immortal and eternal our human life on earth.
The Bible is in a sense a biography of God in this world. In it the Indescribable One has in a sense described Himself. All that is necessary for this world and for the people in it – the Lord has stated in the Bible. In it He has given the answers to all questions. There is no question which can torment the human soul, and not find its answer, either directly or indirectly in the Bible. Man cannot devise more questions than there are answers in the Bible. If you fail to find the answer to any of your questions in the Bible, it means that you have either posed a sense-less question or did not know how to read the Bible and did not finish reading the answer in it.
- Father Edward Pehanich