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Life Of Our Father Justin Archimandrite of Chelije

Who reposed in the Lord Jesus Christ 25 March 1979

Written By Reverend Father Daniel Rogich


Troparion, Tone 4
As Orthodox sweetness and divine nectar, Venerable Father* thou dost flow into the hearts of believers as a wealth:* by thy life and teachings thou didst reveal thyself 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 thee.

In the Name of the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit:

Holy love has a way of consuming some. This is what is meant by one who said "Thou hast ravished our hearts, ravished them" (Song of Songs 4:9). And it make others bright and overjoyed. In this regard it has been said "My heart hath hope in Him, and I am helped and my flesh hath flourish again" (Ps. 27:7). "For when the heart is cheerful, the face beams" (cf.Prov.15:13), and "a person flooded with the love of God reveals in his body, as if in a mirror, the splendor of his soul, a glory like of Moses when he came face to face with God" (cf. Ex. 34:29-35) - St. John Climacus.

OUR HOLY FATHER JUSTIN, Abbot of Chelije Monastery in Valjevo, western Serbia, was born to pious and God-fearing parents, Prota (Priest) Spyridon and Protinica (Presbytera) Anastasia Popovich, in Vranje, South Serbia, on the Feast of Annunciation, March 25, 1894.  He was born into a priestly family, as seven previous generations of the Popoviches (Popovich in Serbian actually means "family or a son of a priest") were headed by priests.  At baptism, he was given the name Blagoje, after the Feast of the Annunciation (Blagovest means Annunciation or Good News).  Being raised in a pious Christian atmosphere, young Blagoje learned quite early of the virtuous life in Christ as dedicated in service to God's holy Church.  As a child, he often visited with his parents the Prohor Pchinjski Monastery, dedicated to St. Prophor the Miracle worker (see Oct. 19th).  He witnessed firsthand the miraculous power of the Lord manifested through St. Prohor, as his mother Anastasia was healed of a deadly disease by the Saint's intercessions when Blagoje was still a young boy.

Blagoje was an excellent student in elementary school.  His greatest love was for the Bible, and the four Gospels in particular.  He began serious reading of the Bible at age fourteen, and throughout the rest of his life he carried the New Testament on his person, reading faithfully three chapters a day.  In 1905 after finishing the fourth grade in Vranje, following the tradition of the Popovich family, young Blagoje entered the nine-year program of secular and religious study at the Seminary and Faculty of St. Sava in Belgrade.  In the early twentieth century the School of St. Sava in Belgrade was renowned throughout the Orthodox world as a holy place of extreme asceticism as well as of a high quality of scholarship.  Some of the well-known professors, were the rector, Fr. Domentian; Professor Fr. Dositheus, later a bishop, and Athanasius Popovich, and the great ecclesiastical composer, Stevan Mokranjac.  Yet one professor stood head and shoulders above the rest: the then Hieromonk Nikolai Velimirovich, Ph. D. (see March 18th).  Fr. Nickolai the single most influential person in his life.  From the Venerable Nikolai, Blagoje learned of the virtuous ascetic life in Christ the Lord, of the doctrinal genius of the great Fathers of the Church, and of the spiritual and intellectual effort needed to probe the important philosophical and theological questions of the day.  In the end, both of these two spiritual geniuses possessed a commitment to Christ the Lord, provided them with a truly Orthodox vision of life, which in turn made them the two greatest voices of the Serbian Orthodox Church in modern times.  Both Nikolai and Blagoje, later Monk Justin, sought to "speak the truth in love" to a passing world.

The sought the answers to the world's most pressing problems in the teachings of the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church, and especially in the experiences found in the Lives of the Saints.  The saints were for them "living Bibles"  "incarnate dogmas",  and the true source of Orthodox theology, experiential knowledge of God and existential pedagogical truth valid for all times.

In 1914, at age twenty, Blagoje finished the nine-year program of St. Sava's in Belgrade.  At this time he had only one desire in mind: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may behold the delight of the Lord, and that I may visit His holy temple {Ps. 26:4}.  With this hunger and thirst for righteousness driving him, Blagoje wanted to radically devote his life to Christ in the monastic vocation.  However, due to the beginning of World War I in 1914, and the declining health of his parents, Blagoje decided to postpone his entrance into the monastic ranks.

During the early part of World War I, autumn of 1914, Blagoje served as a student nurse primarily in South Serbia-Skadar, Nish, Kosovo, etc.  Unfortunately, while in this capacity, he contracted typhus during the winter of 1914 and had to spend over a month in a hospital in Nish.  On January 8, 1915, he resumed his duties.  It suites to say that Blagoje and the rest of the aids and nurses, as well as all of the freedom-loving Serbian Christians in South Serbia, suffered bitterly from the effects of war.

On the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas, his Ksna Slava  (family patron saint), 1915, Blagoje returned to Skadar in order to visit Metropolitan Demetrius, who later became the first Patriarch after the patriarchal throne was renewed in 1920.  Blagoje received the monastic tonsure in the church in Skadar, taking the name Justin, after the great Christian philosopher and martyr for Christ, St. Justin the Philosopher (t. 166).  This name was truly a gift and sign from Heaven, for it was as a philosopher and seeker of Christian truth that the humble Monk Justin would later receive glory from God.

Shortly after becoming a monk, Justin, along with several other students who received the Metropolitan's blessing, traveled to Petrograd, Russia, to begin a year's study in the Orthodox Seminary there.  It was here the young Monk Justin first dedicated himself more fully to Orthodoxy and the monastic way.  He learned of the great ascetics of Russia: Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves in Kiev, Seraphim of Sarov, Sergius of Radonezh, John of Kronstadt, and others. Justin fell in love with Russian spirituality and piety, especially that exhibited by the common folk of the countryside.

After his year's study and sojourn in Russia, Justin entered, by the prompting of his spiritual father Nikolai, the Theological School in Oxford, England.  He spent seven semesters at Oxford-November 1916 to May 1919 yet he did not receive a diploma since his doctoral dissertation entitled, "The Philosophy and Religion of Dostoevsky," was not accepted.  As a result, Justin returned to Belgrade after the war and became a teacher in the seminary at Karlovac, Srem. At Sremski Kalovac, Justin renewed the ancient study of the Lives of the Saints as being a proper theological focus and most important course of study.  It was at this time that he received the calling and vision from God to translate into modern Serbian the entire Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, a feast which to this day is truly astounding.  In September of 1919, Justin entered the Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Athens, Greece.  He spent two years there to finish his doctoral course work.  Just as in Russia, Monk Justin traveled through out the countryside of Greece, especially benefiting spiritually from the Greek Orthodox heritage commonly known as the Byzantine legacy.  In 1920, venerable Justin was ordained deacon and began to experience another side of the Church's liturgical life: leadership of the worship services. At his liturgical and ascetical life increased, Justin matured spiritually and became known throughout all of Greece as a most pious ascetic.  At this time, due to his unceasing prayer to the Most sweet Jesus, Justin was granted by the grace of the Holy Spirit the gift of umilenije coupled with tears.

In May 1921, Deacon Justin returned to Sremski Karlovac and resumed this teaching duties at the Seminary.  He learned on the New Testament, Dogmatics, Patristics, and the Lives of the Saints.  Prior to each lesson the Scriptures he opened with this short prayer: "O Most Sweet Lord, by the power of Thy Holy Gospel and through Thy Apostles, teach me and announce through me what I am to say."

One year later, on the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist, 1922, Venerable Justin was ordained priest by His Holiness Patriarch Dimitrije.  Throughout the ordination service, Justin was in tears, crying as a newborn babe in the Lord.  His humility attracted many, as his disciples grew rapidly in number.  Not only students, but also many lay people came to him for confession, counsel, and spiritual healing.  His most beloved disciples were those pious men and women of the Bogomo jack Pokret (Serbian Prayer Movement) originally formed and led by the newly consecrated Bishop Nikolai.  The great Bishop Nikolai as the Great Apostle of the twentieth century, as the "New Chrysostom" of all times.  These two were as Anthony and Athanasius, and Basil and Gregory of old- "two bodies, yet one mind" -as their love for our Lord Jesus Christ produced much spiritual fruit in the lives of many zealots.  Everyone especially enjoyed singing the spiritual songs written by Bishop Nikolai.  These ones, written in the vernacular language of the people, were not only quite spiritual and edifying, but also were very didactic and doctrinal in nature.  And it was this "praising the Lord in the people's language" which inspired Justin to translate into modern Serbian, from the original Greek text, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Following the scriptural and the liturgical tradition of the Church given to the Slavs by the great evangelical missionaries, Cyril and Methodius and their disciples, that is, the tradition of hearing the Word of God and praying in the mother tongue of the people {I Cor. 14:19}, both Justin and Nikolai were able by the energy of the Holy Spirit to edify, enlighten, and confirm in Orthodoxy the pious faithful in their own tongue.

The zealous Fr. Justin was also close contact at this time with two great Russian Orthodox pastors: Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, who taught at the Seminary in Sremski Karlova, the exiled Russian Bishop John Maximovitch.  Holy Father John,  a man of extreme asceticism, was truly a miracle-worker, and his coming later to America-where he reposed in the Lord in San Francisco-became a blessing and visitation from the Lord for those God-seekers there.

In 1923, Fr. Justin became the editor of the Orthodox journal Christian Life; and in this journal appeared his first doctoral dissertation, "The Philosophy and Religion of Dostoevsky," for which he was persecuted at Oxford.  Three years later, in 1926, his second doctoral dissertation, "The Problem of Person and Knowledge in St. Macarius of Egypt," was published in Greek in Athens.  Fr. Justin was now on his way to establishing himself as a modern Father of the Church.  For his course on the Lives of the Saints, Justin began to translate into Serbian the Lives of the Saints from the Greek, Syriac and Slavonic sources, as well as numerous minor works of the Fathers-homilies of John Chrysostom, Macarius, and Isaac the Syrian.  He also wrote an exquisite book, The Theory of Knowledge According to St. Isaac.  Justin's blossoming literary genius amazed everyone.

In 1931, after a stint as Professor in the Theological Academy in Prizren, the brilliant Fr. Justin was requested by the Holy Synod in Belgrade to assist Bishop Joseph (Cvijovich) of Bitola in reorganizing the Church of the Carpatho-Russians in Czechoslovakia.  This area had been besieged by those espousing Uniatism.  Justin, an established defender of the faith, was a great aid to the reorganization of the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia.  This experience made him realize a tremendous need of the Serbs: to have in their mother tongue an exact and complete exposition of the Orthodox faith.  As a result, he began writing, after his return to Bitola in 1932, his monumental work, The Dogmas of the Orthodox Church, in three volumes.  Volume one, published in late 1932, dealt with the sources and method of theology, the nature of God and the teaching on the Holy Trinity, creation, and divine providence.  This volume was so well received that Dr. Justin was chosen, in 1934, as Professor of Dogmatics at the Theological Faculty of St. Sava in Belgrade.  One year later, this hard-working writer completed the second volume, entitled, The God Man and His Work: Christology and Soteriology.  There is so doubt that these two volumes and the third and final volume, Ecclesiology: Teaching on the Church, published later in 1970 are the most complete with his most ascetical vision of life, produced for all Christians a magnificent analysis of the ancient faith of the Church.

In 1938, Fr. Justin, along with a number of noted intellectuals of Belgrade, founded the Serbian Philosophical Society.  Holy Father Justin began at this time to probe the philosophical and world issues of his day.  His penetrating mind was fully displayed in two books: The Foundations of Theology (1939) and Dostoevsky on Europe and Slavism (1940). Both of these works dealt with the nature and method of theology, and the spirit and vision of western civilization.  Fr. Justin was never fearful of telling the truth concerning the fallen state of humankind and, particularly, the follies of Western Eupropean religious and secular life.

Father Justin remained in the capacity of Professor Dogmatics in Belgrade until the end of World War II.  Within the perspective of the newly established communist and atheistic regime, the likes of a zealous Christian such as Father Justin, who was now beginning to convert the intellectuals to faith in Jesus Christ, had no place.  He, alone with several other teachers, was ousted from the university system in Belgrade and told never to return.  Thus ended the university teaching career in Belgrade of the great Rev. Dr. Justin Popovich.

For two years after his exile from Belgrade, the ascetic Justin lived in several monasteries in Serbia-Kalenich, Ovchar, Sukovo, and Ravanitsa-and on May 14, 1948, he entered Chelije Monastery near the village of Lelich, only a few miles from the major town of Valjevo, Western Serbia.  Father Justin remained in Chelije Monastery until his repose in the Lord on March 25, 1979.  He became Archimandrite there and was the spiritual head of the Monastery.  Under his guidance, Chelije Monastery became a convent.  A school of iconography, renewing the Serbo-Byzantine style, was also begun there, and a new chapel dedicated to St. John Chrysostom as well as residential quarters were constructed in 1970.  Many pious people from all parts of Yugoslavia, Greece, the Balkans, and literally all parts of the world came to hear him preach and teach the correct faith and life in Christ by the energy of the Holy Spirit.  Without a doubt, from the end of World War I until his reposed in the Lord, Archimandrite Justin was the pillar of Orthodoxy in his homeland.

During the time of confinement in Chelije Monastery, he accomplished an amazing literary feat: he translated and compiled from various sources twelve volumes (one per month) of the Lives of the Saints.  Father Justin communed of the Holy Gifts daily, for the Eucharist, the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, was his "daily bread" and the true source of his entire life, work, teaching, and existence.  His words, deed and thoughts exuded a lifestyle reminiscent of the ancient Fathers of the Church.  Another Father of the Church walked this earth in the person of St. Justin.

In addition to the Lives of the Saints, the following is an incomplete list of the writings he produced in Chelije, some of which are still unpublished, plays a highly analytical and perceptive mind and heart.  He actually created a new theological and philosophical language necessary to reach the heart of the modern human being.  And his writings and teachings reflect a genuine and total commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, a commitment characterized by extreme asceticism, as well as by the contemplative vision of the Divine Light of God the Holy Trinity.  He was "living dogma" and a "flute of the Spirit" reflecting the divine love of God the Holy Trinity. Theology was life to St. Justin.

St. Justin fell asleep in the Lord on March 25, 1979, on his birthday, the Feast of the Annunciation.  He was 85 years of age.  After his most honorable burial which was attended by hundreds of pious believers who came from many parts of the world, he was laid to rest facing east behind the main church of Chelije Monastery.  To this day eulogies praising his virtue and love of Christ continue to be heard from all parts of the Orthodox world.  Also, miracles have occurred at his grave site, such as headings, flashes of brilliant and divine light from his tomb, as well as many conversions of unbelievers who have either read his writings or have been personally visited by Almighty God through the prayers of St. Justin.

Truly St. Justin's legacy is a great one.  Many disciples are now extolling his name and imitating his life by drinking from the inexhaustible riches of grace and truth which he revealed to us.  Add another modern Orthodox Christian saint to the Church calendar!

"O Holy Father Justin, thy sweetness of life refreshes our souls.  Thy love for truth and desire to live with all the saints is a reminder to us of our own calling from God to pursue virtue, that we, most unenlightened and miserable sinners, may open our hearts to the knowledge of Truth Incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom belongs glory, honor and worship, together with His Unoriginate Father, and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

I would like to humbly thank the servant of our Lord Dejan Janjic, who kindly shared with me this spiritually rewarding text on the "Life Of Our Father Justin Archimandrite of Chelije".

Holy Father Justin,
Pray Unto God For Us!

GLORY BE TO GOD FOR ALL THINGS!



St. Justin Popovich St. Justin Popovich (2) St. Justin Popovich (3) St. Justin Popovich (4) St. Justin Popovich (5)
St. Justin Popovich (right) together with Elder Cleopa of Ro ... St. Justin Popovich preaching St. Justin Popovich preaching (2) St. Justin Popovich writing... St. Justin Popovich writing... (2)
St. Justin Popovich (6) Gravesite of St. Justin Popovich Writing of St. Justin Popovich Writing of St. Justin Popovich (2)





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