Saint Justin was born to pious and God-fearing
parents, Proto Spyridon and Protinica Anastasia Popović, in Vranje, South Serbia,
on the Feast of Annunciation, March 25, 1894 (April 7 by the New Calendar). At
baptism, he was given the name Blagoje, after the Feast of the
Annunciation (Blagovest means Annunciation or Good News).
He was born into a priestly family, as seven previous generations of the
Popovices (Popović in Serbian actually means "family or a son of a priest") were
headed by priests.
Blagoje Popović completed the nine-years'
studies at the Theological Faculty St. Sava in Belgrade in 1914. 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 included the rector,
Fr. Domentian; Professor Fr. Dositej, later a martyr; and Dr. Atanasije Popović ;
and the great ecclesiastical composer, Stevan Mokranjac. Yet one professor stood
head and shoulders above the rest: the then Hieromonk Nikolai Velimirović, Ph.D.,
the single most influential person in Fr. Justin's life.
During the early part of World War I, in
autumn of 1914, Blagoje served as a student nurse primarily in South Serbia—Skadar,
Niš, 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 Niš. On
January 8, 1915, he resumed his duties sharing the destiny of the Serbian army,
he passed a path of Golgotha from Peć to Skadar (along which 100,000 Serbian
soldiers died) where on January 1, 1916, he entered the monastic order in the
Orthodox cathedral of Skadar, and took the name of St. Justin, after the great
Christian philosopher and martyr for Christ, St. Justin the Philosopher.
Shortly after becoming a monk, Father Justin,
along with several other students, 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: St. Anthony the Great and St. Theodosius of the
Kiev Caves in Kiev, St. Seraphim Sarovsky, St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. John of
Kronstadt, and others.
After his year's study and sojourn in Russia,
Fr. Justin Popović entered, by the prompting of his older colleague, Fr. Nikolai
Velimirovich later Bishop Nikolaj, the Theological School in Oxford, England.
Justin attended the studies of theology at Oxford in the period 1916-1919, but
his doctor's thesis under the title "Filozofija i religija F.M.Dostojevskog" (The
Philosophy and Religion of F.M. Dostoevsky) was not accepted.
In 1923, Fr. Justin became the editor of the
Orthodox journal The Christian Life; and in this journal appeared his
first doctoral dissertation, "The Philosophy and Religion of Dostoevsky," for
which he was persecuted at Oxford. Together with his fellow colleagues from the
Oxford University he has edited the periodical The Christian Life for
In 1926 he was promoted to the title of the
Doctor of Theology at the Faculty of Theology, University in Athens (his
dissertation being "Problem ličnosti i saznanja po Sv. Makariju Egipatskom",
The Problem of Personality and Cognition According to St. Macarius of Egypt).
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 Ss. John
Chrysostom, Macarius, and Isaac of Syria. He also wrote an exquisite book,
The Theory of Knowledge According to St. Isaac.
From 1930 until 1932 after a stint as
Professor in the Theological Academy of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Prizren, he
was an associate and escort of Bp. Joseph (Cvijovich) of Bitola in reorganizing
the Church of the Carpatho-Russians in Czechoslovakia. This area had been
besieged by those espousing Uniatism, where previously converted Christians of
these regions started their conversion back into Orthodoxy.
Fr. Dr. Justin was chosen, in 1934, as
Professor of Dogmatics at the Theological Faculty of St. Sava in Belgrade. As
the professor at the University of Belgrade he was one of the founders (1938) of
the Serbian Philosophical Society along with a number of noted
intellectuals of Belgrade.
He was also the professor of Dogmatics at the
Faculty of Orthodox Theology of the University of Belgrade from 1934 until 1941,
until the World War II. In 1945, within the perspective of the newly established
communist and atheistic regime, the likes of a zealous Christian such as St.
Justin, who was now beginning to convert the intellectuals to faith in Jesus
Christ, had no place. Considered ineligible by the Communist party, together
with a few fellow professors, he was ousted from the Faculty in 1945. As an
ecclesiastical person and clergyman St. Justin spent 31 years in the Monastery
Ćelije under the continuous surveillance of the Communist Party police.
Saint Justin of Ćelije fell asleep in the Lord
on March 25, 1979, on his birthday, the Feast of the Annunciation (April 7 by
the New Calendar).
Apolytikion in Tone One
Let us honor with splendor the divinely
inspired theologian, the wise Serb Justin, who by the scythe of the Holy Spirit
hath thrashed the error of atheism and the insolence of the Latins, being a
mystic of the God-man and lover of piety, crying out: Glory to Christ Who hath
glorified thee, glory to Him Who hath crowned thee, glory to Him Who hath
rendered thee a luminary to those who are in a state of darkness.
Kontakion in Tone One
We proclaim to the faithful the inexhaustible
fount conveying the Orthodox doctrines, and an angel-like man full of divine
zeal, the divine Justin, the offspring of the Serbs, who by his sound teachings
and writings hath strengthened the faith of all in the Lord.
"In Christianity truth is not a philosophical
concept nor is it a theory, a teaching, or a system, but rather, it is the
living theanthropic hypostasis—the historical Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Before
Christ men could only conjecture about the Truth since they did not possess it.
With Christ as the incarnate divine Logos the eternally complete divine Truth
enters into the world. For this reason the Gospel says: "Truth came by Jesus
Christ" (John 1:17)."