Justin Popović (Serbian Cyrillic Јустин Поповић) (1894-1979) was a theologian, Dostoyevski scholar, a champion of anti-Communism, a writer, a critic of the pragmatic church (celestial) life, a philosopher of the Eastern Orthodox theology and archimandrite of the Ćelije Monastery, near Valjevo.
The early years
Archimandrite Justin was born to pious and God-fearing parents, Prota (Priest) Spiridon and Protinica (Presbytera) Anastasija Popović, in Vranje, South Serbia, on the Feast of Annunciation, March 25, 1894. 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 Popovićs (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 of 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 were the rector, Fr. Domentian; Professor Fr. Dositheus, later a bishop; Athanas Popović; and the great ecclesiastical composer, Stevan Mokranjac. Still, one professor stood head and shoulders above the rest: the then hieromonk Nikolaj Velimirović, Ph.D., the single most influential person in his life.
World War I
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, passing a path of Golgotha from Peć to Skadar (along which one hundred thousand 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, Justin, along with several other students traveled to Petrograd, Russia for a year-long study in the Orthodox Seminary there. It was here the young monk Justin first dedicated himself more fully to Orthodoxy and the monastic way of life. He learned of the great Russian ascetics: St. Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves in Kiev, St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. John of Kronstadt and others.
After his year’s study and sojourn in Russia, Justin Popović entered the Theological School in Oxford, England at the prompting of his spiritual father Nikolaj. Justin studied theology in London in the period 1916-1926, but his doctoral thesis under the title «Filozofija i religija F.M.Dostojevskog» (The Philosophy and Religion of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky) was not accepted due to its radical criticism of Western humanism, rationalism, Roman Catholicism, and anthropocentrism.
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 edited the periodical The Christian Life for twenty years.
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 Jovan John Chrysostom, Macarius, and Isaac the Syrian. He also wrote an exquisite book, The Theory of Knowledge According to St. Isaac.
From 1930 until 1932 after a short period as Professor in the Theological Academy of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Prizren, he was an associate of Bishop Joseph (Cvijovich) of Bitola and the man tasked with 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 the Orthodox religion.
In one of those fateful historical moments, fate brought St. Nikolaj Velimirovic, St. John Maximovich of Shanghai and San Francisco and the future saint Arch. Justin Popovich. together in Bitola. The young John Maximovich (a Russian of Serbian ancestry) was the assistant to Fr. Justin Popovich at the theological seminary there, while the Bishop of Ochrid was Fr. Nikolaj Velimirovic.
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 Belgrade intellectuals.
World War II
He was also the professor of Dogmatics at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology of the University of Belgrade from 1934 until 1945, until World War II. In 1945, 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.
The Communist regime
As an ecclesiastical person and clergyman Father Justin spent 31 years in the Ćelije Monastery under the continuous surveillance of the Communist Party police. Considered ineligible by the Communist party, together with a few fellow professors, he was ousted from the Faculty in 1945. The Communists limited his public appearces within monastic confines. While Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovich was never allowed to return to Serbia and Yugoslavia after his internship in Dahau the German concentration camp, Fr. Justin was allowed to actively participate in the organization of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
A devoted monk and philosopher of the Eastern Orthodox theology, Justin Popović was a great critic of ecumenism, providing it was inclined towards relativization of the God’s Truth. (Jovan Mayendorf, professor of the Academy of St. Vladimir now in Scarsdale, New York (associated with Columbia University) – and every bit as much a critic of the «Catholic novelties» and the Pope’s anti-Christianity. Until the end of his life Father Justin was a dedicated creator, and it is no wonder that his work is considered as a great contribution to the Orthodox theology and he himself as the secret conscience of the Serbian Church and the entire martyr’s Orthodox religion (according to John N. Karmiris, the Greek academician).
St. Justin fell asleep in the Lord on March 25, 1979, on his birthday, the Feast of the Annunciation (April 7 by the Gregorian Calendar). Father Justin (Popovic) is widely venerated even though not officially canonized as a saint by the Serbian Orthodox Church.