11 February 2009

Fr Justin of Chelje on St Isaac the Syrian & Gnoseology


[Note: per Esteban's comment below and a subsequent phone conversation with him, I have edited this post to avoid referring to Fr Justin explicitly by the title 'Saint'. As Esteban points out, he has not yet been glorified, and as there appears to be some confusion on this point—not least in my own mind!—I thought it best to observe some precision in that regard.]


I first discovered Fr Justin (Popovich) of Chelje in the inaugural issue of Divine Ascent (Vol. 1, No. 1, Great Lent 1997), where there was a brief Life of Fr Justin (pp. 12-16), three hymns in his honour (p. 17), a list of some of his more important writings (p. 18), a translation of his essay, ‘The Inward Mission of Our Church Bringing About Orthodoxy’ (pp. 19-25), and an interview about Fr Justin with Fr Peter Milosevich, ‘Father Justin Popovch: The Hidden Conscience of Orthodoxy’ (pp. 40-48). The effect of all of this material, on me at any rate, was tremendous. When I finally saw the volume, Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, trans. Fr Asterios Gerostergios, et al. (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1994), at the Conciliar Press bookshop in Ben Lomond of all places, I snapped it up.

Aside from ‘The Inward Mission of Our Church’, which is found on pp. 21-31, I was similarly effected by the ‘Introduction to the Lives of the Saints’ (pp. 32-50) and ‘The Theory of Knowledge of St Isaac the Syrian’ (pp. 117-68). As a recent convert from Protestantism, I think it is safe to say these essays had a profound effect on my understanding of Orthodoxy. They certainly changed my reading habits. Besides extolling the virtues of this wonderful book, I thought I would use the occasion of having celebrated the memory of St Isaac the Syrian yesterday to quote two excerpts from the latter essay.

Truth is objectively given in the person of Christ, the God-man. But the way in which this becomes subjective—that is, the practical side of the Christian theory of knowledge—was fully developed by the Fathers, those experienced, holy, and evangelical philosophers. Among the most outstanding of these holy philosophers was the great ascetic, Isaac the Syrian. In his writings, with a rare understanding based on experience, he traces the process of the healing and purification of man’s organs of knowledge, his growth in understanding, and his progressive path through experience to the apprehension of eternal Truth. In the philosophy of St Isaac the Syrian, based on the experience of grace, the principles and methodology of the Orthodox theory of knowledge have found one of their most perfect expressions. I shall now try to sketch out this theory of knowledge, or gnoseology. (p. 120)

Then, in his conclusion, Fr Justin writes (p. 163):

There is no doubt that knowledge progresses through man’s virtues and regresses through the passions. Knowledge is like a fabric woven by the virtues on the loom of the human soul. The loom of the soul extends through all the visible and invisible worlds. The virtues are only powers creating knowledge; they are the principles and source of knowledge. By transforming the virtues into constituent elements of his being through ascetic endeavor, a man advances from knowledge to knowledge. It could even be possible to say that the virtues are the sense organs of knowledge. Advancing from one virtue to another, a man moves from one form of comprehension to another.

10 comments:

Ian said...

Amazing words -- and beautiful descriptions. Thank you for sharing.

Off to read Introduction to the Lives of the Saints.

aaronandbrighid said...

Ian> I'm glad you liked it. Nothing beats sharing one's books without having to let someone actually take them out of one's house!

And if St Justin's 'Intro' doesn't convince someone to read the Lives of the Saints, nothing will!

Esteban Vázquez said...

Please note that, in spite the bewilderingly widespread practice to prefix his name with the address "Saint," the ever-memeorable Archimandrite Justin has been glorified by no one.

aaronandbrighid said...

Thank you for pointing this out, my friend. I tried myself to see if I could discover whether such glorification had yet taken place (I'd read somewhere or other that it had) before I posted this. But I found the practice, as you say, so 'bewilderingly widespread' that I figured either a) he had been glorified and these people knew something I didn't, or b) perhaps it falls under the category of pre-glorification veneration, like asking for intercessions or painting icons for private use even though the glorification has not taken place. If you seriously think he should not be referred to in this way, I trust your judgement enough to follow it. I'll edit the post accordingly.

Ian said...

Fianlly got around to reading Introduction to the Lives of the Saints: wow. It will need many more reads. My thanks.

aaronandbrighid said...

Glad to hear it, Ian. You are quite welcome—such tips are what this blog is here for!

RJ said...

I'm not sure about Esteban's claim about "no one": my own priest's patron saint is St. Justin of Celije. Seems to be a local vs. "universal" question.

aaronandbrighid said...

RJ> What Esteban means is that none of the local churches have officially glorified him, including his own church, the Serbian. Certainly, individual persons widely venerate him as a Saint, but such veneration has not yet been confirmed and propagated by the Church.

Gabriel said...

I think Esteban would have been the sort to say the New Martyrs of Russia, Xenia of St. Petersburg, and John of Kronstadt weren't "Saints" for the decades preceding their "official" glorification. In other words, nobody who cared would have paid attention to him.

Esteban Vázquez said...

Gabriel, who evidently must possess "claivoyant" qualities in order to correctly identify precisely which sort of person I am without being acquainted with me at all, is most certainly right: no one should pay any attention to me for any reason whatsoever.