13 July 2009

Fr Justin (Popović)—The Way of Divine Knowledge

When a cousin from Tulsa visited Greece recently, I asked her to pick up a copy of a book I’d wanted for a long time: Archimandrite Justin (Popović) of Ćelje, Ὁδὸς θεογνωσίας, κεφάλαια ἀσκητικὰ καὶ γνωσιολογικὰ [Way of divine knowledge, ascetic and epistemological chapters], 2nd ed. (Athens: Grigori, 1992). After a ‘Prologue’ by Hieromonk (now Bishop) Athanasius (Jevtić) and a brief ‘Introduction’ by Fr Justin, the book is composed of three parts: first, a 1926 study entitled ‘Τὸ πρόβλημα τῆς προσωπιτκότητος καὶ τῆς γνώσεως κατὰ τὸν Ἅγιον Μακάριον τὸν Αἰγύτιον’ [The problem of personhood and knowledge according to St Macarius the Egyptian], second, another study—dating to 1927—entitled ‘Ἡ γνωσιολογία τοῦ Ἁγίου Ἰσαὰκ τοῦ Σύρου’ [The theory of knowledge of St Isaac the Syrian], and third, a collection of excerpts entitled ‘Ἀσκητικο-γνωσιολογικὰ κεφάλαια’ [Ascetic-epistemological chapters].

The second part has appeared in English as ‘The Theory of Knowledge of St Isaac the Syrian’, trans. Mother Maria (Rule), Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, by Fr Justin (Popovich), trans. Fr Asterios Gerostergios, et al. (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, 1994), pp. 117-168, while a number of the ‘chapters’ in the third part (as far as I can tell, §1-19 and §21-27—a little over a quarter of the chapters in Ὁδὸς θεογνωσίας) have been translated in the same volume under ‘Selective Writings of Fr Justin’, pp. 197-211 (although there are other excerpts translated there—on pp. 211-219—that do not appear in Ὁδὸς θεογνωσίας). That leaves the study of St Macarius and the majority of the ‘Ἀσκητικο-γνωσιολογικὰ κεφάλαια’, most of the latter taken from Fr Justin’s biblical commentaries, that have not to my knowledge appeared in English.

Bishop Athanasius’s helpful ‘Prologue’ notes that Fr Justin had a special love for and interest in ‘the three great ascetics and neptic Fathers of our Orthodox East: St Macarius the Egyptian, St Isaac the Syrian, and St Symeon the New Theologian’ (p. 6). Hence, the first two sections of the book comprise particular studies of the first two of these Fathers. But since Fr Justin was never able to write a special study of the last, St Symeon, the third part was compiled in pious imitation of the ascetic theology of this great Byzantine Father (p. 7). Furthermore, by way of introduction to the first part of the book, the ‘Prologue’ includes some observations on the scholarly controversies over the authorship and doctrine of the Macarian Homilies. His Grace draws the reasonable conclusion:

This is not the place to embark upon the subject of the author of the Macarian writings, which—as is also the case with the Areopagitic writings—does not have a decisive significance for the genuineness and ecclesiastical nature, the Orthodoxy of faith and of spiritual experience that is contained in these works. (p. 9)

Fr Justin’s theology has been highly influential in my life, not least in turning my attention from an excessive concern with abstract intellectual theology and towards the Lives of Saints and the practical moral and ascetic teachings of the Fathers. I earnestly hope to see more of his work translated into English, but in the meantime, I shall enjoy reading and making use of these writings in Greek.


Anonymous said...

I have to say that recently I began reading "Orthodox Faith & Life in Christ", and one of the first things that came to me was that Fr. Justin's view on the lives of the saints must have heavily influenced you, because your blog certainly reflects exactly what he was speaking of.


aaronandbrighid said...

I take that as an enormous compliment, Andrew. Thank you!