Orthodox America

   Lives of Saints Apologist for the Faith Saint Justin Martyr, the Philosopher

June 1/14

Troparion, Tone 4

O Justin, teacher of divine knowledge, thou didst shine with the rays of true philosophy and wast wisely armed against the enemy. Confessing the truth thou didst contend with the martyrs: with them ever entreat Christ our God to save our souls.

By the time the apostles were preaching the Gospel the most learned pagans had already ceased to believe in their gods. Convinced of the falseness of their idolatrous religion, they sought for truth in the teachings of the ancient philosophers: Plato, Pythagoras, Zenon, Epicurus and others.  Some of these maintained that everything in the world was the result of chance, and they deified the powers of nature; others thought to attain a state of blessedness by means of an indomitable self-will, and while they did not call upon the Creator of the universe, they nevertheless respected virtue; still others sought only earthly pleasures, temporal satisfactions.

Among those who sought for the truth in this maze of different philosophies was an intense youth by the name of Justin. He was born about 100 AD into a pagan family in the Flavian Neapolis or what is now the West Bank city of Nablus in Palestine.  His parents were wealthy and able to provide him a first-class education compatible with his brilliant mind.  Justin soon became enamored of philosophy, attaching himself first to one system, then another, but none of these was able to satisfy his genuine thirst for truth.  His soul yearned for what was absolute, eternal; he was willing to pay any price.

Of the various philosophers he was most drawn to Plato, who had some understanding of divinity and of the immortality of the soul.  Immersing himself in the study of Platonism, Justin often withdrew to some solitary place for the sake of greater concentration.  On one such occasion he was walking along the beach, deep in thought, when he met a venerable elder with whom he entered into conversation. Justin told the elder of his desire to know the truth and he extolled the teaching of Plato. The elder contested his opinion, arguing that man was incapable of attaining knowledge of the truth without help from above.  "Be assured," he said, "you will not find in the teachings of Plato or any other philosopher, the true wisdom which leads to the knowledge of God. The human mind, which is not instructed by the Holy Spirit and is not enlightened by faith, cannot know God."

Justin was taken aback.  "Where, then," he asked the elder, "can I find a teacher who will show me the truth, if, as you claim, it can't be found in the books of Plato?"

"In ancient times," began the elder, "long before the philosophers, there lived holy and righteous people who were pleasing to God.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, they foretold future happenings, relaying to the people whatever God revealed to them. Their writings exist even now, illumining the minds of men to a knowledge of the truth, for they were witnesses of the truth.  They believed in God, the Creator of the world, and announced beforehand the coming to earth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ."

On the basis of the Holy Scripture and those prophecies which had already been fulfilled, the elder explained that the teachings of the pagan philosophers were far from perfect, and that only in Christianity  was the fullness of truth to be found:

"Pray to the true God," advised the elder, "that He might open for you the doors of light, for without God's help no one is capable of coming to an understanding of what is divine, but He reveals the truth to everyone who seeks it with prayer, and who turns to Him with love."

After conversing at some length the elder departed. "I never saw him again," wrote Justin later in describing his conversion, "but in my soul there was ignited a love for the prophets and holy men who are friends of Christ.  In deliberating over what the elder had said, I understood that the only true wisdom was that which he had told me about.  I began to study the books of the prophets and the apostles, and finally became a real philosopher, that is, a Christian."

Not satisfied with studying Christian books, Justin wanted to know how the Christians lived. The pagans circulated the most scandalous rumors concerning their behavior and manner of life, accusing the Christians of criminal activity and immorality.  The gross discrepancy between such behavior and the purity of Christian teaching troubled Justin. When, however, he became acquainted with the Christian community, he saw that these rumors were but malicious and baseless fabrications.   In fact, he found their behavior to be exemplary, combining meekness, charity and patience with firmness of faith and spirit. "What most impressed me," wrote Justin, "was the courage of these Christians, and the tranquility with which they endured tortures in confessing their faith."

Convinced of the truth of Christianity, Justin was baptized and himself began to preach the word of God, travelling around and propagating the Christian faith in various cities of the Empire, until he came to Rome.  He wore the traditional robe which identified him as a philosopher, and soon attracted enough students to warrant the establishment of a school where he tried to instill Christian values.

The emperor at that time, Antoninus Pius, persecuted the Christians, not because he held anything against their teaching, but because he believed the slanders which were spread about them.  In order to refute these charges, St. Justin addressed to the Emperor an Apology (c. 150 AD), in which he elucidated the essence of the Christian teaching and defended the Christians as moral, law-abiding citizens. He likewise sought to banish the terrible rumors that circulated about the Christian Eucharist. By simply explaining what the Eucharist was all about, he provided one of the earliest descriptions of the Divine Liturgy and its theology.   He says, in part:

"We call this food Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [Baptism], and is thereby living as Christ has enjoined.  For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Saviour was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so, too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the Flesh and Blood of that incarnated Jesus."

Leaving Rome for a time, St. Justin came to Ephesus. There he entered into debate with a learned rabbi by the name of Trypho whom he tried to convince of the truth of Christianity, basing his arguments on the Jewish writings and the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the coming to earth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  He later recorded the Dialogue, which has survived as a model of a missionary conversation.

Returning to Rome after the philosopher Marcus Arelius had become emperor, St. Justin discovered that the persecution of Christians had resumed. The following case was typical.   The wife of a certain pagan had begun to take instruction in the Christian faith, for which her husband had the catechist and two sympathizers arrested and executed.  Protesting this immoral vengeance, St. Justin wrote a second Apology, essentially a continuation of the first, in which he demonstrated the superiority of Christianity over paganism; the practical benefit to society alone recommended it: "We who formerly delighted in fornication now cleave only to chastity.  We who exercised the magic arts now consecrate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God. We who valued above all else the acquisition of wealth and property now direct all that we have to a common fund, which is shared with every needy person. We who hated and killed one another, and who, because of differing customs, would not share a fireside with those of another race, now, after the appearance of Christ, live together with them. We pray for our enemies, and try to persuade those who unjustly hate us that, if they live according to the excellent precepts of Christ, they will have a good hope of receiving the same reward as ourselves, from the God Who governs all."

This time, St. Justin's arguments failed to have the desired effect, and soon thereafter (c. 165 AD), the Saint himself fell beneath the executioner's sword.  According to one account it was the pagan Greek philosopher Criscens who, bitterly resentful of St. Justin for having repeatedly defeated him in debates, brought him before the Roman prefect on charges of treason and impiety.  When it appeared that the courts were going to acquit the Saint, Criscens arranged for him to be poisoned.

References to numerous works by St. Justin in the writings of other early Church Fathers indicate that he was a prolific writer.  Only the Apology and the Dialogue have come down to us, and they are considered among the most valuable sources for students of early Christian history.  They have also established St. Justin's reputation as the founder of the science of Christian apologetics.

The Martyr's holy remains are located in a Capuchin monastery in Rome, awaiting the General Resurrection. He is commemorated by the Church on June 1.

With today's proliferation of false religions and false gods, each one of us must be an informed apologist for the Faith.  Holy Martyr Justin, help us, pray for us.