A HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY MARTYRS CYPRIAN AND JUSTINA
(Oct. 2/ 15)
An Account of the Life of the Saints, and About the Benefits of Prayer
Brothers and sisters!
Today we commemorate the holy martyrs Cyprian and Justina, saints whose Life is most instructive for our times, two thousand years into the Christian era, when sorcery and paganism are reviving vigorously and spreading their influence under many guises, most notably through popular entertainment. The Life of the passion-bearers shows these evils for what they really are, and even more importantly, teaches us the important truth that prayer prevails over all the devices of the devil.
Here is a summary of the Life of these saints:
Cyprian was the son of heathen parents, who put him in the care of wizards when he reached the age of seven, so that he could study demonic wisdom. When he was ten, his wretched parents sent him to Mount Olympus to prepare him for the pagan priesthood, since that place was the abode of the so-called gods, and there were innumerable idols there, inhabited by devils. On Olympus, Cyprian saw all the accursed demon-gods of the ancient Greeks; he saw the prince of darkness himself and the ranks of wicked spirits that travel the earth deluding men. Additionally, he was taught to summon up storms and spread illnesses; and after fasting forty days, eating nothing except acorns after sunset, he learned to create phantoms and specters. At fifteen he left Olympus and began traveling from one notorious center of heathenism to another. At Sparta he learned to make the dead speak, and in Egypt to cast spells; in Chaldea he was initiated into the secrets of astrology. Having attained perfection in wickedness and pledged himself to become a destroyer of souls and faithful slave of Hell, Cyprian was assigned a full legion of demonic assistants by Satan. Then he returned to Antioch, his birthplace.
In Antioch Cyprian busied himself with black deeds appropriate to his calling. He sacrificed youths and maidens to the heathen gods, and killed many people with potions and spells. Disciples flocked to him to learn the secrets of magic, and he taught some to float in the air, others to sail in boats upon the clouds, and others to walk on water. People also turned to him for aid in seducing others and in obtaining revenge on their enemies. In a word, Cyprian was the favorite son of Gehenna, for whom a place was already reserved at the bottom of the pit of fire. The Lord, however, Who desires not the death of a sinner, but that he should turn from his wickedness and live, deigned to save Cyprian from perdition in the following manner…
There was a maiden named Justina living in Antioch, the daughter of pagans. One day she was sitting by her window, and a deacon named Praylius passed by. She entered into conversation with him, and he proclaimed to her the word of salvation. Restrained by virginal modesty, she did not search him out for further instruction, but began attending the divine services. Grace moved her heart, she came to believe in Christ, and she converted both her parents.
After some time a young pagan named Aglaias saw Justina on the way to church, and the devil set his heart afire with lust for her. He began intercepting her frequently and with sweet words tried to lure her into sin, but she would have nothing to do with him. Rejection fueled the flames of his desire, and one day he and other depraved youths seized her and carried her away to his house. Justina beat Aglaias on the face, spit on him, and screamed, and the neighbors came running and rescued her. After this Aglaias turned to Cyprian for help. The warlock consulted his books, then summoned a demon he was sure could obtain the desired result. Boasting of his success at inciting murders, fornications, and adulteries, the fiend gave Cyprian a potion, which the sorcerer sprinkled on the maiden’s house.
Every evening Justina went to sleep at sunset, and at the third hour of the night rose to glorify God. During the night after Cyprian sprinkled the potion, she awoke as usual, only to sense her blood boiling and her mind overwhelmed by longing for Aglaias. Ashamed at her vile thoughts, the holy virgin redoubled her prayers, and after a long while her tranquility was restored. The humiliated demon returned to Cyprian and admitted his defeat, which he attributed to the power of Justina’s prayers and the cross she wore.
Upon this Cyprian summoned an eviler demon, but this one was also defeated by Justina’s entreaties to God. To do battle with the wicked spirit, Justina clothed herself in a hair shirt, which served her as spiritual armor. Until she conquered the adversary, Justina ate nothing but bread and drank only water. Then Cyprian sent a third demon, which assumed the form of a woman. This devil began by speaking in a pious manner to Justina and asking what is the reward which awaits those who lead a strict and pure life.
Justina replied, “Indescribably rich is the reward of those who live chastely! It is amazing that people concern themselves so little wit acquiring the great treasure of angelic purity.”
“But if everyone remained a virgin, how could the human race continue to exist?” asked the sly devil. “Many saints were married.” From this question Justina understood that she was not speaking to a woman, but to a demon. Rather than continue the conversation, Justina traced the cross upon her forehead, after the manner of the ancient Christians, and thus drove him away. Afterwards, the demon was compelled by God’s might to admit to Cyprian the cause of his defeat, for which the sorcerer berated him furiously.
Powerless to overcome Justina, the demon then assumed the maiden’s form and appeared to Aglaias so that the youth could satisfy his desire with him, but when the young man, thinking the demon was Justina, uttered her name, the might of God forced the wicked spirit to disappear at once. Next Cyprian gave Aglaias the form of a bird and assigned a devil to transport him through the air to Justina’s window. The virgin was looking out as Aglaias approached, and her mere glance dashed him to the roof. He clung there precariously until Justina released him by prayer. Subsequently, Cyprian made use of other spells, afflicting Justina, her relatives, her slaves, and her domestic animals with various illnesses, and punishing the whole city with a pestilence in the hope of compelling Justina to surrender to Aglaias, but he was powerless against the maiden. Finally, Cyprian realized the impotence of the demons when confronted by the sign of the Cross and the ardent prayer of a true Christian. He came to his senses and renounced allegiance to Satan; whereupon, the devil attacked him physically and almost strangled him to death. At his last gasp Cyprian made the sign of the Cross and exclaimed, “O God of Justina, help me!” The sound of the divine name and the name of the Lord’s favorite hurled away the devil.
Cyprian was subsequently baptized, ordained presbyter, and consecrated to the episcopacy, by his virtuous deeds attaining the first rank among the saints, while Justina became a deaconess and was entrusted with the rule of a community of virgins. During the reign of the impious Emperor Claudius, both saints were beheaded for Christ.
This, then, brothers and sisters, is, in brief, the fascinating and sobering Life of the Lord’s two great saints, Cyprian and Justina, whom we celebrate today. In it, we see that all the power of hell is of no effect against the Cross and prayer. On the feast of the Exaltation, I spoke about the might of the sign of the Cross and the cross we wear around our neck; so now a few words about prayer. Prayer is the conduit of every grace, of every divine blessing: by it we send up to the Lord our petitions and express our devotion. In response to prayer, God showers us with His love and His divine benefactions. Prayer is a magnet attracting God’s energies, a golden key opening the treasures of the Lord’s care and compassion, and a wellspring of every blessing. Without heartfelt prayer, one easily becomes a plaything of the devil and is reduced to spiritual beggary. True prayer sweeps away the spiderwebs of the demon’s snares; it delivers us from pride, acquisitiveness, slothfulness, heedlessness, and every other passion and deficiency; and it inspires us to unsparing labor for Christ. We lift our hands in prayer, and they are filled with God’s gifts. There is no temptation, no passion that can withstand prolonged, persistent, earnest prayer. If God is far from your thoughts, turn to prayer. Persist in it, though your mind be unfocused and your heart cold; persist in the face of the resistance of your slothful flesh and the deceptive suggestions and fantasies of the foe, and you will see Christ’s deliverance. If you struggle in prayer, you will emerge from the fray with a mind enlightened and a conscience awakened; your inner state will imperceptibly be transformed, so that you suddenly realize you are now eager to do God’s work and avoid sin. And so, always resort to prayer, everywhere and in every circumstance: when you are distant from God, when you are confronted by a trial, when you are in danger of slipping, or when you have taken a fall. The prophet-king David was guilty of adultery and murder, but prayer raised him up. His song of repentance, the Fiftieth Psalm, stands forever as the supreme expression of the soul’s remorse for its sins. The woman of the city washed the Saviour’s feet with the hairs of her head at the Pharisee’s house, pouring out tears as she begged forgiveness, and her prayerful sighs were accepted by Jesus as more precious than the expensive ointment she brought in the alabaster box. Mary of Egypt offered up fervent entreaty before the icon of the Theotokos in the narthex of the great church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, and the unspeakable sins she had committed over the course of many years were remitted. To forgiveness, abundant grace was added, filling her with strength, so that she straightway crossed the Jordan and undertook a way of life “surpassing mind and understanding.”
O good and merciful God! By the supplications of Thy holy martyrs Cyprian and Justina, and of all Thy saints, grant us zeal for prayer, both as we go about our daily tasks and at the specially appointed times. Help us to overcome our fallen nature’s deep-seated aversion to prayer, an aversion always fostered by the adversary and his minions, and spur us to hearken unto our conscience when it urgeth greater labours in prayer on Thy behalf. Draw our hearts to Thee and help us to force ourself to pray so, that we may enjoy the fruits of prayer, the reward for all who truly seek Thee and strive after Thee. Amen.