St. Cyprian and St. Justina
Erika Kjendal Column Writer Set to Appear in the October 2021 Newsletter
In the third century, a man named Cyprian was born in Antioch. His impious parents dedicated him to the service of the pagan gods and provided him with magicians as teachers so he could begin his study of pagan philosophy and sorcery. At the age of ten, his parents sent him to Mount Olympus so he could fully learn the diabolical arts needed to become a sorcerer. With much discipline, Cyprian mastered all he was taught. After his instruction on that mountain, he traveled to the foremost cities of pagan thought to continue learning all the demonic wisdom and secrets. When all there was to know was known by him, he returned to Mount Olympus to be initiated into the pagan priesthood. He was all powerful! He knew all charms and incantations, he could summon unclean spirits, nothing was outside of his grasp. He was in the depths of hell, so far down that the prince of darkness himself often conversed with him and even gave him a legion of demons to command. Cyprian returned to Antioch, and his fame quickly spread. And wherever his fame went, evil and ruin quickly followed.
In that same city of Antioch, lived a lovely young maiden named Justina. She too was born to pagan parents. One day, though, as she was sitting at her window, she heard a deacon preaching the saving words of the Gospel. Her heart rejoiced at the message, and secretly she began attending church. With the help of the Holy Spirit, she realized the beauty and truth of the faith, and she believed in Christ. She led both her parents to Christ as well, and they were all baptized into the Church. Justina dedicated her life to the Heavenly Bridegroom, spending her time in fasting and prayer and shining as a beacon of purity.
Now there was a young man named Aglaidas who greatly loved Justina’s beauty. But she had decided to live in virginity and rejected all his advances. No amount of force or entreaty could change Justina’s mind, and Aglaidas became desperate in his passion for this woman. He turned to Cyprian for help who promised to use his sorcery to fill Justina with the same passion Aglaidas felt for her. That evening, Cyprian sent an unclean spirit to attack the holy virgin. Recognizing the devil’s handiwork, Justina made the sign of the cross and overcame the passion welling up inside her. Cyprian was stunned! Who was this girl who overcame his great power? He tried everything he could, sending demons, and even going himself in various guises to arouse her feelings for Aglaidas. But she was guarded by firm faith in Christ and, even at the mention of her name, the spells crumbled and the demons fled.
Cyprian was enraged. Never before had he felt so powerless in the face of so simple a foe. He sent down hardships and diseases upon Justina’s family, but this too was thwarted by her faith and prayer. He then unleashed his anger on the entire city. Rumors spread that Justina was the cause of this, and many people entreated her to marry Aglaidas. Justina reassured them that the afflictions would soon end, and as she prayed to God so they did and the power of the demons were destroyed.
Cyprian faced with so great a defeat and remembering how powerless the devil was against the Sign of the Cross, came to his senses. He realized how everything he was and did was evil and corrupt. He realized that if he had died in that moment, he would be cast into the fiery depths of hell. The devil, seeing the change of heart in his most vicious champion for evil, threw himself on the man and attempted to strangle him. Now believing in the power of the Christ, Cyprian crossed himself and called out, “O God of Justina, help me!” Unable to bear Christ and the sign of His cross, the devil fled.
Cyprian, in sincere and utmost repentance, went to the bishop and burned all his books. He focused his entire self on prayer and fasting and wouldn’t leave the church until he was baptized. Seven days after his baptism, he was tonsured a reader, soon after a subdeacon, and soon after a deacon. In one year he was ordained a priest. Shortly after, he was elevated to a bishop. Zeal burned his heart, and he converted so many pagans to Christ that there was no one left in his diocese to sacrifice to idols. Justina became a monastic and eventually was chosen as the Superior.
During the persecution under Diocletian, Bishop Cyprian and Saint Justina were arrested. After horrible tortures that they staunchly endured, they were beheaded. Cyprian, not wanting holy Justina’s courage to falter, asked for time to pray so she would be beheaded first. Humbly she inclined her neck for the fatal blow. After seeing the great courage of the two martyrs, a soldier standing nearby declared himself to be Christian and was beheaded with them. Saints Cyprian and Justina, help us recognize the strength of Christ in the face of all our struggles and through Him defeat all the advances of the devil! Pray for us, that our souls may be saved!