Julia The Humpback
By Father Andrew Harrison
The story of Julia is told in the missionary letters St. Nicholas of Zicha. It is about the discovery of an old manuscript written by a spiritual father named Kalistrat to his spiritual child Cassiana. Both are venerated as saints in the Serbian Orthodox Church. The story begins with the threat of a murder which would take place at an Orthodox wedding ceremony. The threat was made by a distraught young women named Julia. Julia had a horrible birth defect which deformed her back. Julia wanted to have a normal life with a husband and children but she had resigned herself that she would never to be married for, “who could love someone like me."
There was someone, she thought, who could see through the handicap and love her has she was. A young farm hand who had worked for her father offered marriage. His interest was more for her money than her. After taking most of it, he skipped town to marry another. When Julia heard about his upcoming wedding, she planned to murder him. By chance a spiritual elder named Kalistrat was assigned to perform the wedding. When he heard about the threats he felt compelled to postpone the wedding. This did not matter to Julia, she would wait and when she got her chance she would put a bullet into his back and then kill herself.
Father Kalistrat confronted Julia who had cursed God and proclaimed her loss of faith. He said to her: you will not kill him next Sunday or any Sunday! Be at peace and throw that gun into the river. There is one bigger than you and me who judges. He does not judge out of revenge but with Love. Julia replied: what kind of love is that? Is not love the same everywhere: bodily and passionate? Fr. Kalistrat said: I cannot speak of higher heavenly love to a person who has lost their faith. I will only speak to you when your faith returns. Divine Love is independent of bodily beauty and ugliness; faith is the root of the tree which grows heavenly love.”
Julia’s rage subsided. Still angry she decided to meet with Father Kalistrat. During the meetings, she complained about God who made her disfigured and ugly. Father reassured her with stories about the rich and beautiful who had squandered their beauty to the destruction of their souls. He told her about God’s great love for us and his plan of salvation. It wasn’t until Julia heard that her former lover had fallen into great peril that her heart began to warm. She finally brought the gun to Father Kalistrat and begged him for absolution. Father Kalistrat refused. “Only tears will wash the blasphemous words you spoke against God. Julia continued studying with Father Kalistrat and in time did experience tears of repentance and was finally granted absolution. She expressed her repentance by doing many good works of love, visiting the sick, supporting orphans, and even organizing a children’s choir. In three years she was a changed person. She asked Fr. Kalistrat if she could receive monastic vows. She was given the name Cassiana.
As Cassiana, the nun, her life was not easy. There was no monastery to protect her. She lived in the world continuing her life of heavenly love. A person who knew her said she was tormented, ridiculed and beaten by both Turks and Christians. “They did not see her goodness.” She was accused by Christians of visiting Muslims and converting Muslims into Christians. She even wound up in a Turkish jail. She was remembered as a person who reached sanctity. “I remember her, when others sorrowed she would cry from sorrow and in others had joy she would cry for joy.” What sustained her were Fr. Kalistrat teachings on Christian love. Just before his death he gave her a manuscript of 100 sayings on Love. Cassiana would read them as part of her daily devotions. She hid the manuscript under the church altar and when she died they were lost.
Cassiana has been seen reading it but no one knew where she had hidden it. The discovery of the sayings was a miracle in itself. After several days of searching and old doctor who knew Cassanna suggested she may have put it under the altar table and that was where it was discovered. With the help of these sayings, Cassiana reached a state of praise worthy love. The saying, written down by Father Kalistrat, was influenced by Saint Maximus the Confessor, one of the great Orthodox church fathers of the fifth century. St. Maximus graded love into three levels. The lowest grade is Passionate love. This is love basted on vanity and greed. It is the love Julia had with her lover. It is the feeling you have when someone honors you. When a rich man gets what he wants. It is love based on pleasure; the belly and genitals. The second grade is natural love. This is the love parents and children feel towards each other. This is probably the love that Cassiana experienced with her spiritual father Kalistrat. The highest is praiseworthy love or what Maximus would call, perfect love or Agape. This is the kind of love a virtuous person feels towards everyone. It is nondiscriminatory either for yourself or others.
Love of self, according to Maximus, is extreme love of the body and all sensual pleasures. It is even beyond narcissism. It is a miss directed of love away from God. One can test how much they have progressed away from this kind of self- love towards agape by the way they feel towards others. If you love on a continuum: some greatly, some moderately or others not at all you have not reached praiseworthy love. Praiseworthy love is the spontaneous acceptance of the good and the wicked. It has nothing to do with who is or who is not worthy of love. This loving way connects us to the ministry of Jesus. He suffered for everyone equally, without discrimination. Feeling equal love for everyone is an imitation of the boundless love of God. God gives to everyone without regard for their life style, their virtue. A person who has achieved perfect love imitates God by giving all to all according to their needs.
The old doctor who knew where to find the manuscript was one of those who had despised Julia for her ugliness. He came to adore her above all human beings. To him, Cassiana became an angel in a body. Through her, heaven shined with otherworldly light. It was through her that he came to know God and returned to the Orthodox Church and faith. He learned that bodily love has nothing to do with true spiritual love.
St. Herman of Alaska did not believe he had reached perfect love of God. Those who knew him had different view. He is quoted as saying he had not even begun to love God. “from this very minute let us love God above all and seek his holy will.”
Several sayings on Love by Father Kalistrat are worth quoting here. The complete text can be found in the Missionary Letters of Sant Nickolai Velimirovich Vol 2, New Gracanica Library, PO Box 371 Grayslake IL 60030
#46 Love is God. Only through God can one love a creature of God. Even the ugliest one. This is why the first commandment is” love the Lord thy God” and only then the second,” love thy neighbor”. Without the love for God, all other love is unreal and transient. One cannot even love himself without the love for God. He who loves himself cannot love God.
F#50 Flesh can neither love or hate. A body cannot fall in love with another body. The capability of loving belongs to the soul. When the soul falls in love with a body, that is not love but desire, lust. When a soul falls in love with a soul, but not through God, that is out of either fascination or empathy. But when a soul falls in love with a soul through God, then regardless of physical appearance (beauty or ugliness) that is love.
#75 God has blessed marriage. First in Paradise and then in Cana. Through marriage two bodies become one. Two souls become” inseparable and unmingled”. Two temples of the Holy Spirit under one roof . Why did God unite two bodies into one? Because bodily marriage of a husband and wife, tied in love and blessed by the church, is the most expressive symbol of Christ’s spiritual marriage with the church and with every Christian soul.
#81 Just like a blessed marriage symbolizes Christ’s oneness with the holy Church and Christ’s spiritual marriage with the soul of each faithful, so do adultery and fornication symbolize Satan, the betrayal of God’s love the breaking of unity with God.