St. Justina has her feast day on September 26. Because in USA and Canada this day is the feast of the North American Martyrs, she is easy to miss on the saints calendar. But since her history includes converting a famous magician and devil-worshipper Cyprian, hers is perfect as a Halloween story.
Justina was a girl who lived during the reign of Emperor Diocletian in Antioch. This Antioch was not the famous capital of Syria, but a small town of the same name between Syria and Arabia, in the Roman province of Phoenice. Her father was a pagan priest, but Justina learned of the Christian faith from a Catholic priest, who eventually called her to be baptized. When Justina’s mother told the news to the father, Christ appeared to them at night with His angels saying: “Come to me, I shall give to you the kingdom of heaven.” Soon all three were baptized together.
The great beauty of Justina attracted many suitors. One young pagan nobleman named Acladius fell deeply in love with her, but his offer of marriage was rejected. Finding Justina’s resolution irreversible, he went to ask help from a magician named Cyprian.
Cyprian had been a magician from his childhood. Already at the age of seven he was consecrated by his parents to the devil. He learned the black magic of necromancy (communicating with the dead), practiced idolatry and astrology, and travelled all over the world to learn all about these evil arts. Returning to Antioch, Cyprian became infamous in all the things evil. He blasphemed Christ, committed murders and predicted future events from the blood of his victims. He was also famous of spelling women to fall in love, but he always found that against Catholic girls his spells were ineffective.
It was for the love spell that Acladius turned to Cyprian; but as soon as Cyprian saw beautiful Justina, he fell in love with her himself. Cyprian called a devil, and said that he was in love with a girl, and needs his help. The bad angel gave him an ointment, with which Cyprian was to anoint Justina’s house, after which the devil would come and make her heart love him. So on the following night the devil went to capture Justina; but she prayed and signed herself with the sign of the Cross, which scared the devil so much that he flew away. Then Cyprian called another devil, stronger than the previous one. But this evil spirit, too, was powerless of making her love the magician; she banished this one too with the sign of the Cross.
After the two failed attempts, Cyprian now called Satan himself. The prince of darkness promised he would win her heart over with schemes and bring her to Cyprian. Then Satan changed his form to that of a young girl, went to Justina, and said he was in search of a companion with whom to serve God in poverty and chastity. She agreed, but then Satan started to try to talk her over to marry a man in order to follow God’s commandment of multiply and replenish the earth. Satan also claimed that it was against God’s commandment to live a chaste life, of which Justina would end up being judged by Him. Justina’s heart was invaded with terrible temptations, but after her suspicions rose, she signed herself, and Satan had to fly away.
Satan then tried threats, and said there would be a great plague over Antioch which would kill big number of animals and people, unless Justina would consent to marry Cyprian. But she again banished Satan with prayers. When he realized Justina couldn’t be won over, he tried to trick Cyprian instead. He transformed himself to look like Justina, pretending of having delivered her to him. But as soon as joyous Cyprian called the pious girl by name, Satan couldn’t stand it and vanished away as a smoke.
When Cyprian saw that the Devil had deceived him, he became sad and depressed, though he was still much in love with Justina. He tried with his magic to change himself, like the Devil had done, into various shapes and forms. But always when he arrived at Justina’s door, he found himself as he was before. The Satan returned to him, and promised, that if Cyprian would sell his soul to him, he would let him know the secret of Justina’s strength. Cyprian promised, and the devil revealed that it was the sign of the Cross she was making, which caused both the devils and the spells to fail.
Cyprian was amazed and said to the Devil: “The crucified God is then greater than thou? Then ought I to be made friend of Him that was crucified, lest I fall hereafter into such pains.”
The devil answered: “Thou hast sworn by the might and virtues of my strengths, the which no man may forswear, that thou shalt never depart from me.”
But Cyprian said: “I despise thee, and forsake thee and all thy power, and renounce thee and all thy devils.” Enraged Satan then attacked Cyprian with fury, but had to flee when he made the sign of the Cross. But he assaulted the penitent man’s soul with a gloomy melancholy, and brought him almost to the brink of despair at the sight of his past crimes. But God helped Cyprian and sent him a holy priest named Eusebius, who had formerly been his schoolmate. By the advice of this priest the former magician was comforted and encouraged in his conversion.
Cyprian fasted for three days, and on the following Sunday, very early in the morning, Eusebius led him to the assembly of Catholics, which was held very early in the morning, because of both to watch in prayer and for fear of the pagans. Cyprian was so struck at the great reverence and heavenly devotion with which this meeting was performed, that he wrote of it: “I saw the choir of heavenly men, or of angels, singing to God, adding at the end of every verse in the psalms the Hebrew word Alleluia, so that they seemed not to be men.” Everyone present was awestruck to see Cyprian introduced by a priest among them. When Anthimus, the Bishop of Antioch, saw him he thought that the magician had come to cast an evil spell on the Catholics of Antioch. But Cyprian explained that on the contrary, he had come to ask his blessing, to repent his evil life, and to become a Christian. Cyprian gave him a proof the next day by burning before the Bishop’s eyes all his magical books, giving his whole property to the poor, and entering himself among the catechumens. After the instruction and preparation, he received baptism from the hands of the Bishop. The young man Acladius, who had been Justina’s first suitor, was likewise converted and baptized. Justina herself was so moved at these wonderful examples of divine mercy, that she cut off her hair in order to dedicate her life to God, and sold all her jewels and gave all her possessions to the poor.
There was an astonishing change in Cyprian, and everyone admired his edifying deportment, his humility, modesty, gravity, love of God, contempt of riches, and assiduous application to heavenly things. Out of humility Cyprian asked to be employed as sweeper of the church. But after some time he was ordained to the priesthood. And when Bishop Anthimus died, Cyprian was made the new Bishop of Antioch. He founded a monastery of nuns and placed Justina as its abbess, and sent letters to Catholics condemned to death, comforting them in their distress and encouraging them in their martyrdom.
When the persecutions of Diocletian intensified, the Governor of Phoenice, who resided at Tyre, arrested Cyprian and Justina. With the usual procedure he demanded them to sacrifice to the Roman idols. When they refused, Cyprian was torn with iron hooks and Justina was inhumanly scourged. They were then put in a cauldron full of wax, pitch, and grease, all burning and boiling. But that did no harm on them. When a pagan priest tried to curse them by calling to his help gods Hercules and Jupiter, a great fire jumped from under the cauldron and burned him to death. Cyprian and Justina were then taken out of the cauldron and sentenced to death. They were then sent in chains to Emperor Diocletian, who commanded them to be beheaded together.