The Feast of St. James the Just, Brother of the Lord
Reposted from October 23rd, 2009
Today is the Feast of St. James, and thus the name’s day of our little James (who is named for his great-grandpa James, his grandpa Gary James, his uncle Philip James, and of course after St. James). We took a long time in deciding on James’ name. We had settled on a name should he be a girl (being due on Dormition, a girl would have been named for the Virgin Mary (a variation) and her mother - go ahead and guess :) I hope there will be a girl to use it one of these days!), but I was in early labor before we hashed out a boy’s name. I finally got up in the middle of the night, since I certainly wasn’t going to be able to sleep through the contractions anyway, sat on my birth ball and pulled out Eusebius (an early Church historian) and read the story of St. James. After that I came back to bed and told Paul I agreed the baby should be named James. We decided just in time! His middle name, Benedict, is of course after St. Benedict of Nursia, and means “blessed.” Below is the story of St. James the Just.
James was a “brother of the Lord” by virtue of being the son of the elderly St. Joseph by his first wife, or, as some speculate, a cousin of the Lord. He is generally considered to be the author of the Epistle of James in the New Testament. Eusebuis quotes Clement regarding St. James being appointed to the episcopacy, saying, “Peter, and James [another James], and John, after the ascension of our Savior, though they had been preferred by our Lord, did not contend for the honor, but chose James the Just as bishop of Jerusalem…the Lord imparted the gift of knowledge to James the Just, to John and Peter after his resurrection, these delivered it to the rest of the apostles, and they to the seventy.”
St. James’ episcople judgement is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 15. He presided over the First Council of Jerusalem, issuing the decree against the heresy of the Judaizers who insisted that Christians must follow Jewish law and be circumcised. In his authority as bishop, he decreed that the new converts need not be circumcised but need only abstain from food sacrifies to idols, from strangled animals, from blood, and from sexual immorality.
Eusebuis recounts the martyrdom of St. James by quoting St. Hegesippus, an early Church chronicler born about 110 AD: “James, the brother of the Lord, who, as there were many of this name, was surnamed the Just by all, from the days of our Lord until now, received the government of the church with the apostles. This apostle was consecrated from his mother’s womb. He drank neither wine nor fermented liquors, and abstained from animal food. A razor never came upon his head, he never anointed with oil, and never used a bath. He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary. He never wore woolen, but linen garments. He was in the habit of entering the temple alone and was often found upon bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people; so that his knees became as hard as camel’s, in consequence of his habitual supplication and kneeling before God. And indeed, on account of his exceeding great piety, he was called Just, and Oblias (or Zaddick and Ozleam) which signifies justice and protection of the people; as the prophets declare concerning him. Some of the seven sects, therefore, of the people asked him what was the door to Jesus? and he answered, ‘that he was the Savior.’
“From which, some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the aforementioned heresies did not believe either a resurrection, or that he was coming to give to every one according to his works; as many, however, as did believe did so on acount of James. As there were many therefore of the rulers that believed, there arose a tumult among the Jews, Scribes, and Pharisees, saying that there was danger, that the people would now expect Jesus as the Messiah. They came therefore together, and said to James, ‘We entreat thee, restrain the people, who are led astray after Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We entreat thee to persuade all that are coming to the feast of the Passover rightly concerning Jesus; for we all have confidence in thee. For we and all the people bear thee testimony that thou art just, and thou respectest not persons. Persuade therefore the people not to be led astray by Jesus, for we and all the people have great confidence in thee. Stand therefore upon a wing of the temple, that thou mayest be conspicuous on high, and thy words may be easily heard by all the people; for all the tribes have come together on account of the Passover, with some of the Gentiles also.’ The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees, therefore, placed James upon a wing of the temple, and cried out to him, ‘ O though just man, whom we ought all to believe, since the people are led astray after Jesus that was crucified, declare to us what is the door to Jesus that was crucified.’ And he answered with a loud voice, ‘Why do ye ask me respecting Jesus the Son of Man? He is now sitting in the heavens, on the right hand of great Power, and is about to come on the clouds of heaven.’ And, as many were confirmed, and gloried in this testimony of James, and said, ‘Hosanna to the son of David,’ these same priests and Pharisses said to one another, ‘We have done badly in affording such testimony to Jesus, but let us go up and cast him down, that they may dread to believe in him.’ And they cried out, ‘Oh, oh, Justus himself is deceived,’ and they fulfilled that which is written in Isaiah, ‘Let us take away the just, because he is offensive to us; wherefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.’ Going up therefore they cast down the just man, saying to one another, ‘Let us stone James the Just.’ And they began to stone him, as he did not die immediately when cast down but turning round, he knelt down saying, ‘I entreat thee, O Lord God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Thus they were stoning him, when one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, a son of the Rechabites, spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet, cried ou saying, ‘Cease, what are you doing? Justus is praying for you.’ And one of them, a fuller, beat out the brains of Justus with the club that he used to beat out clothes. Thus he suffered martyrdom, and they buried him on the spot where his tombstone is still remaining, by the temple. He became a faithful witness, both to the Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ.”
Eusebius adds that “so admirable a man indeed was James and so celebrated among all for his justice that even the wiser part of the Jews were of opinion that this was the cause of the immediate siege of Jerusalem, which happened to them for no other reason than the crime against him.” He also quotes Josephus as saying, “These things [the subsequent seige of Jerusalem by Vespasian] happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was the brother of him that is called Christ, and whom the Jews had slain, notwithstanding his pre-eminent justice.”
- As the Lord’s disciple you received the Gospel, O righteous James;
- As a martyr you have unfailing courage;
- As God’s brother, you have boldness;
- As a hierarch, you have the power to intercede.
- Pray to Christ God that our souls may be saved.
- When God the Word, the Only-begotten of the Father,
- Came to live among us in these last days,
- He declared you, venerable James, to be the first shepherd and teacher of Jerusalem
- And a faithful steward of the spiritual Mysteries.
- Therefore, we all honor you, O Apostle.
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