Commemoration of the Holy Apostle James the Brother of the Lord
(October 23/ November 5)
Gospel reading: When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well. (Lk. 7, 1 – 10)
In the Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes that together with the Apostle Peter, the Apostles James and John were also considered to be pillars of the Church. Saint James was the son of Joseph the Betrothed by his first wife and therefore is called the brother of the Lord in the Gospel.
According to tradition, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him after His Resurrection and set him as bishop of the Jerusalem Church. In this way, a special work fell to James' lot: he did not travel about various countries preaching as did the rest of the Apostles, but taught and performed the sacred ministry in Jerusalem, which has such an important significance for the Christian world.
As the head of the Jerusalem Church, he presided at the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem in the year 51 AD. His voice here was virtually decisive, and the proposal made by him became the resolution of the Apostolic Council (Acts, 15th Chapter). This circumstance has an important significance, in view of the pretensions of Catholics to elevate the Apostle Peter to the position of head of the Church, in order then to secure this headship for the Roman Pope.
The Apostle James' ascetic life strengthened his significance even more. He was a strict virgin, did not drink either wine or other spirituous beverages, abstained from meat and wore only linen clothing. He had the custom of going off by himself in the temple for prayer, and there he would pray for his people on bended knee. He was so often stretched out on the ground in prayer that the skin on his knees became calloused.
The Apostle James' ministry was difficult amidst a multitude of the most vehement enemies of Christianity. But he acted with such good sense and fairness, that not only Christians esteemed him, but also Jews, and they called him the support of the people and a righteous man. Remaining in the office of Bishop of Jerusalem about thirty years, he spread and established the holy faith in Jerusalem and in all of Palestine. When the Apostle Paul visited the Apostle James on his final journey, at that time the presbyters gathered together unto him and told him of the successes of the Christian preaching among the Jews in the following words: Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law (Acts 21:20). Many of the Jews were converted to the Church by trusting the word of the righteous one alone.
Seeing such influence of the Apostle, the Jewish leaders began to be apprehensive lest all the people be converted to Christ, and decided to make use of the interval of time between the departure of the Procurator Festus and the arrival of Albinus in his place (62 AD), in order either to incline James unto denying Christ or to kill him. The godless Sadducee Ananias was the high priest at that time. During a great conflux of the people, they led the Apostle to the portico of the temple, and after a few flattering words they disdainfully asked: "Tell us about the Crucified?"
"Are you asking me about Jesus?" the righteous one said loudly. "He is sitting in the Heavens at the right hand of the Most High and shall come again on the clouds of heaven." It turned out that in the crowd were many Christians, who joyfully exclaimed: "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Then the chief priests and the scribes cried: "O, even the righteous one himself is in error!" and they cast him down to the ground. James was still able to raise himself to his knees and said: "Lord, forgive them! They know not what they do!" "Let us stone him", cried his enemies. A priest from the tribe of Rechab (they did not drink wine, lived in tents, did not sow wheat, nor cultivate grapes) began to try to persuade them: "What are you doing? See: the righteous one is praying for you." But at that minute a fanatic, a cloth worker by trade, struck the Apostle in the head with his fuller's club and killed him. Many Christians were killed together with him.
The Jewish historian, Josephus Flavius, in enumerating the reasons for the fall of Jerusalem, says that the Lord chastised the Jews, among other things, for the murder of the righteous James. The Apostle James wrote his Catholic Epistle not long before his death. The main purpose of the Epistle was to comfort and strengthen Jews that had converted to the faith in the sufferings which lay ahead for them, and to warm them against the error that allegedly faith alone can save a man. The holy Apostle explains that faith not accompanied by good works is dead and does not lead to salvation. Church tradition ascribes to the Apostle James the composition of the most ancient order of the Divine Liturgy, which we shall perform on the 5th of November.
Ed. note: According to the Protoevangelion of James, Saint James was the son of Joseph—along with the other brothers of the Lord who are mentioned in Holy Scripture. They were brothers by way of the marriage of Saint Joseph (the foster father of the Lord) prior to his betrothal to the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. James wrote an epistle which is part of the New Testament. In the tradition honored by Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, St. James is commemorated on October 23; on December 26 and also on the first Sunday after the Nativity, along with David the King and St. Joseph; and on January 4 among the Seventy Apostles.