St. James

October 23rd is the Feast Day of St. James. Who was James?

St. James the Just, Bishop of Jerusalem and Brother of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

James is mentioned several times in the New Testament and he was an important figure in the early church, referred to by St. Paul as one of the three pillars of the church, along with Peter and John.

While James lived a long time ago and the record is somewhat murky, tradition and early writings inform our views of James. The following capture some of these views:

From his early years, James was a Nazarene, a man especially dedicated to God. The Nazarenes vowed to preserve their virginity, to abstain from wine, to refrain from eating meat, and not to cut their hair. The vow of the Nazarenes symbolized a life of holiness and purity.  

Saint James was chosen as the first Bishop of Jerusalem. He presided over the Council of Jerusalem and his word was decisive (Acts 15). Paul further describes James as being one of the persons the risen Christ showed himself to (I Corinthians 15:3-8); and in Galatians, Paul lists James with Cephas (better known as Peter) and John, as the three “pillars” of the Church, and who will minister to “the circumcised” (that is the Jews) in Jerusalem, while Paul and his fellows will minister to the Gentiles (2:9, 2:12). 

 James is said to have composed a Divine Liturgy, which formed the basis of the Liturgies of Saints Basil the Great and John Chrysostom. The Church has preserved an Epistle of Saint James, one of the books of the New Testament, which contains the exhortation “Be Ye Doers of the Word, and not Hearers Only” (KJV). 

Acts provides clear evidence that James was an important figure in the Christian community of Jerusalem. When Peter, having miraculously escaped from prison, must flee Jerusalem, he asks that James be informed (12:17). When the Christians of Antioch are concerned over whether Gentile Christians need be circumcised to be saved, they send Paul and Barnabas to confer with the church there, and it is James who utters the definitive judgment (15:13ff). When Paul arrives in Jerusalem to deliver the money he raised for the faithful there, it is James to whom he speaks, and who insists that Paul ritually cleanse himself (21:18). 

James died a martyr’s death. In his thirty years as bishop, Saint James converted many of the Jews to Christianity. Annoyed by this, the Pharisees and the Scribes plotted together to kill Saint James. They led the saint upon the pinnacle of the Jerusalem Temple and asked what he thought of Jesus. The holy Apostle began to bear witness that Christ is the Messiah, which was not the response the Pharisees were expecting. Greatly angered, the Jewish teachers threw him off the roof. The saint did not die immediately, but gathering his final strength, he prayed to the Lord for his enemies while they were stoning him. Saint James’ martyrdom occurred about 63 A.D.

A debated passage in Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities, records his death in Jerusalem as having occurred after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus, yet before Clodius Albinus took office (Antiquities 20,9)—which has thus been dated to AD 62. The high priest Ananus took advantage of this lack of imperial oversight to assemble a council of judges who condemned James “on the charge of breaking the law,” then had him executed by stoning. Josephus reports that Ananus’ act was widely viewed as little more than judicial murder, and offended a number of “those who were considered the most fair-minded people in the City, and strict in their observance of the Law,” who went as far as meeting Albinus as he entered the province to petition him about the matter. Their agitations led to Ananus being deposed as high priest