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James, the brother of the Lord and divine apostle, was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. He was from Judea and was a son of St. Joseph the Betrothed. There was none as zealous in piety and sweeter in virtue than James the Righteous, who lived up to his appellation abundantly and was deservedly called the brother of Christ. As we have said, he was one of the sons of Joseph by his first wife, Salome; for when Joseph was betrothed to the Theotokos, she was a virgin before and after birth. This James, who was holy from his birth, was first named Joblian, which in the Hebrew tongue means "righteous", for even as a child he showed mastery over all his senses and members, and this was truly rare. His eyes were directed only to good things, and he was vouchsafed divine mercy. His ears were opened to soul-saving readings, and his mouth delighted in the law. His right hand was ever ready to reach out in almsgiving, and he was sympathetic to all. He controlled his appetite and would not partake of anything superfluous or unnecessary. All his life he never partook of anything living, that is, meat, fish or crustacean. He never drank wine, only water to quench his thirst. He subsisted on bread and tears. From his prostrations, his knees were worn to the bone and his bodily appearance revealed his extreme asceticism. He wore a hair shirt, but would don a linen tunic when he entered the sanctuary. He would pray and labor ceaselessly. He was beloved of both relatives and friends, and strangers and those from afar off revered him on account of his virtue. This came to include not only the pious, but even the pagans, who held him in high esteem.
James the Righteous was the first chosen by our Savior and the apostles for the episcopacy of the Church of Jerusalem. He was adorned with all the virtues, but two he possessed in particular: he was able to lead men to perfection both in theory and practice. He was both humble and moderate. He would sign his name: "James, servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ." From his own personal experience, he understood the patience that results from afflictions, and he would encourage others with these words: "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life" [Jas 1 :2,12].
He would correct those who would say that sin is natural, thereby declaring God the author of evil. As an excellent physician, he would cure these senseless ones with these words: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth any man. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed" [Jas 1 :13-14]. He taught them that God was not the cause of the ills of man, and admonished them to recognize their own indolence and weakness, and to be humble and beg forgiveness. He also said that without divine grace, we are unable to do a single good thing, because: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights" [Jas 1 :17]. He encouraged all to give alms to the needy, that they might find mercy from the Judge at the hour of judgment, and would say: "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment" [Jas 2:13]. The righteous one also said that faith alone does not benefit those who do not keep the commandments of God, for without works, they are reckoned dead, just as the body is dead and lifeless without the soul. On this matter, he said: "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" [Jas 2:20]. He also taught men to bridle the tongue, and not to utter lies, babblings, railings or condemnations, but most especially to flee false swearing, which is very injurious to the soul. Indeed, not only this kind of perjury, but even a true oath, should not be uttered. Men should neither swear by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any created thing. These and many other sweet teachings issued forth from the tongue of the Apostle James, hierarch and brother of our Lord, and are to be found in his epistle.
All the apostles revered James, and kept his word as though law. In several instances in the Acts of the Apostles, such as the question as to whether it was needful to circumcise the gentiles, his opinion prevailed. When the apostles and elders came together to discuss this matter, after Peter, Paul and Barnabas had spoken, James answered them saying: "My sentence is that we trouble not them who from among the gentiles are turned to God: that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollution of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood" [Acts 15 :19- 20]. And his words and vote were effective, for the apostles honored him above them all. To further show his pre-eminence among them, St. Paul went with the other apostles to see James, when the elders were present, to declare those things God had wrought among the gentiles through his ministry; and they glorified God.
The just one alone was permitted to enter the Holy Place and would enter the sanctuary alone. According to Hegesippus, the sanctuary could only be entered by priests of Aaron's lineage, yet Nazarites also were granted priestly privileges. He was often found kneeling, offering up supplications for the forgiveness of the people, especially those under the law of Moses; and his knees became calloused like a camel's. Truly, the remarkable James was high in God's favor for his conduct of life.
Now there were certain members of one of the heretical sects of the Jews who, being incited by Annas, the high priest, dared to gather around James, demanding that he renounce his faith in Christ. The haters of Christ asked him: "Tell us, O righteous one, what is meant by 'the door of Jesus'?" He replied: "This is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, of one essence with the Father." Some, it is true, came to believe solely because of James and accepted his righteous words of truth. Certain ones of the various sects were against him, however, and thought him deceived; for they would not believe in a resurrection, nor that every man will receive a recompense for his deeds. Therefore, there was great murmuring among the Pharisees and scribes, who were convinced that there was a danger that all might believe in Christ. Wherefore, they went to James, and said: 'We beseech thee, O righteous one: instruct the people, for they have gone astray and believe in Jesus, that He is the Christ. Therefore, on the feast of the Passover, when all have gathered, persuade them not to be deceived by a mere man. .We implore thee, be so good as to do this, for we all acknowledge thee to be a righteous and impartial man. Therefore, we beseech thee: ascend the parapet of the temple, that thou mayest be easily seen by the people, and that they may hear thy just words, to instruct them."
When the Passover arrived, all the tribes had gathered, and even the Christians were among them. It was then that the arrant liars, believing that James shared their beliefs, caused him to stand on the parapet of the temple. Then, in a loud voice, that all present might hear, they shouted: "Tell us, O righteous one, since we all accept thee: what sayest thou of Jesus Who was crucified by Pilate, and after Whom the people have gone astray, thinking He is the Christ and even believing that He is God? Make it clear to us and proclaim the truth!" The time had come to speak the truth against the false ones, and James did not shrink back in fear before death and deny the truth, but, contrary to their expectations, he lifted up his voice and, with an unrestrained spirit and tongue, replied: "Why do ye question me concerning Jesus? He is seated in heaven at the right hand of His Father with the heavenly powers, and He will come again on the clouds of heaven, to judge the world with righteousness!" By this testimony, many were convinced, and cried aloud: "Hosanna to the Son of David!" But the blind Pharisees and scribes regretted that they had allowed James this audience, for he had not given the response which they had expected. Therefore, greatly incensed, they called out to the crowd: "Lo! even the righteous one hath gone astray!" Then they ascended the parapet, and seized him like wild beasts, and cast him down to the earth. Despite this, the blessed one did not expire. Then they began to stone him. He accepted the stones calmly as a precious treasure, and knelt and prayed: "Lord God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
O blessed soul! O wondrous meekness! These were the very words uttered by both the Master on the Cross and the long-suffering Protomartyr Stephen. Thus did James, the pure brother of the Lord, pray for his heartless murderers. Now some overheard him praying on their behalf, but the ungrateful ones had no respect for his forbearance, and continued to rain down stones upon him. One of the descendants of Rechab, the son of Rachabim, of the priestly caste, cried out: "Cease this! O wretched ones, what are ye doing? The righteous one is praying for us, the unjust, who stone him!" Then one of the murderers took a fuller's club, which is used to beat out cloth, and smote James mightily on the head, and the righteous one gave up the spirit. He was interred there by the sanctuary. Upon his murder, Symeon, the son of his uncle Cleopas, was appointed bishop, for he was a cousin of the Lord, and it was a unanimous demand that he should be next.
There were some Jews who were compassionate and fair-minded, who secretly sent a letter concerning this impious slaying to the Tetrarch Agrippa, who was Herod's successor. In the letter, they requested that he order Annas never again to dare to convoke a council without their authorization. King Agrippa had established him as high priest, but he did not hold the office more than three months when he was replaced by another, Jeshua ben Dammams.
Mter James' repose, many of the Jews felt that the woes that befell them were a requital for the wicked murder of that just man: for in A.D. 67, Vespasian laid siege to Jerusalem. Thus, we end our narrative here, for Josephus records subsequent events in his writings.
Wherefore, by the prayers of James, the apostle, hierarch, righteous one, martyr, and brother of the Lord, whose soul was adorned with every virtue, O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us.
ST. JAMES, BROTHER OF THE LORD
Dismissal Hymn. Tone IV.
As a disciple of the Lord, b righteous one, thou didst receive the Gospel; as a martyr thou art never turned away; as the brother of God thou hast boldness; as a hierarch thou canst intercede. Entreat Christ God, that He save our souls.
Kontakion. Tone IV.
God the Word, the Only-begotten of the Father, came to us in the latter days, O divinely inspired James, and made thee the first shepherd and teacher of Jerusalem, a faithful steward of spiritual mysteries. Wherefore, we all honor thee, O apostle.
Both in name and deed wast thou known to be the brother of the Lord God, O most worthy and holy James; and as Sion's hierarch and great God-bearing shepherd, thou didst lay down thy life for thy flock, O blessed one.