St. James the Just is also known to us as the Adelphotheos, Brother of God, and the Protepiscopos, or First Bishop, referring to his early leadership in the Jerusalem church. When Our Lord passed through Nazareth, the locals rejected him saying, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” (St. Matthew 13:55-56) Later on, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, St. James became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. This is evidenced in various Scriptures. In the first, after Peter has been miraculously released from prison, he finds refuge in the house of Mary, the mother of John-Mark, and says, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” (Acts 12:17) Keep in mind that this cannot refer to James, the brother of John, the other Son of Thunder, because he was put to death by the sword in verse 2 of the same chapter. The second Scripture that testifies to James’ leadership in the Church of Jerusalem is Acts 15, wherein it is St. James to whom the Apostles defer and who gives judgment in the Council of Jerusalem. Additionally, in his Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul declares that James, Cephas (Peter) and John are “Pillars” of the Church in Jerusalem. (2:9) Finally, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells us that, after His resurrection, Our Lord “was seen by James, then by all the Apostles.” (15:7)
St. James is also attested in extra-Biblical sources as well. Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, records in chapter 9, Book 20 of his Antiquities of the Jews, that Ananus, the High Priest, “brought before them [the Sanhedrin] the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” This happened after the death of Porcius Festus, the Roman Governor of Judea (see Acts 24:27) but before the arrival of the new governor, Albinus. The convening of the Sanhedrin technically required the consent of the governor and many were outraged at what was seen by some as the murder of James the Just. Josephus suggests that possibly the outrage that followed the martyrdom of St. James might have been responsible for the riots in Jerusalem that prompted the Emperor Vespasian to begin the Jewish War that ultimately resulted in the destruction of the Temple.
The early church historian Hegesippus also speaks of St. James, suggesting that he was a Nazarene who never partook of wine, ate flesh, or took a razor to his head. Hegesippus says that St. James wore only linen garments and was in the Temple so often, praying on his knees, that his knees became like those of camels! Hegesippus believes that the High Priest took him to the pinnacle of the Temple in hopes that he might quell an uprising forming, since it was the time of Passover, and St. James was so highly respected. St. James, true to form, preached the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and was thrown from the Temple. Having survived the fall, the remaining mob decided to stone St. James for heresy, yet, before they could, he crawled to his knees and cried out, “I beseech Thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
There are some very interesting points to these narratives. The first is that St. James was so incredibly renown for his faithfulness and piety that even the Pharisees and Sadducees respected him. He was continually in prayer, so much so that his knees became practically deformed! The Pinnacle of the Temple to which he was taken, was not the summit or highest tower within the Temple courtyard; rather it was the southeast corner of the Temple’s outer wall. From there, someone who was thrown down would fall, not to the courtyard below, but to the bottom of the Kidron Valley, some 450 feet below. St. James found himself in the same place his Most Holy Brother found Himself some thirty years prior when Satan took him up to the same place in order to tempt Our Lord. Saint James, miraculously surviving the fall, echoes the words of his Brother in St. Luke 23:34, praying for those who would murder him.
What does this have to do with us? May we be so dedicated in prayer, so mindful of justice and the needs of others, that even those who would condemn us call to us for our wisdom and insight. May they heed our words and change their lives because they see in us the Holy God of All Creation who calls us all to be holy. Finally, when we face persecution, may we, in every way, echo the words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Grant, O God, that following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.