Great Martyr James the Persian. Nov 27/ Dec 10

One of my favorites today: Great Martyr James the Persian.

The Menaion contains stories that only the faithful who are full of faith believe! The story of the martyrdom of the great James the Persian reminds of that of St Mary of Egypt. Her story seemed so impossible to many even in a more pious time when it was first written down, that St Sophronios was forced to insert the parenthetical remark: "If there do happen to be people who, after reading this record, do not believe it, may the Lord have mercy on them because, reflecting on the weakness of human nature, they consider impossible these wonderful things accomplished by holy people." (Life of St Mary of Egypt by St Sophronios) Such a comment must also apply to the life of the heroic martyr James the Persian, whose exploit is before us and heaven today.

The life of St James and a wonderful meditation on him, from the Prologue by Blessed Nicholai Velomirovich, is below.
The important features are this: James was a married Christian, living in the pagan kingdom of Persia, and was well liked by the king. This itself gives no dishonor to the Saint, as The Holy Moses and Joseph were active in the court of Pharaoh, and other saints served in secular positions serving pagan kings, however, poor James fell prey to the enticements of wealth, and vanity, and sacrificed to the idols during a pagan festival. Some stories say he did so out of fear, and some just because of vanity and a lack of attention to himself; this does not matter
This type of situation has occurred thousands of times in the annals of Christianity, and only a precious few extricated themselves from their apostasy. The reason is clear – to recant the false faith they had accepted, and in so doing make null and void their apostasy from the Christian faith, a man would inevitably be forced to endure great physical tortures.
Perhaps James would have become one of the many nameless ones who were never able to muster enough desire and courage to become a Christian again, except that his wife and mother wrote him a letter which brought him to his senses.
O Lord! May we also have an angel in the flesh to bring us back to ourselves if we stumble! Gives us ears to hear if a mother or brother or friend or wife or husband or pastor rebukes us with words that are bitter, because they expose our sinfulness. Help us to be like the great James, who took to heart the rebuke of his wife and mother and saved himself!
Herein is the key to the redemption of the great James! His loved ones truly LOVED him, so much in fact, that they shepherded him to his contest, without which he could not have been saved.
We should not pass over this part of the story too quickly. After James apostatized, his was like the prodigal son away on a far country. He was in a weak state spiritually – it is preposterous to think that after his horrible sin, he maintained a pious Orthodox life, with prayer and fasting and peace in his heart. When a Christian denies His Lord, he cannot be at peace, and he will fall prey to a multitude of sins. So it must have been with James. We do not know when the letter reached James after his apostasy, but even if it was within a few days, it found our martyr wounded by the side of the road, and more than half dead. A lesser man would have sorrowed over his state, but not had the courage to change it. Judas was also sorry, but he did not change. This was not so with our great James. He immediately entered into the arena, to battle to reclaim his soul.
Let us not over-spiritualize this moment. Was James afraid? He was a man was he not? Of course he was afraid!. And yet he entered the arena, and gave up his earthly life in order to have a heavenly one. Certainly the prayers of his pious wife and mother protected him from his human weakness.
The entire angelic host stood in awe of the contest of the Great Martyr. He suffered in the flesh as if he was not of flesh – only by the help of His Christ could a mere man endure such tortures! After James breathed his last, the angelic host escorted his soul to the bosom of his Lord, shouting exultantly. What did they say? Some would think that they would extol his courage and steadfastness as each limb was severed by the knife, and his holy blood flowed. But this was not the case. They simply exclaimed to the Lord as they ascended: "O sweetest Jesus, here is one of thy sheep. He was lost, but now he is found!"
O Lord, through the prayers of the Holy Great Marty James, help us to believe that we can change, no matter what we have done!
The Holy Martyr James the Persian
James was born of Christian parents in the Persian city of Elapa (or Vilat), brought up in the Christian Faith and married to a Christian woman. The Persian King Yezdegeherd took a liking to James for his talents and skillfulness, and made him a noble at his court. Flattered by the king, James was deluded and began offering sacrifices to the idols that the king worshiped. His mother and wife learned of this, and wrote him a letter of reproach in which they grieved over him as an apostate and one who was spiritually dead. Yet, at the end of the letter, they begged him to repent and return to Christ. Moved by this letter, James repented bitterly, and courageously confessed his faith in Christ the Lord to the king. Angered, the king condemned him to death by a special torture: his entire body was to be cut up, piece by piece, until he breathed his last. The executioners fulfilled this command of the wicked king to the letter, and cut off James’s fingers, then his toes, his legs and arms, his shoulders, and finally his head. During every cutting, the repentant martyr gave thanks to God. A sweet-smelling fragrance, as of a cypress, emanated from the wounds. Thus, this wonderful man repented of his sin and presented his soul to Christ his God in the Kingdom of Heaven. James suffered in about the year 400. His head is to be found in Rome and a part of his relics in Portugal, where he is commemorated on May 22.

When the executioners severed the thumb of St. James’s right hand, he said: “Even a vine is pruned in this manner, so that in time a young branch may grow.”

At the severing of his second finger, he said: “Receive also, O Lord,
the second branch of Thy sowing."

At the severing of his third finger, he said: “I bless the Father, the
Son and the Holy Spirit.”

At the severing of his fourth finger, he said: “O Thou who acceptest
the praise of the four beasts [symbols of the four evangelists], accept the suffering of the fourth finger.”

At the severing of the fifth finger, he said: “May my rejoicing be
fulfilled as that of the five wise virgins at the wedding feast.”

During the severing of the sixth finger, he said: “Thanks be to Thee,
O Lord, Who at the sixth hour stretched out Thy most pure arms on the Cross,
that Thou hast made me worthy to offer Thee my sixth finger.”

At the severing of the seventh finger, he said: “Like David who
praised Thee seven times daily, I praise Thee through the seventh finger severed for Thy sake.”

At the severing of the eighth finger, he said: “On the eighth day
Thou Thyself, O Lord, wast circumcised.”

At the severing of the ninth finger, he said: “At the ninth hour,
Thou didst commend Thy spirit into the hands of Thy Father, O my Christ, and I offer Thee thanks during the suffering of my ninth finger.”

At the severing of the tenth finger, he said: “On a ten-stringed harp
I sing to Thee, O God, and thank Thee that Thou hast made me worthy to endure the severing of the ten fingers of my two hands, for the Ten Commandments written on two tablets.”

Oh, what wonderful faith and love! Oh, the noble soul of this knight of Christ!

Life and reflection from

9 Responses to “Great Martyr James the Persian. Nov 27/ Dec 10”

  1. Deborah says:

    Father, Bless,

    I found it helpful to consider and speculate on the possible reasons and causes for the apostasy of St. James. In the end, it does not matter. But, for me, it is a way of identifying in my own life, possible snares and weaknesses that have the potential to be my undoing.

    Fear is the first and most obvious suspect in St. James’ story for causing his apostasy. But I doubt it was fear of death–apparently he was a brave warrior who faced death on a regular basis. His fear may have been of losing his status or of endangering his family. Pride and vanity certainly must have played some role, as it does in almost everything. In the Menologian it said that he was “seduced by the Emperor’s beneficence.” He was a favorite of royalty!

    I doubt his sacrifice to the pagan gods was done without any thought. He had to know the seriousness of what he was doing. So there must have been a lot of rationalization “Well, after all, I can sacrifice to the gods without really meaning it. I will still be a Christian in my heart—and God will forgive me.” and “I’m doing this for the sake of my family. They need the support that my status will bring. And I don’t want to risk endangering their lives if it is discovered that they are Christians, too.” “Perhaps by maintaining my position in the court, through my conduct I can one day convince the emperor to become a Christian!” And on and on….not truly seeking God’s will but seeking to justify his own will, all the while convincing himself his motives were pure and not really self serving.

    Maybe he, like me, had used this rationalization process many times before to justify lesser sins than apostasy. Apparently he had been a very pious man, so surely he did not fall from a state of grace to apostasy overnight. How many times had he compromised on little things, kept his mouth closed when he should have spoken up and given in to temptation. He may have even confessed his weaknesses and asked for forgiveness–but made no real effort to do anything about them. The glitter of wealth and the seduction of power would be a great distraction–but “what profits it a man to gain the whole world, if he loses his own soul?”

    And so a man dies by inches. Perhaps the brave and holy martyr even had this thought in mind as he was slowly cut to pieces, inch by inch, “This is what I allowed to happen to my soul.”

  2. Vasiliki says:

    I dont believe it requires a lot of thought or analysis to understand how easy it can be to follow in the wrong footsteps of St James … we can simply can look at ourselves and how easy it is to get caught up in the “vanities” of life and that is how it starts.

    Its pleasures of the flesh …

  3. Vasiliki says:

    I wanted to thank you for your post and also thank Deborah for her thought provoking reply, so real and true.


  4. Thank you, Father! Deborah – thank you! Your interpretation is very interesting, I never had such thoughts.

    God bless you!

  5. May God bless you and help you in all things, Vasiliki! Thank you for your kind words. The comments of Deborah and Natalia are often better than the post itself.

  6. Yes, the pleasures of the flesh. The only way to avoid this snare is attention and proper priorities.

  7. Of course, we cannot know what caused St James to apostatize, and your speculation is as good as mine. I think it is good to meditate upon such things, although not “dogmatically” of course. I think James was not a careful person, caught up with the drama of the court, and he was not thinking. I do not think he prayed much before his terrible error. The amazing thing is that people like him almost NEVER repent because they do not know how. This is the great secret that sinners do not know. They think they will repent at the end, and God will accept their repentance, but they are so callous at the end, and afflicted with the weakness of sin, that they are unable to repent. James is the exception that proves the rule, I think.

  8. I was familiar with some people, very clever ones, who, being clever, could not help resisting the fact that “most probably God exists, as the world is constructed in a too clever way, everything there is so properly arranged & calculated, that it’s impossible to admit that the world emerged just from chaos”. They allowed the possibility of repentance in general, but thought they could do it “some time much later”, or when they grow old. But they did not survive to that moment, unfortunately. God has different time limits.

    It is also sad with Christians, as we never know whether our repentance is true, and whether it will be accepted by God. None of us can say that they are ready for passing into eternal life. Especially considering the fact that many people (like me, for instance) repeat the same sins, having confessed them hundreds of times. They may not do new sins, but the current ones, bad habits for example, are like stickers. We are even accustomed to them, and their meaning is diminished in our eyes, as we justify them as weaknesses, console ourselves that they are not mortal, that some day we’ll get rid of them. But they are like a rolling snowball, which becomes larger & larger, becoming very heavy in the end…

    What also makes it worse is the moment of comparison. Seeing how other people sin, realizing that we don’t do what they do, we tend to think that we are much better…This poisoning thought affects our soul & mind. As if we just try to compare ourselves with saints, we’ll better see what we are & who we are…Besides, we don’t see how those “other people” repent, we notice their sins. I thought what – maybe we are so attentive to other people sins because it helps us to perceive our own ones, and to put up with them, and with the evil which reigns inside us?!

    The last minute repentance is possible only by a special God’s plan. He then knows the virtues of the soul, even deeply hidden, and He know that the potential of this soul is not yet discovered, that the person is not yet opened fully, that there is much of good in the person’s heart, he has done much good for others. That this soul deserves the Kingdom. And He fights for every soul till the very end. But we cannot be sure that our soul deserves it, that WE have such a potential. And He does everything to disclose this potential. I know such example as well.

    But we should not indulge a vain hope in reference to us. Maybe we just expired His patience by our sins & self-assurance?! We can never be sure that we haven’t buried our talents. The more I confess, the more I feel that something is not said. That the dirty hole of my soul is not yet dug out, that the stream of water is not clean. That I cannot confess properly, I don’t even say – repent…

  9. Father, commentaries are secondary, the posts – primary. No posts – no commentaries:-) Actually, as for me, my thoughts emerge as a response to your posts. Only. The overwhelming majority of the thoughts I post here were NEVER born before. I still wonder about that, how it is possible.

    God bless you for your ability of “intrusion” into my head & revolve something in it!

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