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.
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.''