In honor of the anniversary of the martyrdom of my patron saint, Saint James the Just, I thought I would re-post a tribute to him (albeit slightly modified and expanded) that I wrote in March of 2007 (the original post was called "Knees Like Camels.") The post also explains the rationale behind the name of this blog. I hope that St. James' story will be a blessing to you.
First, here is the saint's story, excerpted from the OCA website:
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, commanded formerly by the Lord for all Israel. When the Savior began to teach the nation about the Kingdom of God, St James believed in Christ and became His apostle. He was chosen as the first Bishop of Jerusalem. St James presided over the Council of Jerusalem and his word was decisive (Acts 15).
In his thirty years as bishop, St James converted many of the Jews to Christianity. Annoyed by this, the Pharisees and the Scribes plotted together to kill St James. They led the saint up on 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. St James' martyrdom occurred about 63 A.D.
The holy Apostle James composed a Divine Liturgy, which formed the basis of the Liturgies of Sts Basil the Great and John Chrysostom. The Church has preserved an Epistle of St James, one of the books of the New Testament.
Now a little about my personal connection to St. James. When I was in the process of converting to Orthodoxy, I asked my priest if I could take St. James as my patron saint, and he agreed that this was a good idea. I did not choose St. James merely because my first name is James, but also because I feel that it was partly because of St. James that I came to Orthodoxy.
When my family and I were at our last mission station, in Banja Luka, Bosnia, one of the things that I did was lead a Bible study on the Acts of the Apostles. One day, the day on which we were to study the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, only one of my students, a very devout young man whom I shall call David, showed up. Of all of my Serb friends in Banja Luka, David was the one that I felt the closest to.
In Acts 15, we see the Apostles and the other leaders of the Church gathered to discuss a criticial issue which had arisen as a result of St. Paul's first missionary journey. The problem before them was, in essence: Did Gentiles converting to Christianity have to first become Jews, or could they be received directly into Christianity, without first being circumcised or submitting to the full Old Testament Law? As David and I were studying the text, we noticed that after the council discussed the issue at hand, St. James said, "Simon [i.e. St. Peter] has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree." Then, after quoting a passage from the Prophet Amos, he concludes, "Therefore, I judge that they should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:14-15,19-20).
James' words "I judge" are key here. At the Council, there was much discussion, during which at the very least Peter, Paul, and Barnabas spoke. But then all were silent, waiting for James to make a ruling. There was no vote, and after James ruled, there was no further discussion. Rather, the Scripture tells us that "it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church" (15:22) to send people out to the various churches with St. James and the council's ruling.
David's and my study of this passage occurred before I even read my first book about Orthodoxy. The "ball" of my movement toward Orthodoxy was not yet rolling (or was it?). But I remember looking at David and saying, "That sounds like something a bishop would say and do." David looked at me and said, "Yes, it sure does." David and I, happy Baptists that we were, learned on that day that the first century Church really did have bishops that made rulings, just as the Orthodox Church has always taught. This experience planted a seed in both David's and my mind, and, not surprisingly, today both of us are Orthodox. I think that maybe, just maybe, St. James was praying for David and me on that day, that we would soon come into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I could be wrong, but it seems too coincidental otherwise.
Because of all this, I consider myself to be, in a sense, St. James' kid. And my prayer is that all of us will become St. James' kids. Of course, I do not mean that all of us must have St. James as our patron saint; rather, I mean that all of us should live with the same devotion to Christ that St. James had. My prayer is that we would all be:
People who are "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (James 1:19).
People who are "doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (1:22).
People who "show...faith by [our] works," for "a man is justified by works and not by faith only" (2:18,24).
People who daily show "the wisdom from above" that is "pure, then peaceable, gentle, wiling to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (3:17).
People who "confess trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that [we] may be healed," for "the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (5:16).
People who pray so much that we too have knees like camels'.
May our gracious Lord, through the prayers of St. James and of all the saints, grant that we may follow the example of St. James and become increasingly holy and pure, that we may bring glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.