Our Patron St James the Persian

Saint James (Mar Yakub in Arabic) the Persian or "the mutilated"  is the patron saint of our Monastery - and has been since the 6th century. He was martyred in the 5th century, cut into pieces for his faith. When Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross first discovered this monastery, which had fallen into ruin 60 years earlier, in 1994, she did not know the story of the monastery's patron saint. After two years, a priest told her his story. She was deeply touched, understanding that this saint is an eminent intercessor for the unity of Christians, which coincided perfectly with the monastery’s mission: the Unity of Antioch. This touch of holy Providence confirmed her in her determination to rebuild this ancient place (cf. Is. 61:4). But who is this Saint James, different from the apostles but with the same name?


The apostasy of James


St. James the Persian, often known in the West as St. James Intercis (Latin for "cut in pieces") because of the horrible ordeal he endured before his beheading, came from the ancient and highly civilized land of Persia. He was born in the royal city of Beth-Lapeta, of an illustrious family: to the nobility of his race he added virtue and piety. Following the example of his family, he embraced Christianity and married a pious Christian. Attached to the court of the Persian king Yezdegered, he rose to the highest honours and enjoyed the highest consideration. The king favoured him and showered him with favours.


So James, in response to the king's kindness, did not fear to recant the Christian faith. His mother and wife heard of his apostasy with sorrow and sent him the following letter to the camp where he was then:


"We are told that the favour of an earthly king and the love of the perishable riches of this world have made you abandon the eternal God. We ask you one question, deign to answer: Where is this king now, for whom you made such a great sacrifice? He is dead, as the last of men, and has fallen into the dust: what can you expect of him now? Will he give you refuge from eternal torment? If thou persevere in thy apostasy, thou shalt fall like him into the hands of the avenging God; and we withdraw from thee, as thou didst withdraw from God, we will have nothing in common with an apostate. It is finished; we no longer exist for you."


Conversion of James


This message struck James. He came back to his senses and said to himself: "Here is my wife who had given herself to me by the most sacred oaths, here is my mother who is abandoning me: what will God do to me, to whom I had also given my faith and whom I have shamefully abandoned? On the last day, how can I bear the sight of this supreme judge, this inexorable avenger? And even here on earth, can't his justice reach me and strike me? Full of these thoughts, he returned to his tent, found a Bible, and opened it. As he read, little by little light dawned on his soul, divine grace touched his heart, and he was suddenly changed into another man. His numb soul, as if summoned from the grave by a powerful voice, awoke: remorse stirred him and tore him apart.


These cries of remorse and repent were heard in the neighboring tents; James was seen reading the Bible, talking to himself, as a man who was stirred by a deep emotion. His enemies, the courtiers, hastened to tell the king that James seemed to bitterly regret having changed his religion. The King sent for him at once and said

·         Tell me, James, have you become a Nazarene again? 

·         Yes, I am a servant of my Lord Jesus Christ.

·         Yesterday you were a mage!

·         No, I wasn't.

·         What! Wasn't it for this reason that my father the Shah showered you with favours?

·         Where is this Shah now whose favours you remind me of? 

This response infuriated the King, but he tried to win him back by blandishments and promises, altered by shivering threats of torture, but without result.  James, to avoid the king’s temptations to win him back to paganism, boldly answered to all his questions. In one response he exposed to him the errors of the religion of the Persians:


“You who claim to know the Divinity better than other people are in a grave error. By adoring inanimate and insensible creatures and by giving the incommunicable name of God to creatures you offend the true God. Your vain divinities are incapable of protecting you.”


This solemn renunciation of idolatry infuriated the king. It was clear that James was abandoning the religion of the Persians. He then began searching in his mind by what torment he could pay him back. Having taken council with a senator, the king wanted to make an example of James. The recommended punishment was to cut him into pieces at the level of all his joints, starting with his fingers. Once the sentence was determined James was immediately dragged to the place of execution.

The decision of the Shah to kill James in such a horrific manner became known to believers and unbelievers, who immediately felt a great sympathy for the Saint and who were thoroughly shocked by the barbarous sentence of the Shah. The Christians, when hearing the death sentence knelled down with their faces to the ground, bursting into tears, and addressed to God the following prayer: “O sovereign Lord who gives strength to the weak and health to the sick, you who give life to the infirm and the dying, you who save those who are passing away, help your servant, make him victorious in this dreadful combat. Make him triumph for your glory Lord, Oh Christ, prince of the victors, king of the martyrs!”


James’s martyrdom


A large part of the population and the entire army gathered at the place of torture. Being dragged by the soldiers he asked them to stop for a moment so he could address God with the following prayer: “Receive, O Lord, the prayers of your humble servant; give strength and courage to the son of your maidservant; make of me a sign of consolation for those who love you, those who suffer, and for those who will suffer persecution for your namesake. And when I will have overcome by your omnipotent grace, thus receiving the crown of the elect, make my enemies see it so they may be confounded, because you have been, Lord, my consolation and my stronghold. ”When he finished this prayer the soldiers violently grabbed him and lay him down.


At this point James’ torture began[2]. Several times friends of his, or even the judges, pleaded with him during his agony to have mercy on himself and to renounce his faith. This is what he responded to the judges, after already having lost his ten fingers [having been cut off one by one]. The judges tried to convince him that these wounds weren't mortal and that he could still retrieve the pleasures of this life: “Do you think that after having put my hand to the plow I will look back and make myself unworthy for the kingdom of God? Do you think I prefer my wife or my mother to God who said: ‘Whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it’ and ‘whoever will leave father, mother or brothers for my sake, I will give him eternal life and rest?’ Stop pressing me and do your job; I would be very sad if you would but for a little lighten my pains.”


Seeing that he was unmovable the judges ordered the executioners to continue. So they proceeded by cutting his toes one by one. But James remained strong, thanking them after each toe, chanting hymns of the sort: “the sufferings of the present aren't worthy to be compared with the glory of the future”, or “Why be sad, O my soul?” and a lot of similar verses.

When he had lost his 10 fingers, his 10 toes, his two hands, his two feet and his two arms he was close to exhaustion. Now the torturers were proceeding with the legs. They started cutting his right leg at the level of his knee joint. Here James seemed to have felt an extreme pain; he cried out and invoked the Lord: “Lord Jesus Christ, save me, deliver me, I’m suffering the pains of death.”


To this exclamation the executioners said: “We warned you that you would suffer greatly.” To which the martyr responded, “God permitted this involuntary cry so that you wouldn't think that I would only have the appearance of a human body. I am ready, for the love of God, to endure even greater torments. Don’t think that I have suffered during my torture: the thought of my Savior, his holy love embraced my heart; through him I overcame every emotion. So continue, quickly!”


After each member that was cut James addressed to God a prayer of praise, which was recorded each time by the scribes, present at the place of torture. This is his last prayer [3], which came down to us through Tradition; he said it with nothing of his body left except his torso and his head:


"My God, here I am on the ground, in the midst of my members dispersed all around me: I no longer have my fingers to join them in supplication; I no longer have my hands to raise them toward you; I no longer have my feet, nor my legs, nor my arms: I resemble a house in ruins with only the walls remaining. O Lord, may your anger turn away from me, and may it turn away from your people: give this persecuted people, dispersed by tyrants, peace and rest; gather them from the ends of the world. I beg you, o Divine King, do not leave your servant, but free my soul from the prison of my body, and place it with your holy martyrs. Then I, the least of your servants, will praise you, bless you with all the martyrs and all the confessors, those of the East and the West, the North and the South, You, Your Son and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen


When he had said “Amen”, they cut off his head. Thus the Holy martyr, after the most awful torment ever, gently gave his soul to God.


James’s relics


The blessed James suffered his martyrdom on November 27th, his feast day in the Byzantine calendar. His body remained in the open air. Immediately after his execution Christians came close giving a considerable sum of money to the guards asking them to take away a part of the holy relics: it was in vain. Because of fear of the Shah they wouldn't allow it. The faithful then did as if they left the place but in fact hid nearby waiting for nightfall to set in to be able to gather at least a part of the relics. Around the ninth hour of the evening, the guards having left, the believers took his bodily remains that they found in 29 pieces. 


A finger of St James was kept for many centuries here in the Monastery of Qara. 


Saint James the Persian, holy martyr, pray for us!


Source: http://modeoflife.org/holy-great-martyr-saint-james-the-persian/


[1] The name of our order is the ‘Unity of Antioch”.

[2] He was cut in 29 pieces: 10 fingers, 10 toes, 2 feet, 2 hands, 2 arms, 2 legs, and finally his head.

[3] It’s also the prayer of unity we pray here in the Monastery.