Saint James the Persian is the patron of our monastery - and that since the 6th century. He was martyred, and cut into pieces for his faith. When mother Agnes Mariam of the cross came for the first time at the monastery in 1994, which was in ruins for many years, she had no idea about the martyrdom of the patron of this holy place. But a priest told her his story. She was very touched, because she understood that this saint is an intercessor for the unity of Christians, which coincided perfectly with her mission: the unity of Antioch . At this ‘coincidence’ she was confirmed in her desire to rebuild this former monastery. But who is this Saint James, not one of the Apostles but of the same name?
Saint James the Persian, also known as Saint James the cut-in-pieces, due to the horrible torment he endured before his beheading, was born in the ancient land of Persia during its high civilization. His martyrdom became very well known in his time, because it introduced on the international scene the affliction of the Persian Christians who have been systematically eliminated until their exile and eventually their near extinction. Thus, by his public death, his martyrdom became a catalyst and the main reason of the war between Byzantium and Persia, which forced the imperial authorities of Persia and their 'Magi' supporters to put an end to the ruthless genocide of Persian Christians, and thus bringing peace, stability and freedom for them.
On a personal level, the little we know, is that James lived under the reign of the Shah Yazdegerd I (399-420) and under his son Bahram V, and was martyred in that period. In all probability, the Shah who questioned him and sentenced him to be martyred was Bahram V, his father Yazdegerd living at that time in a semi-retreat because of his disease. Braham V (see coin in the picture above) then fulfilled the majority of the imperial tasks, assisted by the council of his father. According to some James’s martyrdom took place in the year of 421 AD.
James was born in the Royal City of Beit-Lapeta, of an illustrious family. As his family, he embraced Christianity and married a devout Christian. Attached to the Court of the King of Persia, he rose to the first honors, and enjoyed the highest consideration. He was Yazdegerd’s favorite, who overwhelmed him with favors. Also James, to respond to the advances of the king, went so far as to renounce the Christian faith. His mother and his wife learned with grief about his apostasy, and sent him the following letter:
"We have heard that the favor of a terrestrial king and the love of perishable resources of this century, have made you abandon the Eternal God. We ask you a single question, deign to answer: where is this king now, for whom you have made such a great sacrifice? He died, as the last of the men, he fell into dust: what can you await from him now? Will he offer you a refuge from the eternal torment? If you endure in your apostasy, you will fall like him into the hands of the vengeful God; and we will have nothing to do with you anymore, because you abandoned God; we want to have nothing in common with an apostate. It's over; we no longer exist for you.”
This letter made a deep impression on James who was deployed in the army at the time; it opened his eyes. He returned to his senses and went into his tent, where he found a Bible. Reading it, gradually divine light enlightened his soul and the grace of God touched his heart. In one instant he changed into another man. His paralyzed soul, as if called back from the tomb by a powerful voice, suddenly awoke: the feeling of remorse became unbearable, he felt as if his insides were being ripped apart.
These expressions of remorse and repentance were heard in nearby tents; soldiers noticed him reading the Bible, talking to himself, as a man stirred by a deep emotion. His enemies, the courtiers hurried to go and tell the king that James seemed to bitterly regret having changed religion. The King summoned him immediately and said to him:
"Tell me, James, are you still a Nazarene?”
"Yes, I am a servant of my Lord Jesus Christ."
"Yesterday, you were magi."
"No, I was not."
"What! Isn't that the very reason you received from my father the Shah so many favors.”
"Where is this Shah now of whom you recall to me his favors [The father Shah having died at that point]?”
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!”
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. 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 , 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.
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 289 pieces.
A finger of St James was kept for many centuries here in the Monastery of Qara. The finger is now in the archbishopric of Homs.
Saint James the Persian, holy martyr, pray for us!
 The name of our order is the ‘Unity of Antioch”.
 He was cut in 29 pieces: 10 fingers, 10 toes, 2 feet, 2 hands, 2 arms, 2 legs, and finally his head.
 It’s also the prayer of unity we pray here in the Monastery.
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