Saint of the Day: St. James the Less

Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. James, whose account is found in Volume 4 of the series.)

Saint James the Less


Despite all effort to avoid it, the Church Fathers painfully refer to a most venerated saint with an unflattering title to distinguish him from another with the same name. Nevertheless, St. James the Less is no less a man than the ninth apostle of the Lord. Church historians hasten to point out that St. James the Less is so designated solely because he was much shorter than his counterpart who is known as St. James the Greater. This paradox undoubtedly stems from a literal translation of the Greek language. However, many claim that St. James the Less was greater than St. James the Greater in perhaps all things but physical stature, which is a man’s measure, not God’s.

St. James the Less was the son of Alpheos, while St. James the Greater was the son of Zebedee. Surprisingly little is known of St. James the Less, whose renown as an apostle is enough to place him among the greatest in church history. That is not to say that he lived in obscurity. On the contrary, he was prominent in a time when the fires of Christianity were first ignited on earth. He was a brother to none other than St. Matthew, one of the four great evangelists of the New Testament. His articulate oratory, his Christian zeal, and his complete dedication to the service of God and mankind were manifest througout his lifetime when the cradle of Christianity was frail indeed.

The detailed events in his life which we now lack are accounted for perhaps by the way in which he lived. While successfully delivering the message of Christ to pagans in the Roman Empire, he was equally successful in eluding the Roman soldiers who were bent upon cornering him in some catacomb. Whenever St. James was on the brink of capture he would vanish, leaving the emperor’s nets to catch the wind. Leading them on a merry chase, he also led church historians into a maze of appearances and disappearances that made a detailed biography of the man all but impossible. With his mission given to him by Jesus Himself, St. James lived and preached by his own wits in a pattern of behavior designed to perpetuate the name of Jesus Christ, not James the Less.

His most fiery sermons were saved for delivery in Palestine, where he preached with a zeal, second to none and where his sincerity of purpose further added to the word of Christ. With the knowledge of his profound faith, the Master allowed His beloved disciple to demonstrate the miraculous powers of heaven. James served to perform many miracles in the name of Jesus, all the more perhaps because his prayers to the Lord were so fervent.

With a lifespan nearly twice that of the Savior whom he served as an original disciple, St. James the Less was in no small way responsible for establishing firmly the new faith of Jesus Christ. The religion that came to be known as Christianity was rooted in the declaration that Christ appeared on earth as the Son of God. St. John the Baptist had paved the way with his call for the repentance of sin, but his voice fell mainly on deaf ears. It was up to St. James the Less and his small band, not only to take up the cry for forgiveness but to expand it much further to include the belief that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God and, repeating the words of the Master, only through our Lord could be found the gates of heaven.

For nearly thirty years, St. James the Less hammered away at this theme and, happily for the new faith, was most convincing. With God’s help he was able to induce converts to forsake their pagan ways, with its attendant safety, for the more perilous course of following Jesus Christ. His elusiveness in avoiding capture by Roman authorities was more than matched by his compelling oratory. Overshadowed through the centuries by the mighty St. Peter, as well as others, he nevertheless was a mainstay in the mission for which Christ appeared and will forever stand out as one of the original founders of what is now the Christian Church.

In the sixty-second year of our Lord, James died as did his Savior before him, by crucifixion, at the hands of a generation that had followed those who crucified Christ. The day was October 9.

Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.


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