July 24, 2016

Feast of Saint James the Greater, Apostle

St. James the Greater
July 25th is the Feast of Saint James, son of Zebedee, also known as James the Greater, an Apostle of Jesus, and the first Apostle to be martyred. He was a son of Zebedee and Salome, the brother of St. John the Apostle. It was Jesus who called St. James and his brother St. John, "sons of thunder". James (with Peter and John) had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of Jairus’ daughter and Our Lord’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane. James was a fisherman by trade when Jesus called him to be a disciple. He preached the Gospel in Iberia (the present day country of Georgia), Spain and the Holy Land. Tradition holds that Mary appeared to St. James before her Assumption.

He was beheaded in Jerusalem in 44 AD at the order of Herod Agrippa. The Roman officer who guarded James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial. Later, the officer walked beside James to the place of execution. Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian. St. James is mentioned in the Roman Canon of the Mass. He is the patron saint of Spain. James the Greater is not to be confused with James the Lesser or with the author of the Letter of James.

The Life of St. James

In Spain, he is called El Senor Santiago, the patron saint of horsemen and soldiers, and his great shrine at Santiago de Compostela in that country has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. He is one of those that Jesus called Boanerges, "son of thunder," the brother of John the Evangelist and the son of Zebedee the fisherman from Galilee.

St. James the Greater and his brother John were apparently partners with those other two brothers, Peter and Andrew, and lived in Bethsaida, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. How and where James first met Jesus, we do not know; but there is an old legend that makes Salome, his mother, a sister of Mary, and if this were the case, he would have known Jesus from childhood.

Along with Peter and his brother John, James was part of the inner circle of Jesus, who witnessed the Transfiguration, were witnesses to certain of His miracles, like the raising of the daughter of Jairus, and accompanied Him to the Garden of Gethsemani. Like his brother, he was active in the work of evangelization after the death of Jesus, and one legend, very unlikely, even has him going to Spain after Jesus' resurrection.

His prominence and his presence in Jerusalem must have been well known, for scarcely a dozen years after the Resurrection, he became involved in the political maneuverings of the day and was arrested and executed by King Herod Agrippa. This was followed by the arrest of Peter also, so his death must have been part of a purge of Christian leaders by Agrippa, who saw the new Christian movement as a threat to Judaism.

Jesus had foretold this kind of fate when He prophesied that James and his brother John would "drink of the same chalice" of suffering as Himself. The two brothers had asked to be seated at the right of Jesus and at His left in His kingdom, and Jesus told them that they would be with Him in a far different way than they expected.

James's death is the only biblical record we have of the death of one of the Apostles, and he was the first of that chosen band to give his life for his Master.

Excerpted from The One Year Book of Saints, Rev. Clifford Stevens

Collect Prayer

Almighty ever-living God, who consecrated the first fruits of your Apostles by the blood of Saint James, grant, we pray, that your Church may be strengthened by his confession of faith and constantly sustained by his protection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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