Feast of St. James, the Brother of the Lord
And coming to His own country Jesus taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all His sisters with us? Where then did this Man get all this?” And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” And He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Matthew 13: 54-58
Today we celebrate the feast of St. James, or in Greek, St. Iakovos. (Many people who are named James have St. Demetrios—October 26—as their patron saint, but others named James celebrate today for St. Iakovos). Comparatively speaking, St. James is a relatively minor saint. He is one of the “seventy” Apostles, not one of the original twelve, though sometimes he is confused for one of them. He was the first bishop of Jerusalem. And most significantly, he authored the first “Liturgy,” which has his name ascribed to it, “the Liturgy of St. James.” St. James died on about 70 A.D., so the Liturgy was written before then and instituted about that time as the Eucharistic worship service of the church. This makes the St. James Liturgy the oldest Eucharistic service in the all of Christendom, written not even forty years after the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. This Liturgy was later edited by St. Basil, who had his liturgy further edited by St. John Chrysostom. Today, on most Sundays, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. On ten days of the year (five Sundays of Lent, Christmas Eve, January 1 (feast of St. Basil), Eve of Epiphany (January 5), Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday, we celebrate the Liturgy of St. Basil. And on October 23, this is the only day we celebrate the Liturgy of St. James.
Saint James is called “The brother of the Lord.” Orthodox Tradition holds that Joseph, the protector of the Virgin Mary, was an older man. He had been previously married and widowed, so the “brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas” and “His sisters” referred to in today’s Gospel refer to children of Joseph from his former marriage.
The Gospel lesson also tells us that Jesus had come back to Nazareth and was teaching in the synagogue in His hometown. And incredibly, and incredulously, He was rejected in His home town. “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” we are told in Matthew 13:58. Ironically, the people of His hometown, and people of His own temple, the Jews, who should have been the first to recognize the Messianic signs at work in Him, and thus be the first to believe, were the first to reject Him.
Matthew 13: 57 is a somewhat well-known quote that “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” As a priest, I’ve heard this phrase quoted by priests who seem to be loved by parishes they visit more than by the parishes in which they are assigned. The same holds true not just for priests, but for people who are treated better as guests than they are in their own homes, or businesses. So, one lesson to be taken away from today’s Gospel is to make sure that you treat not only visitors and acquaintances well but that you don’t forget to take time out for your own family, your spouse, your children.
And the second lesson is that to accept Christ means to accept Him at all times, not just during times of convenience. We are to treat Christ not only as a guest in our lives, who is here today but leaves tomorrow and only comes to visit on holidays, we are to reverence Christ as our Lord and Savior each and every day. He is to have honor in His house (the church), in our houses (where we live) and in our schools, business, travels and wherever we go.
As a disciple of the Lord, you accepted the Gospel, O James the Just. As a Martyr you have unchangeability; as the Brother of the Lord you have confidence; and you can intercede as a hierarch. Intercede with Christ our God, entreating Him to save our souls. (Apolytikion of St. James, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Give honor today to Christ, to your family and to any “guests” you encounter!
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The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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