And you He made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world. Following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of the flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, Who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have bene saved), and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.

Ephesians 2:1-9

St. James the Ascetic lived in the fourth century in Palestine. He lived an ascetic life, he lived alone, choosing to spend his life in prayer. People heard about St. James, that he was a devout man, and they sought him out for prayers. His prayers resulted in miracles of healing and caused many to convert to Christianity.

St. James had people who hated him for his faith—they were jealous, and they tried to trick him into committing a sin. They sent a prostitute disguised as a nun to visit him and she claimed that she was suffering from a disease in her bosom. Wanting to heal her but not fall into temptation, St. James reached to heal her with his right hand, while placing his left hand into a fire burning next to him. Seeing this, the woman repented of her behavior and actually entered into a convent. The lesson here is that the devil finds sneaky ways to tempt us all the time, even in situations when we are trying to do the right thing, or even a wholesome thing.

Despite his desire for solitude, many people continued to visit St. James, so many that he decided to move his hermitage forty miles away, hoping that he would be forgotten. Eventually, he felt that he was getting somewhere in his spiritual journey to the virtues, and this made him fall into pride. The devil, the master of temptation, is not only sneaky, but he is also patient. He waits for a moment of weakness and then goes on the attack.

A nobleman who had a daughter possessed by demons brought her to St. James for healing. He prayed and she was instantly healed. The nobleman, thinking his daughter might again be disturbed by demons, left her and her young brother near the cave of St. James. One day, James was overcome by desire and he fell to the sin of lust with the daughter. Angry with himself, angry with God, and worried that his sin would be revealed, he killed both the daughter and her brother and threw their dead bodies into a nearby river. Now, completely in despair for his salvation, he left his cave and quickly returned to the world, convinced that he would forever be cut off from the mercy and love of God. He encountered a monk while on his way to town and confessed what he had done. The elder told him back into the forest where he came from to pray, to repent, and that he would eventually find restored confidence in the mercy of God.

James went back on his way and found an old, desolate tomb that had its stone cover ajar. He entered the tomb, moved the bones to a corner, and began to pray humbly to God. With tears of repentance, he spent ten years in the tomb, speaking to no one, forgotten by everyone, coming out only at night to eat some of the plants that grew nearby. He was not, however, forgotten by God.

After ten years, there was a significant drought in the area. God revealed to the bishop of the city that if James, who was shut in the tomb, prayed, then it would rain. The bishop and all the people went into the woods to find James and asked him to lift his hands to heaven and to pray for rain. James insisted that he was not worthy to lift even his eyes to heaven, let alone his hands, and that he could not ask God for anything but mercy, pity and compassion for his many sins. The bishop insisted that James be obedient to him and to raise his hands towards heaven and pray to God to end the drought. Reluctantly, James lifted up his hands and offered a prayer. Instantly the heavens opened and rain fell.

Ezekiel 33:11 tells us that God “desires not the death of the sinner but that he should turn from his ways and live.” James took this miracle as a sign of hope from God, that God was still committed to him and to his salvation. He made continual repentance and focused his life on humility, reposing peacefully and committing his soul into the hands of God at age 75. A church was built on the site of the tomb where St. James found the grace of repentance. St. James the Ascetic is recognized as a saint of the Orthodox Church and his feastday is celebrated January 28. (Many of the thoughts in this biography come from John Sanidopoulos and an article on “Orthodox Christianity Then and Now,” on the website

For those who think they are too far gone to receive mercy from God, I hope the story of St. James will give you some inspiration. I have had an icon of St. James the Ascentic commissioned for me so that I can put it in my office as a reminder that God remains committed to us, even when we fall and when we fail. God can still work through us, even in our brokenness. The devil patiently waits and always lurks, seeking to find any way to distract us. Unfortunately, even in our good intentions, sometimes he wins. However, just like the athletes who lose and come back the next day to compete again, we are to do the same, to recommit, to come back, and to win the spiritual battle.

St. Paul in Ephesians 2:4-5, writes these words of encouragement: But God, Who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).  This refers not only to those who lived before the Incarnation, who were made alive through the Resurrection of Christ. It also pertains to us, who even after the Resurrection, continue to fall in sin. We become “dead through our trespasses.” And yet God makes us alive again through His grace.

In I Peter 4:8, we read: Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins.  Our love for God motivates us to repent from our sins. God’s love for us motivates Him to send His mercy and grace on us to cover the guilt and shame of our sins. We are saved through our faith in God, our works (among which is repentance) and His grace, which ultimately is what covers our sins and allows us to enter the Kingdom of God.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
May the Blood from Your side be to me a cleansing fount, and may the Water that flows with it be a drink of forgiveness. May I be purified by both, O Word, anointed and refreshed, having as ointment and drink Your words of life.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode Four, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

God is merciful and gracious when we turn back to Him in repentance. St. James the Ascetic is one of many proofs of that.


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here:


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