26 May 2013
St. James of Kyros
The Life of St. James of Kyros in Syria
Whose memory we celebrate on February 6
James, our holy father and ascetic, hailed from the parts of Kyros. His life was written down by the erudite Bishop Theodoretus of Kyros, who recorded many biographies of the saints and martyrs. One of the wonderful lives he wrote is that of St. James, with whom Theodoretus spoke many times and even witnessed some of the saint's extraordinary accomplishments. In this concise eyewitness style, he recorded the saint's life.
* * *
Since we have written down the various deeds and virtues of many saints, together with their feats and supreme accomplishments, let us speak about those who, still in life, strive to surpass others and imitate the angels, though they are still in the flesh. Such is the exceptional and renowned James, whom not only I, but many others, have had the good fortune of seeing; these can attest that I write nothing beyond the truth, but rather, less. For all virtuous servants of God conceal their virtues as much as possible, in order to avoid human admiration.
The present James, the stouthearted one, surpassed even the ancient fathers in asceticism, for each one abhorred each and every bodily comfort and did not wish to partake here of any type of pleasure. He had no form of shelter: neither a house, a hut, nor a cave. He went through his entire life without a roof over his head, having the heavens as a shelter, and thus, enduring all the violent winds and the heat of the sun, as well as the rains and snow. He persevered in all these things as if he struggled with a body other than his own and strove by a willingness to overcome the nature of the body.
At first when he went apart, he enclosed himself in a very small hut, thus freeing his soul from all exterior noise and confusion; he affixed his mind in remembrance of God and meditated on His statutes. After he had been enclosed like this for a while, he became inured to these afflictions and sufferings and dared to attempt even greater hardships.
To this end, he ascended an unnoticed and obscure mountain about 3.4 miles from Kyros; he made it famous and majestic. This mountain received so much blessing from God because of the saint, that people take its soil to benefit body and soul. On that mountain, strove the superb James, having, as I wrote earlier, neither a cell, a tent, a hut, nor any other form of shelter. Whether he prayed, sat, rested, or stood, whether healthy or sick, he was always without a roof over his head. Wherefore, from these extreme hardships, he fell ill and lay there in dire pain.
When I learned this, I went to visit him as a friend, for I knew him. It is now fourteen years since, but it was summer then; the sun was hot, for there was no breeze at all. His illness was a diseased gall bladder. As I saw his extreme suffering and endurance, I was astonished. Even then, while the fever of his illness tormented him within and the unbearable heat of the sun burned him without, he was totally exposed to the elements; he would not permit us to build him a small hut. Meanwhile, a vast multitude of people gathered to take his relics away in the event that he reposed.
When I observed his condition worsening, I tried a certain strategem to bring him a little comfort and said to him:
"I would like to remain here as a member of your brotherhood, but I cannot endure the burning of the sun, and my head is aching. So, if you permit me, I will build a small hut to cover myself."
Then he ordered certain people to stick canes and reeds into the earth and cover the top with thin planks. He bade me go underneath the shade of that hut so the sun would not burn me, but I said to him:
"I am ashamed to have comfort, since I am in good health and younger than yourself, and you, who are ill and my senior, burn in the sun. Therefore if you wish my company, come under the shade with me."
Then he consented to this and came under the cover. After we had conversed over various matters, I put my hand on his back and noticed that he wore heavy chains against his flesh. He wore one chain about his waist as a belt, two others crosswise in front and back, and others on his arms and neck. I begged him to take these off saying;
"O venerable Father, the fever of the illness within you is sufficient; therefore, do not torment your body without. When the illness has passed, do as you wish."
So as not to appear disobedient, the all-wise one condescended also to this. Within a few days he recovered, but later he became ill again.
This time it was worse than before. A great multitude gathered again, not only from the villages, but also from the city, in the event that he repose. A violent quarrel developed between city folk and the rural population over who would take possession of his relic. After a while, he was quietly placed on a wooden bed and brought to the city. Of this, he knew nothing, for he felt nothing. He was placed in the Church of the Prophet Elias.
After three days, he regained consciousness, and asking where he was, James became scandalized when he realized that he had been taken from the mountain. He ordered those standing by to take him back to his place of solitude, and they obeyed so that he would not grieve. After they carried him there, they cooked a little porridge for him to eat and gain strength. But he did not wish to break his rule and eat cooked food (for he never ate anything roasted or cooked), so that it was only with difficulty that they made him eat.
His patience was such that many times when it snowed, he would pray continually for three days, face down, totally buried in the snow so that people had to dig him out with shovels. For all these pains, he was made worthy of divine grace to do various miracles. He cured many sick people and drove out demons. The wondrous one even resurrected the dead, such as the young boy who was known to the country folk.
The boy's parents lived here in the suburb of the city. They had given birth to many children, but these all died, either in infancy or at a very young age. When they gave birth to their last child, they hastened to the saint and besought him to pray and to make the child live for many years, and they would dedicate the child to God, as was proper. But when the boy reached his fourth year, he died. The father was not home at the time of death, but when he returned and saw his son's body lying on a bed, about to be taken tot he grave, he lifted the body from the bier, ran to the saint, and laid it at his feet, the father saying that he did not wish to lie to God; having made a vow, he brought the boy to God, even though dead.
The saint then fell on his knees and prayed, entreating God to raise the child, for He is all-mighty. Towards evening, he heard the child shouting, and the saint arose, glorifying the beneficent God Who had hearkened to his prayer and had resurrected the boy. I myself witnessed this miracle with my own eyes, and wrote it down for the benefit of all.
* * *
Hearken now and you shall hear about certain other of the thrice-blessed one's accomplishments, as he himself narrated them to me. He said:
1. When I left the world and came to the desert to be a monk, I saw a gigantic Ethiopian, who spewed fire from his eyes. I was so frightened every time I saw him that I would stop eating and begin to pray, for he usually appeared at the ninth hour, when I ate. Thus I stayed for ten days without eating at all. At last, I scorned his wicked acts and began to eat. He approached me with a staff and tried to strike me, but I said to him:
"If you have authority from God to kill me, I am ready. If not, why do you toil in vain, O powerless one?" After hearing this, he disappeared. But again he attempted to oust me from here in a different manner.
Many times he assumed my appearance. He would take the water that my novice was bringing to me and would send him back. Then later he would spill the water out. Meanwhile, fifteen days passed, and I suffered from thirst. So I asked the novice why he did not bring me water, and he said that I met him on the way and removed the earthen jug from his shoulders. Then I ordered him not to give me the water jug until he brought it here to its place.
When the demon saw that this attempt was also in vain, he tried another one. He threatened me saying, "I will give you such a foul smell that no one at all will be able to approach you because of it."
I answered him in turn that he would then do me a benevolent act, for if no one approached me, I would be more able to concentrate on divine things.
2. A few days later, I saw two women coming toward me. At first I was scandalized, so I cast rocks at them to make them leave. But then I remembered that it was the devil, so I said a prayer and the woman disappeared.
3. At another time, the demon was transformed into a jovial young boy with adorned, golden hair. He flattered me with gestures and tempted me with unimaginable cajolery. Therefore I was angered, and ordered him to disappear from the face of God, and not to tempt His servants. He left, not bearing to hear the divine name.
* * *
The demons tried many other schemes against the saint, but I will not mention them, for the sake of brevity, that i may write about a certain benefaction God bestowed upon me through the prayers of His holy servant. For it would be a sin, and I would be ungrateful, if I did not mention this help that he gave me.
Here in the vicinity of Kyros, the abominable Marcion  sowed many thorns of his impiety, which I, as bishop of the city, tried to pull out, without multiplying this infamous heresy. Some who were deeply entrenched in that heresy used sorcery and satanic traps in their war against me. One night, I heard a voice, and the devil said to me in the Syrian dialect:
"O Theodoretus, why do you oppose Marcion? He never did any harm to you. Put an end to the hostility and dissolve the strife. Otherwise, you will certainly repent later, to no avail. I would have destroyed you long ago, if you did not have the aid and protection of James."
After I heard this, I asked one with whom I was acquainted and who was asleep next to me at the time, if he had heard all this. He said he did. So we arose and looked about, but saw no one. Then I knew the meaning of what was said, I was wearing then the old cowl of the great James, and it was stronger than diamond or the mightiest helmet; that is why the demons feared me. I sent an appeal to the saint to make entreaty to the Lord in my behalf, so that the attempts of the evil one would not harm me. He replied:
"Do not worry, my friend, for all those schemes have been disbanded, as if they were a spider's web, as our Lord revealed to me this night. For when I began to sing hymns, I observed a gigantic and fearsome serpent coming out of the villages, those that are inhabited by the heretics, and it was running from west to east. I then said a prayer and saw the serpent wrap its tail about its head; it divided into two parts and dispersed as smoke."
The saint foresaw all these things, and later it all came to pass. Not only did the enemies (that is, the followers of Marcion who were in the aforementioned villages) – who were ready to slay us with their swords – not harm us, but by the cooperation of divine grace they also returned to the Orthodox Faith.
Therefore, when I became aware of this divine help, I went to thank the blessed one for such a great benefit that his prayer had brought me. We conversed for a long time, and I asked his permission to leave. I asked him to pray to God for me that He would totally uproot from my flock the error of Marcion, as there were still to be found some remnants of this weed. He answered me, "You don't need either me or anyone else to intercede for you, as you have an intercessor in the great John the Baptist."
When I heard this, i was most glad and asked him to reveal the matter to me, so that I might be assured. He answered; 'When you brought from Phoenicia and Palestine the honorable relics, I had doubts whether or not they were those of the divine baptist, or of some other martyr named John. The following night as I prayed, I saw a young man clothed in white, and he said to me, 'Why did you not greet us, as did the others, O brother James?'
"I asked him who they were and when they arrived, and he said, 'The day before yesterday, we came from Phoenicia and Palestine, and everyone greeted us: the hierarch and the entire populace of both the city and the suburbs; and only you did not honor us.' (He probably said this because I had doubts in me.) I said to him, 'Forgive me for not coming, but I always honor you, and I worship the God of all and revere Him.'
"Not only did I see that vision then, but afterwards, when you were going to the villages to punish the insurrectionists and pleaded with me to entreat God for you, I prayed all that night that He would give you help. As I was supplicating, I heard a voice saying, 'Have no fear, James, for St. John the Baptist entreats for Theodoretus, and if he did not intercede for him, he would have suffered much harm from the malice of the demons.' "
Thus said the great James, and he encouraged me not to have any doubts, nor to have any other intercessors, for I had the great Forerunner.
* * *
Certain people erected a church to this St. James while he was still alive, desiring, after his translation from this life, to obtain part of his holy relics. Likewise, I also constructed a precious case for his relics in the Church of the Holy Apostles. But the saint having learned of this, bid me bury him in the mountain. I promised him that I would fulfill his wish. So after I carved a stone sepulchre, I brought it to the mountain, and constructed a small house, so that it would not be exposed to the air.
Upon seeing the tomb, the saint said to me: "I do not wish that tomb to be called mine, but rather, the Holy Martyrs'. You will bury me next to them in another tomb, so that I, the unworthy one, may be next to them." After this, I did as he said, assembling many relics of holy prophets, apostles and martyrs, and placed them in that tomb as the all-prudent one requested, so as to avoid vainglory.
* * *
Oftentimes, people would come from afar and bother the saint during prayer, and he usually sent them away sorrowing. They turned away disappointed, for he did not receive them happily, to bless them as he should. I advised him not to turn people away, but rather to speak to them with joy so that they would not be scandalized. He answered:
"Just as it is not proper for a servant to leave while his master is talking with him and go speak with his fellow servants – the master is angered and punishes that servant – so it is improper, when we are praying to God, to leave Him, the Exceedingly Honorable King of all Creation, in order to speak among ourselves. We anger Him instead of pleasing Him, and He justly punishes us."
Thus,, we have written with brevity. And because the divine James is still in this life, if he performs any other miracles, let him write them, whosoever wishes, to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ; to Whom glory, honor, power and worship is meet, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Through the intercessions of the holy saints, Christ God, have mercy upon us. Amen.
Thus writes the venerable Theodoretus. When he wrote the present life of St. James, the latter was still alive. He finished the way of his asceticism, having obtained great honors here from all pious Christians, and there in the Heavenly Kingdom, he was crowned by the Giver of rewards, Christ, with the unfading laurel of asceticism.
Translated from the Greek by Leonidas Papadopulos and George Lizardos from The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church, Vol. 2: February, 5th Edition, Publisher: Archim. Matthew Laggis, Athens, 1978, pp. 171-178.
Copyright © by Papadopulos & Lizardos 1982.
 Marcion was born [c. A.D. 140], the son of a church leader in Sinope , in northeast Asia Minor on the Black Sea coast. He made a considerable fortune in the shipping trade. Dubious theological company led him to formulate a system which caused him to be put out of fellowship, and he formed his own sect. His following was to last into the mediaeval period, though he himself is said to have thought better of his theories later in life. However, church discipline was strict; he was told he must bring back all those whom he had led astray. He died unreconciled.
Marcion was ardently anti-Judaistic and pro-Paul. From his Gnostic friends he had learned to distinguish sharply between the God of the Old Testament and the unknown God Who was the Father of Jesus Christ. He considered the God of the Old Testament to be greatly inferior to Jesus, though he did not go so far as to reckon Him evil. Any tendencies towards Judaism, or any Old Testament borrowing, were anathema to him.
Naturally, Marcion found much in the New Testament that did not fit his theories. When Marcion went to work on the New Testament, only Luke's Gospel survived from the canonical four; even this needed considerable alteration before it suited Marcion. He cut out all the narratives of Jesus's birth, and other references to His humanity and Jewishness. The only apostle allowed was Paul, and then only after Marcion had thrown out the Pastoral Epistles and excised certain other awkward passages (M.A. Smith, From Christ to Constantine. Downers Grove, Illinois. Inter-Varsity Press, 1973, pp. 52-54).
Some of Marcion's principles were: "The first is an unnamed, invisible and good God, but not creator; the second is a visibole and creative God, i.e. the Demiurge; the third is intermediate between the invisibole and visibole God, i.e. the Deviol. The Demiurge is the God and Judge of the Jews."
Marcion affirmed the resurrection of the soul alone. He rejected the Law of the Prophets as proceeding from the Demiurge; only Christ came down from the unnamed and invisible Father to save the soul, and to confute this God of the Jews."
As we indicated earlier, he acknowledged a "broken Gospel of St. Luke and retained ten of the Apostolic letters, but garbled even them" (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, Gregory of Nyssa, "The Great Catechism" Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p. 473, ƒ.n. 4).
Orthodox Life, January 1983
Fr. Seraphim warns us that such ascetic feats as those of St. James are not given to our times; yet the lives of the ancient ascetics are inspiring and very instructive. St. James, pray for us!