Saint James the Lesser, Apostle
By Ed Ross
St. James the Lesser was born the son of Alphaeus of Cleophas. His mother was Mary, possibly a sister or a relative of the Blessed Virgin, and therefore he was sometimes called the brother of the Lord. Information about the life of James is scarce, but it is evident that he played a major role in leading the Church after the death of Jesus. St. James the Lesser was also at times referred to as “James the Just” due to his great integrity and virtue. He was called “James the Lesser” because there was a more prominent James among the Apostles (James the son of Zebedee, John’s brother, who is the more famous apostle). After the crucifixion of Jesus, James the Lesser was created the first Bishop of Jerusalem. While serving as Bishop of Jerusalem he had a difficult job to uphold, as he was in the middle of a lions den, having to fear for his life all of the time.
After being thrown from the Temple, James was martyred by stoning and was beaten with clubs while praying for his attackers in 62 A.D, on the charge of “breaking the law.” It is for this reason the club subsequently became the symbol used when depicting the life of St. James the Lesser. The feast day of St. James the Lesser is celebrated with that of Philip the Apostle. It was traditionally observed on May 1 to commemorate the anniversary of a church in Rome being dedicated to them. The ordinary calendar has moved the feast day to May 3.
He was known through tradition as the author of the Epistle that is named for him and is in the New Testament. The Epistle of St. James divulges a grave, meek and calm mind that was given in prayer and devoted to the poor. James is also said to be the author of the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15.
The mission of St. James the Lesser was a lofty one and the most praiseworthy of all. He could lead to Christ the chosen Jew to which God’s promise of final conversion was given. James’s success can be seen from his words to Paul, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among Jews, all of them zealous upholders of the law.”
From the day James was born, he was pure, never drinking wine or eating flesh. He never shaved or wore any clothes except one linen garment. He wore no sandals. He did not use woolen vestments and had the privilege of going to the temple alone to pray so much for the people that the skin of his forehead and knees was hardened to resemble that of camels’ knees. St. Epiphanius said that in a great drought while stretching out his arms to heaven he, by his prayers, achieved rain. James was described as one of the people to whom the risen Christ showed himself.
James the Lesser faced many of the trials and tribulations that we will encounter through our lives, and confronting them cost him his life. He died in the name of the Lord. He was great in the kingdom of God.
James did not need material possessions in his life, and chose to keep things as simple as he could. In today’s society, people should use St. James the Lesser as an example to live by. Others can teach their children of the non-materialistic attitude that James possessed. The importance of having everything you want or see is not as significant as having only what you need or what you believe in. He has also taught us to strive for what we believe in and not to be influenced by others. Through James we can be reminded the meaning of being pure, just, and honest, while remembering the importance of integrity. All of these things are significant and imperative for us to make our lives better and most of all to make us better people while following our belief in God!